Oct 072012
 

salt and pepper shaker

Good Enough Can Be Good Enough

Menu planning, by it’s very nature, formalizes the meal planning process.  Rather than meals being thrown together last minute in a haphazard way, they are pondered, compared to each other, chosen, and written down days in advance.   Because you have to go through this process for each meal, it is easy to assume that the meal, in order to deserve that amount of thought and planning, must be a really good one.  Without meal planning, hot dogs chosen last-minute because you didn’t know what else to make for dinner might seem perfectly acceptable to you, but when you’re doing that fancy thing called meal planning, suddenly hot dogs might seem undeserving- shouldn’t you be making Polish sausage paninis from Martha Stewart magazine?  Should you be trying that new recipe for roast chicken with Dijon mustard sauce?

Well, my answer is, “No!” Stick with the same food you usually cook.  Let go of the urge to make your planned meals fancier, or more sophisticated, or more inventive than they need to be.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for trying new recipes, and I love making gourmet food.  But realistically, how many of us have the time and energy to be making fancy new dishes every week?  If you’re trying to make your meal plan too good, you might end up getting frustrated that you can’t live up to your high expectations, and give up the meal planning process altogether.   And that would be a shame, because the benefits to meal planning are huge (so huge, in fact, let’s review them for a sec):

Benefits of Meal Planning

  1. Less late afternoon stress because you’ll know in advance what’s for dinner
  2. Save time because you’ll only need to take one trip to the grocery store at the beginning of the week, instead of heading to the store mid-week for last minute ingredient runs.
  3. Save money because you’ll have a meal planned for each breakfast, lunch and dinner, which means you won’t need to do any last minute restaurant/take-out food (unless you want to and you can actually afford it)
  4. Save money because you can see what’s on sale at the grocery store and plan your meals around that

Try to make this meal planning process easy on yourself, so that you stick with in.  Resist the temptation to make  your meal plan perfect.  Don’t worry about whether you’ve planned a different breakfast each morning, whether your lunches are scrumptious versus just good, and whether  your dinner choices are good enough to be featured in a magazine.  In fact, as long as you’re serving well-rounded meals (check out the U.S.D.A.’s MyPlate feature, which illustrates the elements of a healthy meal) go ahead and plan some very easy, very simple dinners, just to cut yourself some slack.  For instance, one of my easiest dinners is fish sticks, because you just have to preheat the oven and throw them in.  That’s why I serve them every other week- they’re easy, simple, and yummy, too.  They’re not gourmet, not scrumptious, not fancy, but they’re good enough.

Weekly Meal Plan for the Week of October 8th

Dinner Plan

Monday: Fish sticks (from Costco), butternut squash, and a green salad.
Tuesday: Taco Tuesday! I’ll fill white corn tortillas with seasoned ground turkey, refried beans, shredded lettuce, grated cheese, and cilantro.
Wednesday: Spaghetti squash, with pasta sauce and Italian sausage.  Served with a green salad and pickled beets on the side.
Thursday: Burritos, using the same filling as Taco Tuesday.
Friday: Pizza Night, with salad on the side. Made with this easy homemade dough recipe.
Saturday: Burger Night.  I try to keep the freezer stocked with various patties: beef, chicken, veggie, salmon.  This week I’ll probably use the beef patties, and serve the burgers with roasted acorn squash and a green salad.
Sunday: International Night. I’ll make Chicken Mole again, from the Joy of Cooking recipe, and serve it with white rice and leftover acorn squash from Saturday.

Breakfasts

  • Pumpkin Flax Granola with yogurt or milk
  • Apple Cinnamon Chex with milk
  • Sunday only: Homemade cinnamon rolls, scrambled eggs

We eat fruit with every breakfast- this week honeydew melon and navel oranges

Lunches

  • Homemade frozen burritos
  • Peanut butter & jelly sandwiches
  • Cheese sandwiches
  • Quesadillas

We also eat fruit with every lunch- the same fruit options as for breakfast, plus celery sticks

What’s YOUR menu plan this week?

Sep 242012
 

bag of groceries

Each week I post our family’s meal plan for breakfasts, lunches and dinners.  It may seem like TMI (too much information), but I do it because it gives you an idea of what a family meal plan could look like, in case you want to try instituting one yourself.  I’ve found meal plans to be the single biggest money saver in the area of food purchases because they eliminate the need buy take-out or go to a restaurant when you don’t know what to eat.  With a meal plan, you know what to buy at the grocery store for the upcoming week, so the ingredients will be ready to throw together when you’re hungry.

