do you have a meal planning system that makes your day go smooth as butter, knowing that you’ve got meals planned, ingredients shopped, and recipe ready to go? at times over the years i’ve felt so scattered that we’ve doubled our grocery spending, i’m pretty sure, because we grabbed “out” so often. and it certainly didn’t help my waistline along the way, because usually what we grabbed wasn’t exactly the most nourishing, natural recipe. today i want to share a plan we love, along with a killer paleo/primal, grain-free recipe for cauliflower risotto with bacon and mushrooms.
i’ve shared before about emeals, and since it’s been super helpful to me during a long transition cross-country, i thought it was time to mention it again. emeals is a meal planning system that operates by sending you a pdf each week with seven complete meals, a list of ingredients, and quick and easy directions to create them. the best part of emeals is its phone/ipad compatible complementary app, which allows you to view recipes and lists on a larger scale and share them with your family (or beg your son/husband to pickup your groceries for you!). by sharing the app across multiple devices within your family, you can also allow family members to choose which recipes they want to try or bypass on a particular week.
this recipe was my variation of one of our menu choices this week. i substituted the protein and let me tell you, this dish is both simple and so delicious. (my a-girl may or may not have had several helpings. i’ll never tell.)
one huge advantage to emeals is the variety of plans offered. we use the “paleo” plan because it best suits our family’s culinary lifestyle in this season, but there are more traditional plans, allergy-friendly plans, “clean eating” variations, and so on. you can also choose to add lunch and breakfast options to your plan for even more help with your meal planning.
i find that our eMeals recipes are simple to prepare, with every-day ingredients that are often seasonally or sale-based, and in using the system, i save money and stress, and more importantly i find we eat much healthier.
the thing is, i’m also pretty attention-deprived when it comes to planning menus. i like to switch it up by the day sometimes. i also get giddy when i hit the local produce stand or flea market and find delights for the senses like fresh strawberries, in season and warm from the sun, or local cucumbers without that awful waxy coating they have in the grocery.
i’m also known to get a craving in a hot minute from something we’ve discovered on pinterest, and need to make it NOW. to complicate matters, we’re in a season of trying to pare down and streamline our budget, which means (and why haven’t i always been more diligent about it?!) that i’m looking for lots of ways to save cash. and we also happen to have five very busy and athletic kiddos and a business to run, so of course, there’s rarely time to spend a leisurely afternoon creating. so i’ve created a hodge-podge method of menu planning that seems to really work for us, and using it we save money, waste less, and most importantly, we eat great.
here’s how it works:
each week, take a quick peek at what activities we have planned that will affect our meals. for instance, for track meet nights, i might want to pack a grab-and-go dinner, or have a hot meal waiting in the crock pot. most sundays, we do rotisserie chicken over salad and dinner is with friends or on-your-own-leftover-free-for-all. i fill significant events into my menu plan calendar.
then i look at my blog calendar and decide with my a-girl if there’s anything we need to create for our blog sponsors or planned blog posts, or any new pinterest ideas we’re dying to try or recipes to create. if so, we choose our best day(s) to bake-or-cook-and shoot, and fill in the recipes for those days.
i really like to hit up the local produce stand or flea market and start with what looks amazing to me. it seems like such indulgence to hand-pick our produce from primarily local growers, and i love taking just one or two of my crew to help choose. once i have these goodies in hand, i’ll begin my planning in earnest.
next, i grab the sale papers that come in our mailbox for our local grocery stores along with the coupons that may have come my way; i am not by any means a coupon junkie. i have a few stores i can’t stand and a few i love, so i just work with the ones i enjoy visiting. (i have pushed myself to visit a few i don’t care for, which is a subject for another post.) i go through the papers quickly (ten minutes, tops!) and jot down items for each store that we use on a regular basis that are very low-priced. (if it’s not a huge savings, it isn’t worth my time/gas to drive there.) some of these items might be high-quality meats we can freeze, staples like nuts and frozen veggies, and organic milk and eggs. oh dear me do we eat a lot of eggs in this house!!
i then hit my weekly emeals email/phone app and decide if i will use all of the meals/recipes sent, or just a few, keeping in mind items i’ve just seen at great prices in the sale flyers that will either fit the emeals plan, or can be easily substituted. for example, there might be a great turkey recipe posted that can easily be substituted with the chicken that’s on sale at aldi. (click the link below to check out emeals for yourself.)
i fill the selected recipes into my printable menu planner (which i’ve laminated and hangs on the fridge with magnets) – get yours here. i may fill in missing meals with old standbys (spaghetti squash with meaty red sauce, taco night, or “breakfast for supper” are always favorites). i finalize my list of need-to-buys, and i’m off to the store!
a couple of helpful hints:
i usually plan a crock-pot meal and/or an empty-the-fridge free-for-all on the day i shop, so i don’t have the added pressure of having to cook a meal the same day i organize the pantry and fridge and bring home all the food.
i also usually assign a kiddo to clean the fridge/pantry for me before i get home. they eat it – they can help prep for it!
if i have additional time, i like to prep most of my “mise en place” produce at the beginning of the week, as i’m putting the groceries away. this helps me avoid wasting anything because i got too lazy ran out of time or forgot it was there.
how do you plan and save to eat great? leave a comment below – teach me somethin’ new!
i’ve shared how much i love emeals (click the sidebar link to fall in love yourself), and today i’d love to share how i incorporate it into my weekly planning. (and just being real here: if i don’t plan, at my house we have daily episodes of “what’s for lunch/dinner/snack???,” receiving a blank stare from me!)
on Sunday afternoons when hubby is at basketball (and i ask him kindly to take our five kiddos with him), i take a peek at what’s in our freezer and pantry. i look at the calendar and what will require slow cooking, quick cooking, and grab-what-you-can-and-go-ing. then i head straight to my emeals app and see what great recipes i’ve got to work with this week.
i “skip” the ones that don’t work with our schedule and add any meals i’ve been wanting to try, need to blog, or want to implement for health reasons. (i’ve been working on recipes to implement the milk kefir we’ve been making lately.)
next, i use a colored vis a vis marker to fill in any pertinent family activities on my weekly menu planner (which i’ve laminated for this purpose, and which hangs on our fridge with stickable magnets). finally, i use a black marker to fill in the menu plan from my combined recipe pickings for the week.
i have a mental “breakfast staples” and “snack staples” list that includes things oatmeal with fruit and nuts and yogurt, grain-free granola, eggs, and smoothies, or celery with almond butter and raisins, bananas and milk, or a whole apple. i add those to the menu planner as well, taking into account sports outings, mama-work-outings, and the like. this goes on the fridge, and the recipes i’ve chosen go into page protectors and placed on my countertop cookbook holder. then even if i’m busy or out at mealtime, the hubs and kiddos can peek at the calendar, grab the recipe, and go to work.