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Saturday, January 11, 2014

meal planning - Shelby Davis

SO excited to share this meal planning post featuring the very devoted, hard working, savvy in the kitchen mama, Shelby Davis! 

I've admired for a long time her posts in the discussion board about how she works full time and yet also makes homemade meals for her toddler, who doesn't sit in front of a TV while she cooks. I strive to make yummy meals every night also, but after working all day and having two kids running around me I find it challenging every night. 

Learning from the moms featured in the Meal Planning series this week has been great for me, I know you're going to love this post and find many cool ideas for you to try in your own kitchens. 

Thanks, Shelby, you made me hungry while working on this post! 

All photos from Shelby Davis

1. How long have you been meal planning? I have been meal planning for a couple of years, probably since my husband’s job got transferred closer to home so we could actually eat September 2011. Two and a half years.  

My mom is super jealous because she never meal planned. She thinks it’s some sort of big revelation, like I’ve discovered the best tool ever, but it’s pretty simple and easy and a ton of people do it.

Balsalmic Chicken (above)

Sausage Pasta Bake (below)

2. When in your week do you meal plan?
I used to do all my meal planning on Friday night or Saturday morning, then would make my grocery list from the meal plan and grocery shop Saturday mid- morning. But I found that to be too time consuming and annoying. It would take me over an hour to do it because I kept getting distracted! And I wanted to relax on the couch with my husband on Friday nights after a long work week and on Saturday mornings I just wanted to play with my son on the floor. 

So at the end of November, I made a meal plan for the entire month of December (I still shop weekly, but the plan is already made). It worked very well and I did it again for January. I found we could eat a different meal each day of the month and we weren’t bored eating the same things over and over again.  

I try to plan it all in one sitting, like when my son is napping on a Saturday afternoon, but if not, I’ll just write down something in a slot whenever I have the chance.  

I start doing it a week before the start of the new month. And I ask my husband if he has any special requests so I can make sure I include his favorites.

3. Where in the house is your plan kept?
I keep a spiral notebook with my plans, so I can always flip back and see what I’ve made during previous weeks/months if I’m trying to think of ideas for the new month, and I also keep my running grocery list on the next page. So everything is together and not on a whiteboard that gets erased at the end of the week (I no longer have a memory, so erasing things doesn’t work for me!). 

I make my grocery list throughout the week on the next page and check off the meal once it’s on the grocery list or we already have the ingredients, so if I get distracted I can easily go back to my lists and see where I was. Then I can rip out the grocery list when it’s time to shop and then toss it when I’m done.  

When I get home from shopping, I title the next page “groceries” so my husband knows that’s the running list that he can add to. On the back side of my grocery list I write anything else we need from BJ’s, Trader Joes, or Target. So when I leave the house, I only need one piece of paper. 
Each time we eat a meal I cross it off so each morning my eyes immediately go to what’s next. If we happen to skip a meal, I circle it so I know we still have the ingredients for that meal.

4. Why do you meal plan? Why is it important to you?
It’s important so I don’t lose my mind at night. I try to be organized and because I work full time, I absolutely HAVE to know what we’re eating at night. 

During the week we all eat breakfast and lunch at work and school, so dinner is the only meal we eat at home and I can’t screw it up. I need to be prepared to take something out of the freezer in the morning before work so it’s thawed and as I’m driving home I need to think of the first few steps when we’re in the door.  

Last night I knew that the second we walked in, I need to turn on a burner to boil water right away. When that’s done I can get the dogs outside and get my son settled with a drink and turn some music on or whatever. But getting that first step done before anything else is big. Whether it’s preheating the oven, boiling water or just taking a pan out, I always need a first step to get things going. That way I can feed my son as soon as possible. His last snack of the day is at 3pm and I want him eating dinner by 5:30 so he’s done by 6pm for his 7pm bedtime. (I’m typically home with him by 4:45.)

