I’m halfway through my meal planning challenge for January, and so far so good! We have been so busy and frantic the last few months that my meal planning and cooking has seriously suffered!
I have a few goals this month: stick to a strict grocery budget, have dinner planned out each night (no last minute pizza pick ups), and eat HEALTHIER (this is the big one)!
The thing is, I don’t have a lot more time than I’ve had the past few months. So I’m trying to simplify and plan ahead on all my meal planning. A big portion of this is figuring out better ways to prep my meals ahead of time.
So over this weekend I was able to get ahead on a lot of my meal prep work and I can already tell it’s going to make a big difference in my week! (HINT: Come on over and join me on Instagram! I’ve been doing weekly instastories sharing a peek inside everything I’ve been cooking and making!)
My Loose Meal Plan for the Week:
I’m easing my way back into meal planning. A big mistake I’ve made in the past is that I get so excited about meal planning that I jump full force back into and make detailed breakfasts, lunches, and dinners and it’s so big and complicated that I can’t keep up on it.
So I’m going slow and incorporating just one or two new things a week while I ease back into the habit of meal planning. Once I get back into the habit, I know how easy it is to fit into my day. But I need to get into that habit first.
So I’m not planning out a lot of specific breakfasts and lunches. I’ll let these develop and each a lot of leftovers during this.
- Overnight Refrigerator Oatmeal (I make them in 1 quart mason jars and they serve all 4 of my boys)
- Mostly leftovers
- And PB&J for the kids
- Bean and cheese bowls when needed
- Some sort of chicken noodle soup for myself for lunches
- Chicken Quinoa Bowls (crockpot)
- Chicken Florentine (crockpot)
- Burritos/Burrito Bowls
- Lentil Sausage Soup (crockpot)
- Homemade Pizza for Thursday night when friends come over
- Birthday dinner (my family is making the dinner)
The thing with meal planning is, once I get into it, it comes so much easier! So I hadn’t planned on doing all this meal prep over the weekend but one thing led to another and now I feel well equipped for the new week!
Meal Prep Saturday:
My meal prep day started all because we wanted to do a fun breakfast on Saturday morning AND I knew I needed to make some chicken stock for my soup this week. Here’s what I ended up prepping (BTW I forgot to take pictures of most of these steps, so I took screentshots of my Instastories before they disappeared LOL):
Whole Wheat Fluffy Pancakes
We got up Saturday morning and decided it would be a fun day to make pancakes! You see – I got a grain mill for my birthday and I’ve been busy making anything and everything I can out of my new love: freshly ground wheat! You guys – it tastes so amazing I can’t believe!
Not only does the whole wheat have a MUCH better and richer flavor than any store bought wheat, it also works extremely well in recipes. I like to cook with whole wheat as much as possible already, but too often my baked goods end up just a little too dense and hard. As soon as you can make whole wheat, it just doesn’t work as well for things like pancakes and bagels like white flour does.
Well freshly ground wheat makes all the difference!! I knew the freshly ground flour would be healthier for us, but I wasn’t prepared for how much we would love it.
Long story short, we decided to make whole wheat pancakes! We used freshly ground soft white wheat berries and it ended up amazing.
Tips for fresh Whole Wheat:
- After a lot of research, we ended up with the NutriMill Plus grain mill and I LOVE IT!!
- The pancake recipe we used is from the MOST AMAZING cookbook, The Essential Home-Ground Flour Book
- Not sure if a grain mill is right for you, this FREE video class is what finally CONVINCED ME that I NEEDED ONE!!
We made four batches of the pancakes because we loved them so much! We ate a bunch on Saturday, had leftovers on Sunday before Church (pre-made breakfast for the WIN), and I put another breakfast or two worth in the freezer.
Whole Wheat Homemade Bagels
After the smashing success of the whole wheat pancakes, we decided we had to try homemade bagels. It’s been on my wish list of things to make, and what better day than Saturday when I had a little extra time!
This time we used hard white wheat berries and they were incredible!! I’ve been super intimidated about trying out bagels, but they were way more simple than I expected. We ended up having bagels and scrambled eggs for dinner Saturday night and I plan on making another big batch of the bagels soon and freezing them so we can pull them out when needed.
