How to Plan Some Awesome Meals

A readerΒ of mine had a great suggestion for a post. She sent me this message on Twitter: “hey Lisa, I was wondering if by any chance you could sometime do a post on you and Michael’s weekly grocery shopping?Β It always seems like you have awesome food on hand all the time, and I’m really struggling with meals/planning/eating.” Great topic! And thank you for idea, SMM. πŸ™‚

Michael and I weren’t meal planners for a long time but at the beginning of 2011 we decided to give it a try. We were both sick and tired of making multiple trips to the grocery store each week to get stuff for dinner. I hatedΒ stopping at the store for one or two items after work, or even worse–on the way home from the gym when I was starving and cranky.Β We needed to have a better plan and have things on hand.

Things We Always Have On Hand

Chicken. We buy the chicken thighs at Costco. They are much cheaper than the boneless breasts and we both really prefer them. We put the chicken in the freezer and a few days before we plan on having it, I’ll take one package out of the freezer (there are usually 4 thighs in a pack).

Salmon. Of course we’d prefer to have fresh salmon but that’s really expensive. We buy the salmon at Costco and always have a bag in the freezer. It’s perfect for last minute dinners.

Other Seafood. We also have bags of scallops and shrimp in the freezer. Shrimp is a easy, fast and low calorie protein to have for dinner!

Turkey. Every few months Michael will buy lean ground turkey at Costco and make up turkey burger patties and then freeze them. The patties defrost well and make delicious turkey burgers. We’ll also keep one or two packets of ground turkey in the freezer to make tacos. Fast and easy.

Black Beans. Also a Costco item. We eat a lot of beans so we make sure we never run out of beans. Beans are a good staple for salads, soups, tacos, taco salads, egg dishes, the list is never ending.

Lettuce. Another Costco item. We buy the tub of baby spinach or mixed greens about twice a month. We eat a lot of salads and there’s often nights when we don’t feel like cooking and will just make a big taco salad.

Chicken/Veggie Broth. Stock up at Costco! I can’t express how crucial broth is to have on hand. So many recipes call for chicken broth and it sucks when you realize mid-cooking that you’re out of broth.

Those are just a few things we always have on hand and then build our meals around those staples. Once a week we make a list of things to get for the following week’s meals. There are the basics that we get every week: salsa, sour cream, plain Greek yogurt, milk, veggies and other meats. We get pork chops or a cut of steak maybe two or three times a month. I also buy fresh veggies (and lots of them) once a week.

Now The Recipes!

I have collected a massiveΒ quantityΒ of recipes that I want to try. Some recipes are from blogs I read, some are from healthy eating websites I love, some from StumbleUpon, some are from friends and cookbooks that I’ve collected. I send all the recipes I want to try to my gmail account and then archive them into folders according to recipe type–main dish, appetizer/side dish and dessert.

Whenever I want to try a new recipe, I pull it up and check to see that I have all the ingredients the week before we make it. I tend to collect recipes for foods that we usually have on hand. If I don’t have something I just add it to the list.

Now The Meals!

Our meals are really simple these days: a protein with veggies. Having a simple meal like that makes it REALLY easy to make nutritious dinners without a lot of effort. Meat and veggies go perfectly together.

Our dinners aren’t always recipes. Sometimes it’s just salmon cooked in a skillet with steamed veggies and a salad. If I do recipes during the week they are fast recipes, classified as “easy” and with very few ingredients. I love recipes that have less than 8 ingredients!

QUESTION: What’s your trick for planning awesome meals?

18 Responses

  1. OMG! This is PERFECT!!! This is EXACTLY what I needed!!!! Thank you so much!!!! I have been wanting to be more effective and plan better, and the knowledge that I can have a fulfilling mean with a protein and veggies is super relieving and inspiring!!! THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!!!
    SMM recently posted..

  2. Oh, I am the queen of mealplanning. I mealplan every Friday. Usually, I start by thinking of what we already have on hand then I go through my bookmarked recipes. Variety is key for me – I tend to get bored. I always try to have a couple of meatless meals in there and at leasst one seafood. Lunch is always leftovers so we cook dinners that feed 4+. My fav sources for recipes are, blogs, Foodbuzz, and just Google. πŸ™‚
    Leah @ L4L recently posted..Detox: Week 2

    1. Good tip! I like alternating fish and meat too. Even though we vary the type of meat we eat (pork chops, steak, chicken, turkey burgers) I get sick of eating it every day. Salmon is great and we’ve been eating shrimp a lot lately. We have some scallops in the freezer we need to figure out how to prepare next.

  3. I don’t like to cook and I don’t like to meal plan. But, both are necessary at times when I am eating well. I have tons of recipes bookmarked. Every so often I go through them and print off a bunch and try to get around to trying some. I just printed of a new one today that is very interesting and I’m planning to try it this week. My “diet” forum, 3fatchicks, has the most amazing recipes in each different diet section. I also LOVE I haven’t tried the frozen salmon at Costco; we buy the fresh when the boys are home and the frozen burgers all the time for just hubby and me.
    Karen@WaistingTime recently posted..Ode to Cardio

    1. I was skeptical about the frozen fish but I also love having it on hand at all times. Fresh fish is nice in the summer time as a treat. I love allrecipes too! Their app is good.

  4. I try to plan at some some of our meals, and make do with what we’ve got most weeks, but it would be nice to not run to the store so often!

    We always have a supply of chicken thighs and breasts, ground turkey of beef (whatever was on sale last) and some kind of fish. Veggies are whatever they sent us in that week’s produce box, and we are always stocked up on different rice and pasta based mixes and plain.

    I’m also trying to try three new to me recipes each month this year, so that means pre-planning a bit more on weeks I want to try something new. What I need to do it start menu planning!
    Deb recently posted..Day 85 – 239.5

      1. I had an Ah-ha! moment right after this. I have a friend who drops her recipes into a hat, then lets her kids draw them out. That’s how she plans her menus for the week. Random selection, basically.

        I opened up excel, made 3 columns. Main dishes, Veggies Sides, Carb Sides. Entered the food we always have on hand plus recipes we’ve both liked into the appropriate columns. Then I went to the random number generator and started picking numbers.

        I think I’m going to try this for a few weeks and see how it goes! Some of the combos are a little weird though… lol.
        Deb recently posted..Paula Deen’s Old Fashioned Sweet Potato Pie

        1. That’s cool! Let me know how your system works for you. Give it some time to work out the kinks.

          When Michael and I first started meal planning we did something similar. We’d use an Excel spreadsheet and plan each evening’s meals, complete with the recipe link and all the ingredients we had on hand, plus what we had to buy. It was super involved and we have since simplified it.

  5. Hi Lisa, this is excellent info, thanks. I’m in “use up what we have in the fridge, freezer and cupboard mode” right now, so have made an inventory, and am planning accordingly. I actually really enjoy meal planning and also trying new recipes and combinations of protein, veg and grains. Have a great Monday.
    Roz@weightingfor50 recently posted..The last celebration of the holidays

  6. I don’t plan meals too much in terms of grocery shopping. We have our staple things we have and just prepare them simply most times. On weekends when we have a little more time is when we tend to do recipes, particularly John. He does longer cooking stuff on weekends.
    Lori recently posted..Monday, Monday.

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