It’s also important to help me feed my son well, and lastly, it helps me save money because when I go grocery shopping, I stick to the list, without fail. I could never go shopping without a list. I’ve forgotten my list before and couldn’t wing it in the store, I had to go back home (15 minutes away) and get it.

Mexican Shells (above)

Broccoli Stuffed Shells (below)

5. What are a few meal items you typically make each week? Or do you have certain nights set for something like breakfast night or leftover or takeout nights? If so, why those particular nights with those foods? When I do my plan, I try to space out my meats/pasta/mexican/etc so we aren’t eating chicken or pasta 3 nights in a row or whatever.  

Next to the meal on the very right margin, I’ll write C, T, S, P, F for Chicken, turkey, (chicken) Sausage, Pork and Fish so I can see what I have written already.  

Other times there might be red meat or beans or whatever, but not as often as the above meats. And I just make sure we don’t eat pasta more than 1-2 times a week and only Mexican once a week (I have a ton of Mexican recipes and some aren’t super healthy so I try to limit them). 

And I know that things may get hectic so I even though I don’t PLAN on “quick meal”, I always make sure we have something fast in the house, like a frozen pizza, or mac n cheese, or a skillet meal or something.  

So if I get a last minute invite for a girls night, I can tell my husband to make something quick for himself and our son. Or if we end up running late because I got caught up talking to my sons teacher for 30 minutes, I don’t freak that my dinner plan is screwed up, I just toss a frozen pizza in for my husband and I and make my son Annie’s Mac or english muffin pizzas or something similar. That doesn’t happen often, so when it does happen, I just readjust things. I’ll just use the skipped meal for the next night and then get back on schedule.  

If I don’t use all my meals during the week, I can use them at another time during the month and push any additional meals on my plan to the next month (stuff I haven’t shopped for yet.)

6. What are your tips for other moms who want to start meal planning? What works? What didn't work for you when you started? First, gather all your recipes, favorite meals, quick meals, whatever you eat. I have a recipe book I keep everything in. When I make a recipe once and we like it, it immediately goes on an index card and into the book so all the recipes are in the same place, so I’m not searching Pinterest or emails for recipes while I’m trying to meal plan.  

Toss some new recipes in the plan every now and then. I do a new one twice a month usually. Plan your sides as well, I make sure we always have a veggie at dinner. Be realistic with how long it will take to make something. None of my weekday recipes are over 45 minutes from when I start til when they are on the plate. Save the longer recipes for weekends or days off.  

Be flexible. If things get messed up, just push things ahead and don’t worry that you missed a night.  

Also, as you go to weekly or monthly plan, write down any nights that you have something going on. Before I write down any meals, I write down things like “open house”, “girls night”, “husband late meeting”, “mom and dad flying in”, “going skiing”, “Nolan’s birthday” to remind me I may want to alter my plan for that night to include something quick, a special meal, or plan on a bigger meal to include others.  

Also, sometimes throwing in a “leftovers” night or leaving a night or two blank for your own creativity could work. It doesn’t work for me but could work for others. Some people don’t like a meal plan, so for those people who are interested but skeptical that it’ll work for them, just start with planning a couple meals a week.

Pulled Pork and Slaw Sandwich (above)

7. How does meal planning help you be the type of mom you want to be?
It helps me to spend more time with my son and feed him the way I want to.  

I know how long my recipes take, so I get them going when we get home, then I can spend time with him playing or singing or watching a show instead of tossing crackers at him while trying to get him away from a hot stove.  

I also am obsessed with family dinners and feeding him well. No, we don’t buy all organic and don’t eat all low calorie meals, but it’s important to ME that I make him fresh and hot dinners, like my mom did for us when we were kids. Not all moms need to do that, I don’t judge, but it’s what I want to do for my family, and meal planning is necessary for me to make that work.  

I can make sure he’s eating a balanced diet throughout the day. I have his school lunch menu for the month and try to make sure he’s had a good variety of grains, protein, fruits, veggies and dairy throughout the day. Meal planning means I can make sure he didn’t eat a waffle for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and pizza for dinner, overloading the poor kid with one food group for the day. I can also make sure dinner is balanced and we aren’t eating pasta and potatoes together for dinner!