Dinner Plan

  • Monday: I’m going to try something new for dinner: Huevos Rancheros.  Specifically, fried eggs served with refried beans, salsa & cheese.  I don’t do “breakfast for dinner” very often, and I’m kind of excited about this.
  • Tuesday: Taco Tuesday! Well, we’ll do nachos this week instead of tacos, but it’s virtually the same ingredients: ground turkey taco filling, refried beans, shredded cheddar cheese, chopped white onion, salsa, and cilantro.  All sprinkled over tortilla chips and then broiled until the cheese is melted.
  • Wednesday: Tuna Pasta (basically this recipe, but I don’t add anchovies).  It’s a cheap and tasty dinner to make, even with higher-end canned tuna: Costco just started carrying Wild Planet Tuna fish for $2.25/can, which excites me to no end because it’s lower in mercury, and more “dolphin safe” than conventional brands.  And retail stores sell it for $4/can.
  • Thursday: Once again, homemade bagel dogs with onion rings, Boston baked beans, and a green salad.
  • Friday: Eating out at school fundraiser.
  • Saturday: Burger Night! I’ve been craving one of our standard favorites: salmon burgers from Costco, with naan from Trader Joe’s. I have yet to buy a vegetable to go with it, but my guess is that corn or green beans will be on sale.
  • Sunday: International Night.  We’ll do homemade pizza, with salad on the side. For years I’ve been using this easy homemade dough recipe and it’s never failed me.

Breakfasts

  • Cheerios or Apple Cinnamon Chex with milk
  • Quaker Instant Oatmeal with milk
  • Wednesday only: Homemade cinnamon rolls, scrambled eggs

We eat fruit with every breakfast- this week honeydew melon, pears and cantaloupe

Lunches

  • Leftover pizza
  • Peanut butter & jelly sandwiches
  • Crackers & cheese

We also eat fruit/vegetables with every lunch- the same fruit options as for breakfast, plus tomato or cucumber salad

What’s YOUR menu plan this week?

Sep 182012
 

If you are looking for ways to reduce your monthly spending, check out these four simple strategies.  A little disclaimer- I say, “simple” because they are very straightforward, but I don’t say, “easy” because any lifestyle change is going to be challenging to get used to.  Nonetheless, if you are a newbie at saving these are a good way to get your toes wet because you’ll see substantial money savings right away, without the complications of more advanced saving strategies

1) Plan Your Meals

O.K., here’s the first practical tip: meal planning is probably the single biggest way to save money on food because homemade dinners are pennies on the dollar compared to take-out.  Not to mention healthier, too, because you control the ingredients.  I didn’t used to meal-plan- I used to figure out what was for dinner at 5pm each evening, and if I couldn’t find anything to cook, we’d buy take-out.  Which meant we ate a lot of take-out, because inevitably I didn’t have all the right ingredients to make an appetizing dinner.  By planning our meals a week or month ahead I’m now able to plan what we need from the grocery store each week so that I always have the right food on hand.

2) Use Your Freezer

We used to lose quite a bit of money to wasted food.  Food would sit in the fridge or pantry until it went bad, at which point I would throw it out, feeling guilty that I hadn’t used it up. Then I realized that the freezer is a great resource for preventing food waste.  Check out this post for a list of 5 Common Leftover Foods to Freeze, which includes tips on how to use the food after you’ve frozen it.

3) Make Stuff

Do-It-Yourself projects can save you a lot of money, though I only recommend them if you actually enjoy the process of making things.   Every Thursday is Crafty Thursday here at The Daily Citron, where I feature a DIY project (sometimes a craft like a cute laundry sign, sometimes a homemade cleaning product, sometimes an easy printable thank you card).  I picked Thursday because it leaves just enough time for busy people to collect their supplies for doing the craft over the weekend.

4) Read Free Books

Books are such a fantastic resource for learning new things, not to mention just enjoyable in general.  But, buying books can get expensive- consider borrowing books from the library, or downloading free eBooks.  I feature free eBooks all the time- make sure to act on those offers quickly, as they generally expire quickly (if you subscribe to my RSS feed then you’ll get notified of free eBook offers right away).  Also, check out my posts on how to get free mp3 audio books and free DVD rentals.

Sep 032012
 

bag of groceries

Dinner Plan

Monday: Leftover skirt steak, roasted beets, and potato salad from a barbeque on Sunday.
Tuesday: Taco Tuesday! This week it will be white corn tortillas with seasoned ground turkey and refried beans, topped with shredded lettuce, grated cheese, cilantro.
Wednesday: Tuna melts, with corn on the cob and a green salad.
Thursday: We’ve taken about a month off from Thursday Beach Nights (picnic dinner at the beach) because various things have gotten in the way, and I might try to start it back up again next week.  In the meantime, this Thursday we’ll stay home and have homemade bagel dogs with onion rings, Boston baked beans, and a green salad.
Friday: Pizza Night, with salad on the side. Made with this easy homemade dough recipe.
Saturday: Burger Night!  I’ve been craving one of our standard favorites: salmon burgers from Costco, with naan from Trader Joe’s.  I have yet to buy a vegetable to go with it, but my guess is that corn or green beans will be on sale.
Sunday: Birthday dinner out with friends.

Breakfasts

  • Cheerios or Apple Cinnamon Chex with milk
  • Quaker Instant Oatmeal with milk
  • Sunday only: Homemade cinnamon rolls, scrambled eggs

We eat fruit with every breakfast- this week peaches, pears and cantaloupe

Lunches

  • Leftover pizza
  • Peanut butter & jelly sandwiches
  • Leftover baked beans & skirt steak
  • Crackers, cheese and uncured salami
  • Quesadillas

We also eat fruit with every lunch- the same fruit options as for breakfast, plus celery sticks and Fuji apples

What’s YOUR menu plan this week?

