We spent Saturday at the gorgeous historic Yates Mill Park for a kickin’ Fall Harvest Fest and Saturday night went out (sans baby!) to two separate friends gatherings. One included a delicious meal and backyard fire and the other singing along to various Beatles classics and John Prine until midnight! Sunday Grace and I did our normal grocery shopping trip while Chris worked, which brings me to the topic of this post; meal planning. Don’t be scared!
Meal planning can be a challenging, but so necessary chore, for the purposes of time, money, health and happiness. Especially if there is a child involved. There is so much information on this topic. Books, websites, meal planning notebooks, heck, entire companies will charge you a pretty penny to do all the work for you. It’s all in an honest effort to make feeding oneself and family easy and stress-free. It upsets me that a most important aspect of ones life can for some people cause stress or the opposite, get over looked to avoid the stress altogether. While I genuinely enjoy spending time in the kitchen, I think I’ll always be trying to look for new ways I can streamline our weekly menu to avoid kitchen burn out. Combining more than 5 years of marriage and having an almost toddler, I feel like I’m getting better. A few people have asked me how I go about the process so I typed it all out below. I’m no expert! But these practical tips make getting food on the table all week a bit easier for us. If you’re looking to improve how you feed yourself and/or family, give them a try.
Just in time for apple season, I’ve also included a frittata recipe which has made for a great fall lunch this week combining, the crispy, sweet cool season fruit, sage, sweet potatoes and cream cheese.While at the farmers market on Sunday, Grace and I must have sampled about 10 different North Carolina apple varieties. All delicious! We (as in me) settled on a mixed bag of Jona Gold, Gala, Fuji, Pink Lady and Honey Crisp. After scrolling through these meal prep hacks, give the recipe a try.
Meal planning tips:
- Don’t try to start from scratch every week. Search your freezer, pantry, fridge and left overs to see what you already have and use that as inspiration for your menu for the week. This saves money, time and prevents waste. Maybe you have some eggplant that’s getting soft and would make a nice pasta topping with chicken from the freezer. Now all you need to buy is a dollar box of pasta! Or what about things like dried beans, rice and grits and jarred food that certainly linger in my food cabinet for a while. What can you do with those? I’m sure the World Wide Web could give you some help.
- Deal with your food after you buy it: Go ahead and wash and chop your greens, herbs and veggies, storing them properly to prevent spoiling. This also makes them readily available when you want to cook. Shred or slice your cheese (buying from the block is cheaper and shredded cheese is usually coated in corn or potato starch.) If cooking with any beans, grains or nuts go ahead and rinse and soak them. If buying a whole roasted chicken, debone it.
- Try to do more with less. Example: maybe your grocery store has carrots on sale. Buy a bunch. Make a pot roast, a carrot ginger soup, have them on salad or raw with dipped hummus. Same ingredient, different meals and flavors.
- Sunday equals prep day! Carve out some time on the weekend to prep some of your meals so there is less work to be done during the week. Crank up the music, pour some coffee, open the windows and get to work. See our menu this week below for some examples.
- Don’t plan out every single meal. That’s too much work and unrealistic in my opinion. Account for leftovers, spontaneous meals out, invitations from friends and for some nights when you just don’t want to go near the kitchen. For this reason, we usually have a frozen pizza on hand. I plan about 5 specific meals of the week.
- Three words: Soups, salads, frittatas! We eat these three dishes on a weekly basis in all forms depending on what’s in season and already in the kitchen. There are endless ways to get creative with these and they can easily be made in advance, serving you all week. Plus they are super healthy! For salads, I’ll chop the veggies and protein and just have the dressing in a separate jar until serving.
- Use the seasons for inspiration!
- Figure out what your kitchen basics are and keep them stocked: For me those are good quality chicken or veggie stock, bacon, eggs, yogurt, granola, grits, dried beans, onion, garlic, jams, cheese, picked vegetables, fresh herbs, whatever green is in season, good quality protein of (fish, pork, chicken), frozen pizza (no shame here), coffee, wine and ice cream.
- Have the day’s nutritional intake in mind: We load up on the protein and produce for breakfast and lunch, making those meals extra healthy but tasty. Meaning in the evening, we can indulge a little or just eat something simple. We’ve had just cheese, crackers, and a simple salad plenty of times. Because our first two meals were pretty substantial and ice cream is always waiting on us, we don’t mind. There’s a saying, “Eat Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.” This concept works for us well. Unlike most people, our breakfast and lunches are typically more elaborate and take more prep (but done in advance) while our dinners are pretty simple and easy to make. Since lately by the end of the day everyone just wants to relax, we’re all happy if dinner is quick and effortless.
So let’s put these tips together. With all that being said, below is what I bought this weekend and the menu that came of it:
- 4 sweet potatoes
- 1 bag of apples
- 1 pumpkin
- 2 onions
- 1 head garlic
- 1 lb bacon
- 1 large smocked ham slice
- 2 lbs flounder
- 2 oranges
- i jar of marinated Feta cheese
- 1 pint Buttermilk
- A ton of sage picked from my dear friend Sandy’s yard for free. Thank you Sandy!
Combining the above items with some kitchen basics I already had, here’s what we’re eating this week:
- Breakfast: (we typically eat the same thing for breakfast just swapping whatever fruit is in season)
- Yogurt, apples, granola
- Eggs, bacon and biscuits or bagels
- Pumpkin apple soup with bacon and crispy sage
- Weekend prep: roasted pumpkin and apple on low heat while I did other things. Chopped base vegetables (onion, garlic, pepper).
- Sweet potato, apple and sage frittata (recipe below)
- Weekend prep: Made the entire thing Sunday night.
- Simplified version of this ginger chicken salad
- Weekend prep: Thawed and seasoned chicken. Chopped apples.
- Butter bean and ham soup
- Flounder and grits
- Cheese and fruit spread of some sort
- Afternoon snack/dessert:
- An orange, almond olive oil cake, recipe taken from this book
- Feta cheese, jam and crackers
- Hummus and chips
- Pumpkin apple soup with bacon and crispy sage
Apple, Sweet Potato and Sage frittata:
Serves: 5-6 including an 11 month old
- 2 sweet potatoes, scrubbed and sliced
- Olive oil, salt and pepper
- 9 eggs, whisked
- 1 apple, cored and sliced
- 1/3 package cream cheese cubed or an equal amount of soft cheese such as goat or feta
- 8-10 small sage leaves
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Toss sliced sweet potatoes in olive oil, salt and pepper.
- Line the bottom of a pie dish with the sliced sweet potatoes making them the “crust” of your frittata. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes. Once finished, remove from oven and set aside.
- Chiffanode 3 of the sage leaves.
- Fold the 3 sliced sage leaves and the cream cheese into the eggs, pour this mixture into the pie dish lined with sweet potatoes.
- Tuck the sliced apples into the egg mixture in the pie dish, making sure some are visible for a pretty frittata.
- Place the remaining sage leaves around the apples and bake for 30-45 minutes. I often turn the oven off after 35 minutes and leave the frittata in the oven for another 5 minutes then remove it, which helps it to not overcook. Our oven is wacky! You can use a knife test, similar to baking, to test to see if it’s ready. Always allow it to cool a bit before removing.