8. Anything else you want to add?
It might seem overwhelming at first, but honestly, it’s one of the best organizational tools I’ve ever used. A meal plan equals a very calm transition from work to school pickup to home. I’d be completely lost without it. If anyone ever wants to screw with me, just steal my meal planning notebook, I’d turn into a psychopath looking for it!

9. HOW do you do make a homemade meal every night after working full time? How long does it take you? Do you do any prep work or any tips on how moms can make homemade meals during weeknights when they are working like you are?
I am a huge fan of recipes with as few ingredients as possible, as few steps as possible and as little time as possible. I don’t have the time to be taking out 10 spices and getting out the mixer or the blender or food processor on weeknights.  

So, few ingredients, easy to shop for ingredients (running around a store looking for an item that you have NO clue what it is while a toddler is screaming at you for snacks just sucks) and minimal prep time.  

I very rarely prep ahead of time except for cutting veggies. What I do for convenience is buy my meats in bulk at BJ’s. I get our chicken breasts in this big package that comes in individually wrapped packages of 6 servings. Each one holds 2 large breasts which is enough for the 3 of us. I buy my ground turkey in a 3lb container and split it into freezer bags when I get home. So my meats are divided up and I just have to take one out of the freezer in the morning. If I do a crock pot, I prep at night and put everything in and put it in the fridge til morning so I just have to turn it on. 
When I cook at night, I just think ahead to the next thing I have to do. I made a sausage pasta bake last night which has very few ingredients. So as soon as I got home, I put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta, set another pan on a burner and preheated the oven. After those things were done, I let the dogs out, hung our coats and bags in the closet, and made sure my son was all set with something to occupy him for 10-15 minutes (last night was an easel with paper and crayons).  

So by then the water is boiling, I add my pasta, cut up the chicken sausage and dump the sausage and veggies into the sauté pan (I cut all veggies on Sunday night and individually bag them while my husband makes our juice recipe for the week.)  

In the 10-15 minutes I have, I’m able to sauté the sausage, veggies, spices and get them all into a baking dish with cheese, and pop it in. It only has to bake for 15-20 min and then we’re ready to eat.  

I also will absolutely modify any and all recipes for my almost 2 year old. So, a few nights ago when I made Mexican stuffed shells, I just gave him the filling because it was ready 20 minutes before the baked shells would have been. Or if I’m doing quesadillas, I just give him the filling, whether it’s chicken or just beans and salsa. Anything that gets baked just for the extra cook time or to brown, I don’t make him wait for the food to bake, I just give it to him. If I can give him something substantial sooner than the entire meal is going to be ready, I cut corners for him but he doesn’t get an entirely different meal, it’s just a slightly modified version of what we’re eating, whatever is ready the soonest. He takes FOREVER to eat (his school says they have never seen a young toddler eat as slow as he does), but that’s fine by me. I’d much rather he take his time, enjoy his food and listen to his stomach, instead of shoveling his food in because my husband and I will be done a lot faster than him. So I’ll start him in his highchair in the kitchen with his plate, and roll him into the dining room when dinner is ready for my husband and I, and we all continue together.  

I have googled “fast recipes” or “few ingredient recipes” to get most of what I make. Some fun recipes are my pulled pork and slaw sandwich on rye, or buffalo mac n cheese.  

My rule is it has to be under 45 minutes from start to finish for it to qualify for a weeknight meal.  

I save anything that takes longer than that for a weekend when I have the extra time to spare, or when I can prep during a nap for later that night.  

I also don’t get hung up on it, so if something goes wrong and I just can’t make dinner that night, I don’t. I’m not above a frozen pizza or hot dogs now and then. But 99% of the time, I’m making dinner from scratch when I get home. It’s something I’m good at so I capitalize on it. There are PLENTY of things I’m not good at so it makes me feel good to cook for my family and be successful.

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