Meal Planning 101

I’ve had a few people ask me lately about meal plans. I’ll give you a run down about how I plan our meals.

Brian and I pack and take our lunches to work most days of the week. It’s way cheaper and healthier. Even if you are getting an inexpensive meal out, just keep in mind that restaurants charge you at least 3x or more what it costs them to make it. Meaning: You can make it sooo much cheaper at home. Let’s do the math. If you spend $5 on lunch everyday eating out(which if you live in Chicago you spend more), that means that it’s costs that restaurant at most $1.66 to make your meal.

So $5 x 5 days per week is $25 per week on lunches.

If you made that same thing at home for $1.66 x 5 days a week, you would have spent $8.33.

$25-$8.33= a savings of $16.67 per week. Times 52 weeks per year = A savings of…

$866.84 per year

Wow. It really adds up, doesn’t it? Save almost $1000 per year just by packing your lunch instead of eating out. I bet you’d like an extra $1000 per year.

And really, it’s not that hard. It just takes a little planning.

I really like using paper and pen. Notice there is hardly any processed food on the list.

meal plan

First, break it down. How many meals do you need for the week? Check your fridge and pantry. What do you already have that you can use?

We both eat our breakfasts at work. So those need to be packed, too. Do you stop and buy donuts and coffee everyday? Don’t even get me started on how money wasteful that is. Make your own donuts/breakfast sandwiches/oatmeal and coffee for PENNIES. Seriously people. I bet it would take less time to make your coffee at home in a Keurig(yes, you can afford a Keurig if you stop buying your coffee everyday) than to stop, stand in line, order and buy it. So what do we eat for breakfasts? Cold oats, oatmeal bakes, tofu scrambles, egg bakes, donuts, muffins and waffles. Yep, make extra donuts, waffles, pancakes ahead of time and reheat. Just as good as the first time.

donut

Brian and I combined need 12 lunches. I only put 10 because I don’t usually plan the weekend out as strictly as the weekdays. The weekend is when we will eat 1 to 2 meals out. And if we are out running errands or have other obligations, we sometimes eat separately or we just have the leftovers from the week. I try to do one crock pot meal on the weekends. It saves time and makes a lot all at once. I don’t care if you are cooking for one or four, most recipes freeze well. Utilize your freezer, people. So, what are some of my favorite crock pot meals to make? Buffalo chicken, chicken curry, pulled pork, pork tinga, soups…or anything on pinterest. Start it in the morning. When it is done cooking, eat it for dinner. Then portion the rest out. Put a few containers in the fridge and the rest in the freezer.

bust a gut

I have also made a very conscious effort for us to eat meat less. A lot less. I make veggie burgers often. They are simple, fast and incredibly inexpensive to make. They are also filling, low in fat, high in fiber and protein. Win, win, win, win.

Another thing that Brian and I love are macro bowls. I steam kale, cook black beans, roast sweet potatoes, cook quinoa and bake tofu. Then I divide it out evenly between bowls. These bowls pack a punch in the flavor department, are super healthy and filling. They are really easy to customize, too. You don’t like tofu, substitute meat of your choice. You hate black beans? Throw in any other bean or lentil. Don’t have quinoa, use rice. Kale grosses you out? Use broccoli. You get protein, fiber, veg, and antioxidants. Yes these take a little while to make since you cooking everything separately, but they come in at less than $2 per bowl, using all organic ingredients.

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Two other dishes that we love are rama chicken and orange chicken. Healthier versions of take out food, made at home. Both pack great for lunches, too. Substitute tofu for the chicken and they are vegetarian. Most things you order at restaurant can be made fairly simply at home.

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orange

Are these too healthy of options? Make a pizza. Make your own crust. That’s an option that takes less than 10 minutes to make. Spread on some sauce, cheese and toppings. This makes a very large pizza or two, so you will have a few days of left over pizza, too. Another fast option. Kraft whole grain macaroni and cheese… add a source of protein and vegetables(a lot) to it when it’s done cooking. It saves you from eating the whole box, makes it much more nutritious and gives you 1-2 meals worth of leftovers. Win, win.