The recipe we used is in The Essential Home-Ground Flour Book that we love so much! But you can also find the recipe on the Bread Beckers website (hands down my favorite source for learning how to cook like this – the website and store is from the author of that cookbook we love so much.
We topped the bagels with Trader Joe’s Everything but the Bagel seasoning blend. It was amazing and perfect and only $1.99 a bottle!
The Best Whole Cooked Chicken!
I am making two soups later this week (one for dinner and one for me to eat off of for lunch all week). Because of that, I knew I needed to make some chicken stock (see below). Before doing that, I needed chicken bones!
So Saturday morning I put two whole chickens in two different crockpots to cook on low all day. If you’ve been intimidated about cooking a whole chicken, don’t BE!! It’s actually incredibly easy and will give you the most tender, delicious chicken meat!
I got the two pack of organic chicken from Costco which has been the best per pound price I’ve been able to find. I would like to try and find a cheaper local source but haven’t been able to yet.
The recipe I follow is from 100 Days of Real Food and it takes less than 2 minutes to set up. All you need is a whole chicken, 1 onion, and whatever spices you have on hand. This recipe is also in one of my favorite cookbooks from Lisa.
The chicken was done in the evening, I took all the meat off and threw everything back into the crockpot.
Homemade Chicken Stock
I then made two big crockpots full of chicken stock. Ideally, you will let the chicken stock simmer on high for at least 24 hours. So it was done Sunday night, I strained it off and put it in the fridge. I’ll be making both soups Monday night and Tuesday morning.
The recipe I follow is from Dr Axe: Chicken Bone Broth Recipe. Homemade bone broth is now a regular part of my weekly meal prep. It’s so so simple and easy and now that I always stock carrots, onions, and celery in my fridge, I always have what I need to throw it in.
Plus, a shredded chicken each week is the perfect thing to throw chicken burritos together, add it to soup, or make into countless other meals!
Chicken Quinoa Bowls
Our dinner for last night (Sunday) where my famous (according to Jason) chicken quinoa bowls. This is a weird little recipe I invented a few years ago that we love to have at least a few times a week!
- 4 frozen or fresh chicken breasts
- 1 jar (38ounces) Costco salsa (or any salsa you love)
- Optional: Cooked quinoa to pour the chicken on (or Rice!)
- Optional: Sourcream to top
- Optional: Avocado or guacamole to top
- Optional: Sliced black olives to top
1) Place frozen or thawed chicken breast in crockpot.
2) Pour the entire jar of salsa over the chicken breast
3) Turn on high for 6 hours or low for 8 hours.
4) Once cooked, shred chicken.
5) Pour over a bed of cooked quinoa and top with optional sour cream, avocado, and black olives.
We had this for dinner last night with enough leftovers for tonight’s dinner. And then my chicken stock is all ready for the two soups this week and I’ve got several easy crockpot meals planned throughout the rest of the week. A simple and easy meal plan week is off to a great start!
How I do all my meal planning now:
I used to do all my meal planning by hand and still do sometimes when I’m feeling lazy. But now I do almost all of my meal planning with an online system called Build a Menu. In May I will have been using BAM for 4 years! It really has made an incredible impact on my meal planning.
I do almost all of my meal plans in just 5-15 minutes because the system makes it so easy. You can input your own recipes and/or pull from their bank of hundreds of recipes (which get updated weekly)! The other amazing feature is that it tracks the estimated price of each meal so you can build your menu and see the price of your shopping trip in real time. It’s an amazing tool for sticking to a budget!
Coincidentally, Build a Menu is actually on super sale right now! It’s the lowest price I’ve ever seen on it. It’s just $24.99 for a YEAR subscription right now which breaks down to just $2.08 a month. It saves me a lot more than that in time and money each month!
You can sign up for Build a Menu here through my affiliate link for just $24.99 through January 15th (just use coupon code BAM24.99 at check out when you select the premium plan (normally $59!!!)! Or you can come see a video of how I use Build a Menu for all my meal planning here.