Thursday, July 14, 2016

budgeting 101: meal planning

I. Hate. Meal. Planning. Loathe, with the fire of a thousand suns. It is the bane of my existence. Because food is my love language and I have very real aversions and cravings on the daily. But being a spontaneous eater is not conducive to being wise with our spending.

So what does meal planning look like for us? We try to meal plan on Saturday so we can get any groceries we need that day for a meal for after church Sunday. We try to stick with something we can use in the slow cooker because we get home from church right at lunch and don't have much time to make anything. Sundays have definitely become Soup Sunday. We are kind of loose with our meal planning in that we will switch around the day we make the food based on what we are craving or what leftovers we still have. The meal planning is for dinner--lunch time usually consists of leftovers (Jon and I) or macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, sandwiches, chicken nuggets, etc. for the kids. For breakfast we usually eat cereal, bagels, pancakes or oatmeal. Our kids are oatmeal fiends. Jon makes it from scratch for the kids almost every day. I tend to opt for the stuff I can grab as I run out the door.

So without further adieu:

chicken, potato & spinach soup
Guys, I love Soup Sunday. For starters, there are SO MANY KINDS of soups out there. And then the prep. I am a big fan of the dump and go soup recipes (nothing kills a slow cooker buzz faster than finding a delicious recipe for the slow cooker and quickly realizing you have to do a million things to prep the food to be put into the slow cooker) of which there seem to be plenty. I can typically find a vegetarian soup that usually at least one kid will eat as well. It makes a lot for very little money. And I think my favorite part is the fact that soup is typically a delicious leftover--I can take it to work for lunch and not dread it. Here are some of my favorite soup recipes*:
Vegetarian Quinoa Chili - I am not a big fan of this but Jon goes CRAZY over it 
*Note: I modify a lot of these recipes to be vegetarian-friendly. It's easy enough--sub veggie broth for any meat broths and exclude any meat items (which sometimes involves doubling up on beans, when necessary).

To add a little variety to the week, we try to plan 1 vegetarian entree and 1 meat entree. This week Jon decided to make squash and kale for himself (I am not a fan of squash or kale) and I used some frozen ground beef to make burgers for the kids and spaghetti with meat sauce for me (which, to my shock, Edith actually ate). Some other vegetarian options Jon will make include pasta salad, farro with tomatoes, or spinach lasagna. Meat options that I make will be something like an Italian beef roast in the slow cooker, homemade chicken nuggets, or dill meatballs with egg noodles. We always make enough for leftovers.

We typically work on leftovers on Tuesdays. Sometimes if we really aren't feeling it we will opt for something like spaghetti with marinara sauce or frozen pierogies--things we keep on hand for days like that.

I don't like a lot of what Jon makes for himself so he usually has enough leftovers from Sunday/Monday that I will often make some sort of a meat entree for Wednesdays. Tacos, some sort of chicken dish, stir fry, etc. It really just depends on what we're in the mood for. That being said, if we didn't eat leftovers Tuesday we may also opt for them on Wednesday.

Once a week we get together with other young families from our church for fellowship and a meal. We rotate who hosts and whoever hosts typically provides an entree while the guests bring sides/drinks/desserts. We can't plan too far in advance for Thursdays (unless we are hosting) so I try to make something from what we've got once I know what the main dish is going to be. This week I am bringing puppy chow for dessert--the only thing I needed to buy was the box of cereal.

The only thing I like more than Soup Sunday is Pizza Friday! In a perfect world we would be able to afford carryout pizza every week. Based on our current "fun money" budget, we will be lucky if we do that once per month. Jon makes the dough from scratch at lunch time on Fridays so that it is ready by dinner. I will ask him for his recipe one of these days because multiple people have asked me for it. We typically make 2 pizzas: a small one usually comprised of just spaghetti sauce, cheese and pepperoni for the kids, and a larger one for us. Our go-to is a homemade sauce consisting of olive oil, garlic, salt, and Italian seasoning, mixed with a large bag of fresh spinach and warmed on the stove. We also add goat cheese and artichoke hearts to ours. This week we are actually doing a vegetarian taco pizza with a soy-free ground beef substitute that I found at the ~fancy~ grocery store mixed with taco sauce, Mexican cheese, sour cream, and lettuce. 

More leftovers--typically pizza from the day prior (no complaints here!). 

I'd be lying if I said meal planning isn't still somewhat tedious. It's hard carving out the time to sit down and really think about what we want to eat each week. But it has been amazing to me how much easier staying on budget is, and also not having the "wait, what are we going to eat?" conversation every single day. 

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