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Need a fast weeknight meal? Well, that pizza and mac and cheese come together in about a half an hour. Do you know what else cooks really fast? Fish! Seriously, it takes less than 10 minutes to cook most fish. While that is cooking, saute or steam some of your favorite vegetable(s). Tired of your same old, same old tuna sandwich? Make a tuna melt. Leave the sandwich open-faced, throw on a slice of cheese and broil it for a few minutes.

grouper

Another thing I do that saves me a ton of time during the week is to prepare a lot of vegetables a head of time. It’s easy to cut root vegetables, potatoes, or brussies up and roast them while doing other things around the house. Then I have a quick side to go with any meal throughout the week. Or put some potatoes or sweet potatoes in your crock pot. I also peel and cut up the entire bag of carrots at one time to snack on throughout the week.

I also take full advantage of my weekends and get most of my cooking done then. Take 4 hours one day and see what all you can get accomplished. I bet you will be eating well for days. This weekend, I am going to try to make about 10 days worth of food so there are things in the house through next weekend.

What’s on the list? Crockpot buffalo chicken(some will go in the freezer), a batch of veggie burgers, macrobiotic bowls, pizza, grilled burgers, tilapia and asparagus packets and some sort of breakfast(donuts or waffles) to pack for Brian. There you go. Six recipes that will feed 2 people for 10 days, plus some fresh fruit and vegetables. Getting some done ahead of time sure beats scrambling to make dinner every night.

I can make all of that with less than $70 worth of groceries for about one week of food. That’s $10 per day for 3 meals for 2 people. That makes each meal average out to $1.66. Way cheaper than eating out. And much healthier.

You’ve asked. I’ve answered. A weekly meal plan to save your waistline and pocket-book!

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Pumpkin pizza dough and bbq chicken pizza

I love the blog {Never} homemaker. She is constantly being creative with what she has. Which, I try to do, but she seems to do it much better.

I recently planned to make a hybrid of her Pumpkin Garlic Knots and Pesto Garlic Knots by making Pesto Pumpkin Garlic Knots.

So, I made the dough.

pizza5 pizza6pizza7And then I let it rise. I put half of the batch in the freezer to use later(genius to have spare bread/pizza dough on hand) and went to grab my pesto out of the fridge. Uh oh. There wasn’t near enough left to make the pesto garlic knots. But there was enough left for me to make a delicious flat bread(you know, less surface area to cover than multiple knots).

So, that’s what I did. I pressed the dough out real thin, spread some pesto on it, topped with slices of tomato and a nice blend of Italian cheeses.

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About a week later, I pulled the other half of the dough out of the freezer and made some of Brian’s favorite pizza with it. BBQ chicken. Our favorite BBQ sauce to use is Sweet Baby Ray’s honey chipotle. It has a little heat and smokiness that perfectly compliments the sweet. Top with lots of cooked chicken. Then load on the cheese. Bake until bubbling and has a crispy crust.

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I pulled off a little ball of dough to make an individual pizza for myself, too. I rolled mine out extra thin, cooked it until slightly crisp in a dry skillet, topped it and finished it off on a pizza stone in the oven to melt the cheese.

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This is a super easy pizza dough recipe and I like that it has the added nutrients of the pumpkin. I have also made neverhomemaker’s beet pizza dough with good success. I love that it makes enough for 2 huge pizzas, so I have leftovers to use when I’m short on time.

Portabella mushroom pizza

The other day I was wanting pizza. I had also regained strength in avoiding gluten products. I’ve made a few attempts at the cauliflower crust pizza and didn’t want to buy a standard gluten-free crust at the store.

So I came up with what I thought was a brilliant idea. That was to use a portabella mushroom cap as the base for the pizza. A healthier alternative that the other two. And I love mushrooms on my pizza.

Start by scraping the gills out of the cap of a cleaned portabella. I also cut out the stem. They were a little woody.

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Then I chopped up some spinach and mixed it with pizza sauce and put it in the mushroom caps.

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I topped it with a little more sauce. I like sauce.

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For one of the mushrooms I topped with 2 pieces of pepperoni and some mozzarella cheese. The other one got some blue cheese then mozzarella.

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It would be very easy to make these vegan by omitting the pepperoni and using a vegan cheese.