Jul 312012
 

salt and pepper shaker

Dinner Plan

Monday: Fish sticks (from Costco), onion rings, and cucumber salad.
Tuesday: Taco Tuesday! I’ll fill white corn tortillas with seasoned ground turkey and refried beans, and top with shredded lettuce, grated cheese, cilantro.
Wednesday: Lentils with wild boar sausage, and honey butter biscuits on the side.
Thursday: Beach Night!  Same dinner as usual (it’s so easy, and it tastes so good we don’t get tired of it)- heat homemade frozen burritos, then wrap them in foil so that they stay warm while we drive to the beach. I’ll also make a green salad and pack it in individual stainless steel “bento box” containers.   If you want to do this but don’t live near a beach, find another scenic spot, like a cliff, lake, river, or even a rooftop.
Friday: Pizza Night, with salad on the side. Made with this easy homemade dough recipe.
Saturday: Saturday is usually Burger Night, but this week I’m going to try my hand at meatloaf.  I have yet to find a recipe, though…. anyway, I’ll serve it with rice and a green salad.
Sunday: International Night.  We had so many leftovers this week that we ended up eating them on Sunday night instead of the planned Sweet & Sour Chicken recipe.  So I bumped the Sweet & Sour Chicken to this week, and I’ll serve it with white rice, steamed corn and a green salad.

Breakfasts

  • Coffee cake (I baked it last week and immediately cut it into servings and stored them in a Ziploc bag in the freezer- it takes 30 seconds to reheat from the microwave), scrambled eggs
  • Pumpkin Flax Granola with yogurt or milk
  • Cheerios, Apple Cinnamon Chex
  • Sunday only: Homemade cinnamon rolls, scrambled eggs

We eat fruit with every breakfast- this week peaches, grapes, and tangerines

Lunches

  • Homemade bagel dogs
  • Peanut butter & jelly sandwiches
  • Turkey & cheese sandwiches
  • Quesadillas

We also eat fruit with every lunch- the same fruit options as for breakfast, plus celery sticks and jicama sticks

What’s YOUR menu plan this week?

Jul 242012
 

Breakfasts and lunches are much the same as last week, which is o.k. because we don’t seem to tire of these options.  I’ve added some variety to our dinners, though- I’ll try out tuna melts for the first time, as well as a new sweet and sour chicken recipe.

Breakfasts

  • Waffles (I made a batch and froze them- they reheat in the toaster just like Eggo Waffles)
  • Honeycake, reheated in slices from the freezer, with a slice of Havarti cheese on the side
  • Pumpkin Flax Granola with yogurt or milk
  • Cheerios, Apple Cinnamon Chex
  • Homemade cinnamon rolls, scrambled eggs (this has become our Sunday ritual)

We eat fruit with every breakfast- this week tangerines and cantaloupe

Lunches

  • Homemade bagel dogs
  • Leftover pizza
  • Peanut butter & jelly sandwiches
  • Turkey & cheese sandwiches
  • Quesadillas

We also eat fruit with every lunch- the same fruit options as for breakfast

Dinner Plan

Monday: Bagel dogs, onion rings, and a green salad.
Tuesday: Taco Tuesday! I’ll be using seasoned ground turkey for the filling this week.  Despite my best intentions, I still haven’t gotten around to making homemade refried beans from this recipe, and I’m beginning to think that I’m deliberately avoiding the situation.  I may try to tackle it head-on this afternoon.  (If you’re curious what else we put in our tacos: shredded lettuce, grated cheese, and sometimes avocado or sour cream.)
Wednesday: Tuna melts, with a green salad.  I’ve never actually made these before, but it seems pretty straitforward: mix a can of tuna fish with mayonaise and chopped celery, salt and pepper to taste, then spread onto slices of whole wheat bread, top with cheese and broil.  My mother-in-law made this for us for lunch about a month ago and it was so good- it gave me new-found appreciation for this fairly humble meal.
Thursday: Beach Night!  We’ve ended up missing beach night for the last two weeks- and the last minute, things come up- but this week we should be able to make it happen (and as hard as it is to get us out of the house, I never regret it when I’m eating dinner while watching the waves roll in).   I’ll do the usual- heat homemade frozen burritos, then wrap them in foil so that they stay warm while we drive to the beach. I’ll also make a green salad and pack it in individual stainless steel “bento box” containers.   If you want to do this but don’t live near a beach, find another scenic spot, like a cliff, lake, river, or even a rooftop.
Friday: Pizza Night, with salad on the side. Made with this easy homemade dough recipe.
Saturday: Burger Night.  Which patties to use is usually a last-minute decision based on what we have in our freezer (salmon burgers, chicken burgers, veggie burgers, or beef burgers), but this week will probably be salmon burgers. I’ll also include a green salad.
Sunday: International Night.  For the first time in a long time, we’ll do Chinese food- Sweet & Sour Chicken with white rice.  I’ll probably just keep it simple and do steamed corn and a green salad on the side.  Usually on International Night I try to find matching music, so I’ll be streaming Pandora’s Chinese Traditional station.

What’s YOUR menu plan this week?