I baked them at 400 for 15 to 20 minutes until the cheese was melted.

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They were absolutely delightful! Satisfied my craving for pizza without falling off the health wagon.

Halloween weekend

Friday night Brian and I met some of my college friends out for drinks and had a lot of laughs. After being out late on Friday, most of Saturday was dedicated to watching college football, recovering, finishing up Halloween costumes and making pizzas. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle style cookie pizzas.
Your turtles:

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The pizzas:

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Sunday we got up and headed to wait in line to cast our votes early. Votes cast! Civic duty done. Most of the rest of the day was filled with errands and cleaning.
I made Iowa Girl Eats take out fake out sesame chicken. Very tasty and easy to make. Next time I might add a little fresh ginger and some cashews.

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Sunday dinner

After too many barbeques and too eating out lately, I declared that we would eat all of our meals at home on Sunday. It is always healthier to eat at home.

For breakfast we had eggs, toasted flax bread and watermelon.

For lunch we cleaned out the fridge and had carrot sticks, left over bahn mi fixings, quinoa with vegetables and split a leftover piece of restaurant pizza.

For dinner, I made a big pizza with lots of vegetables as toppings. I can almost always justify eating pizza if I make it myself and load it up with veggies. It had sautéed asparagus, eggplant, onion, zucchini, mushrooms and big slices of tomato. The best part of a big pizza? Leftovers that I can send with Brian and maybe save a few slices for myself to nibble on throughout the week. And extra sautéed vegetables for a quick and easy side all week.

I used the Easiest no-rise pizza dough recipe for the crust. Store bought pizza sauce. Lots of veggies then topped it with a little part-skim mozzarella cheese. Bake and enjoy!

Bake and enjoy!

Dinner. 5 ingredients. 20 minutes or less. Yum

Naan is perhaps my favorite bread product. It is one of the gluteny things I still rarely include in my diet. I was wanting pizza the other weekend, but haven’t found any gluten-free pizza options that I love.

What’s a girl to do?

Be bad and use naan as the crust for my pizza. Oh yeah.

Ingredients:

  • store bought naan(i used garlic)
  • pizza sauce
  • soy cheese
  • mushrooms
  • spinach

Turn on broiler.

Place naan on baking sheet.

Cover with pizza sauce. I like a lot. Brian…not quite as much.

Top mine with tons of mushrooms and spinach. Brian’s…not quite as much.

Top with soy cheese. Brian’s got a lot more cheese than mine.

Broil for 5-10 minutes. Dairy cheese would be melty, oozing and bubbly. Soy…not so much. So, when it starts to brown, pull the pizzas out.

Slice, serve with a salad and have left overs. So tasty!

Deep dish skillet pizza

Pinterest has been added to my list of addictions. More places to get recipes and ideas? I die.

Everybody Like Sandwiches is on my list of regularly read food blogs, but I happened to run across this recipe from them on Pinterest. Since I got a new porcelain enameled cast iron skillet, braiser and grill pan for Christmas, I thought I should put one of them to use.

Start by pre-heating the oven to 500F.

Make your favorite crust. I did a variation that combined the crust that Everybody Likes Sandwiches used in their post and my easiest no-rise pizza dough. Once you have your crust ready for the pan, oil the inside of the skillet. Using oiled fingers, press crust into pan and about one inch up the side of the pan.

Sprinkle a thin layer of cheese on top of the crust.

Spread a layer of pizza sauce over the cheese.

Place toppings on top of the sauce. I recommend pepperoni and jalapeno.

Top with more cheese.

Place skillet in the oven. Bake at 500F for 12 minutes. Then lower oven temperature to 400F and cook for an additional 8 minutes or until crust is light brown on the edges.

Let cool 5 minutes before cutting.

This pizza is out of this world delicious. It’s the closest thing to pizzeria made pizza I have made.

Thanksgiving pizza

Do you need a good way to use up those Thanksgiving leftovers? Here’s a quick and easy recipe to make a dent into the food stashed in your fridge.

I used a left over frozen pie shell from Thanksgiving, but you could easily use a premade pizza crust or make your own. Preheat oven to 350F. Mix 3 tablespoons each of spicy dijon mustard, low-fat mayo and honey in a bowl. Sprinkle in 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder. Mix. Cube or shred about 2 cups left over turkey. Toss with mustard sauce until well coated.

Spread turkey mixture out evenly on crust. Sprinkle with a little pepper.

Top with 3-4 sliced mushrooms. Top with about a half cup of left over stuffing.

Top with swiss cheese (or provolone or mozzarella if you prefer).

Bake for about 20 minutes or until cheese is melted and crust is golden brown.

Dip in cranberry sauce, if you like.

This pizza is surprisingly delicious. It has a lot of flavor and feels a lot lighter than normal pizza, making it the perfect meal for the day after stuffing yourself.

Eggplant Parmesan Pizza

Eggplant parmesan is one of my favorite foods. When I saw a recipe for eggplant parm pizza, I knew it was in my immediate future. And it was super tasty and a great twist on a classic dish.

Ingredients:

  • one eggplant
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs
  • pasta sauce
  • pizza cheese(mozzarella or a blend)
  • fresh parmesan cheese
  • pizza crust

You will need one eggplant(preferably from your local farmer’s market), sliced into 1/4 inch thick slices. I’m not going to tell you to limit how many slices you make, because you will be so happy with the results that you will want slices left over to make eggplant parm sandwiches or more pizza.

Lightly beat 1 egg white in a bowl. In a separate bowl, pour out 1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs.

Preheat oven to 375F. Prepare one large baking sheet with non-stick spray.

Dip eggplant in egg white, make sure you cover both sides of eggplant. Let excess drip off.

 Move to bread crumb bowl:

Make sure both sides get covered with bread crumbs:

Repeat until all slices are dipped and placed on baking tray:

Place in oven heated to 375F. Cook for 15 minutes. Pull tray out of oven, turn each eggplant slice over and return to oven for another 12 minutes.

When done, pull out of oven. Heat oven to 500F.

Place sauce on pizza dough. Place eggplant on top of sauce. Sprinkle on a little extra oregano and basil, if desired. Top with pizza cheese and parmesan.

Bake 10-12 minutes for until crust starting to brown.

I  made my pizza 2/3 eggplant parm and 1/3 mushroom and asparagus. Both sections of the pizza were awesome. In the future I would add more sauce to the eggplant parm side, but I tend to prefer a more heavily sauced pizza, anyway.

Bread maker pizza dough

I’m a firm believer in homemade pizza dough. It really doesn’t take much time and it tastes so much better. My sister-in-law made pizza dough in her bread maker when I was visiting her a few years ago. I’d never tried its, so I gave it a shot today.

Adapted from food.com:

In the bottom of your bread maker, add 1 cup and 2 tablespoons water, 2 tablespoons olive oil and one teaspoon salt. Add 3 cups while wheat flour and 2 tablespoons of sugar on top of that. Make an indentation in the dry ingredients to put the 2 teaspoons active yeast. Make sure you don’t dig all the way to the wet ingredients.

Shut the lid to your bread maker, place on dough setting and hit start. When the dough is done, take out of machine and place in oiled bowl. Cover and let rise in warm place for 30 minutes.

Risen dough:

Lightly knead risen dough. Divide in two equal pieces. Place on greased sheets and stretch to make two pizzas(9×13 rectangle or 12 in round):

Top with sauce and toppings of choice. Bake at 500 for 10-12 minutes or until the crust starts to brown and cheese is bubbling.

This dough was very easy to make. It still needs a little tweaking. It was somewhat difficult to stretch out in to pizza sized discs. This may have been because my bread dough machine beeped like it was done, but it still said it had 25 minutes left on the cycle. What I didn’t notice until I went out to the kitchen a little later is that it had moved on to the “rise” stage. So, I have may have inadvertently let it rise twice. Once baked, it tasted pretty good. I’d make it again and experiment with taking out of the machine when it first beeps and letting it rise outside the machine.  I also want to try letting it run for the full time in the machine and then pulling it out and stretching it into pizzas right then as well. You know, just to see which works best.

This entire recipe is 41 weight watchers points plus. Each pizza is 20 points plus,then add toppings points to figure total points for pizza.