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.

weekend12

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.

rama5

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.

pizza3

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!

Advertisements

Baked grouper

While in Texas I made this meal twice for my non-fish loving parents. Grouper is a good gateway fish because it doesn’t taste fishy at all and it’s a little meatier than tilapia. This is a very simply prepared fish with a nice flavor

grouper2

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound grouper fillets
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 1/2 lemons, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 lemon, whole
  • salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350.

Lightly oil or butter baking sheet. Place fish on baking sheet. Salt and pepper fish. Top with small pieces of butter. Squeeze half of lemon over fillets. Lay slices of lemon on top of fish.

grouper1

Bake 15-20 minute or until lemon is cooked all the way through.

I served the fish with a side of roasted potatoes and some sauteed green beans.

grouper3

Asparagus and tilapia

I made a version of this recipe the other day. Except this time instead of making individual packets, I made 4 servings in a covered roasting pan. I also changed a few ingredients.

I started by laying asparagus on the bottom.

Asp1

Then I made a marinade/sauce for the asparagus and tilapia. I used lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper.

asp7

Layer the tilapia on the asparagus

Asp2

Pour lemon and olive oil mix over the top. Then add some capers:

asp6

Asp3

Cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 20-25 minutes at 350F:

Asp4

Look at that delicious meal:

asp5

It’s a really inexpensive and nutritious meal and it takes 30 minutes or less to make.  A perfect weeknight meal.

Memorial feast

This is the type of meal we eat when I’m allowed to roam free in Whole Foods on a hot day.

New York strip steaks were on sale for $12.99/lb. We bought a steak that was a little over a half pound and split it.

I also had some shrimp at home. I marinated them in garlic, avocado oil and crushed red pepper.  I put them on the cast iron grill pan after the steak had finished and was resting. They had awesome flavor.

Surf and turf.

I used my cast iron grill pan to cook some asparagus and corn while I roasted some fingerlings in the oven.

I topped the fingerlings with some soy-based Cesar dressing we had gotten at City Farms. So delicious.

Washed it all down with some strawberry lemonade that I had left over from making popsicles.

Not a bad meal, if you ask me.

So while it was an excellent and complete meal, it gives you a glimpse of how I tend to cook in the summer. Much more simply. There is so much wonderful fresh produce that often needs little done to it. It’s also the direction I am trying to take my cooking. I am attempting to eliminate processed foods and products as much as possible.

Honey Lime Fish Tacos

Brian sent me a link to this recipe and I knew I would be making it soon. Like, for lunch that day, with a few minor changes.

These are absolutely delicious. Light and full of flavor.

Ingredients:

  • 2 4-6oz flounder fillets
  • zest and juice of one lime
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for cooking
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more for dredging
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper, plus more for dredging
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup brown rice flour(or white flour if not gluten-free)
  • tortillas
  • lettuce and avocado, or other favorite taco toppings

Make marinade by combining lime zest, juice, honey, olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic powder.

Add fish and marinate for a minimum of 30 minutes and up to 24 hours. I let mine marinate for 2-3 hours and they had great flavor.

When ready to cook, combine flour and a little more salt and pepper in a bowl.

Heat oil in a skillet. Dredge fish in flour and place in hot oil.

Cook about 4 minutes on each side and until nice and brown and crispy.

While the fish is cooking, take the marinade that the fish was sitting in and bring it a boil in a small sauce pan for 5-6 minutes or until it thickens.

Place in tortilla, top with some lettuce and avocado and drizzle thickened sauce over. The sauce really makes these tacos.

Brian ate one taco, looked at me, and said, “These are soooo good that I could eat five of them.” They are a little sweet and a little tangy and a whole lot of delicious.

Healthy coconut shrimp

Over at Skinny Taste, Gina does some great things with recipes. I couldn’t resist when I saw her skinny coconut shrimp recipe.

You can make these as a meal, or make a smaller batch as an appetizer, like I did. I made 4 of them for each Brian and I. I didn’t make a dipping sauce because they are sweet and tasty enough on their own. Why add unnecessary calories?

Here’s Gina’s recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb (24) large shrimp, peeled and deviened (weight after peeled)
  • 1/2 cup + 1 tbsp shredded sweetened coconut
  • 1/2 cup + 1 tbsp panko crumbs
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour (you will only use 1 tbsp)
  • 1 large egg
  • pinch salt
  • non-stick spray

Preheat oven to 425F.

Place flour in a small dish. Whisk egg in another bowl. In a separate bowl, combine coconut, panko and salt.

Dip the shrimp in flour and shake off the excess. Dip in egg. Dip in coconut mixture. Place on baking sheet that has been sprayed with non-stick spray.

Once all the shrimp are on the baking sheet, spray the tops of the coconut with more spray.

Bake on the middle rack for 10 minutes. Turn the shrimp over and bake for another 6-7 minutes.

Serve hot.

Oyster stuffing

I’m not a fan of stuffing. I would have been happy to not have it at the meal, but Brian really wanted oyster stuffing. So, being the adventurous girlfriend that I am, I made the oyster stuffing. Still not sold on the stuff, but Brian loved it.

Recipe adapted from Epicurious.

Ingredients:

  • 1 loaf of wheat French bread, torn into 3/4 inch cubes
  • 5-6 slices bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil(if needed)
  • 1 medium onion finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoons dried sage
  • 1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons parsley
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup oysters, shucked, drained and chopped
  • 1 cup turkey giblet stock or low-sodium chicken broth

Preheat oven 325F.

Spread bread cubes in shallow baking pans and bake until golden brown 25-30 minutes. Cool bread in pans, then transfer to a large bowl. Or if you’re like me, you can get busy other things and burn half of the bread cubes and have to bake another pan.

Ooooooops!

Meanwhile, cook bacon in a skillet over medium heat, until crisp. Turn as necessary. Remove from skillet, drain on paper towel and tear into small pieces, once cool. Leave bacon fat in pan.

If bacon renders less than 1/4 cup of fat, add enough oil to skillet to total 1/4 cup fat. Cook onions, celery, thyme, sage, garlic, salt and pepper in fat.

Stir occasionally, until vegetables are softened(8-10 minutes). Transfer to bowl with bread cubes, stir in bacon, parsley, butter and oysters. Combine well.

Transfer stuffing into a 2 quart shallow baking dish. Drizzle with broth. Bake, covered in middle of oven for 30 minutes, then uncover and bake about 30 minutes more(until browned).

Salmon fillets-two ways

Here are two easy marinades for salmon fillets.

Honey-Soy Salmon: slightly sweet with lots of flavor

Ingredients(per 4oz of salmon):

  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp packed brown sugar
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp melted butter
  • 1/4 tsp minced garlic

Combine all ingredients in a resealable bag.

Mix well. Add salmon and let marinate for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Broil 5-9 minutes(depending on thickness) or until fish flakes easily with a fork.

 

Lemon-Dill Salmon: zesty lemon with a kick

Ingredients(per 4oz salmon):

  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp dill weed
  • 1/4 tsp tarragon
  • 1/4 tsp minced garlic
  • salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients.

Mix well.

Pour into resealable bag, add salmon, toss to coat. Marinate for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Broil for 5-9 minutes(depending on thickness) or until salmon flakes easily with fork.

 

Orange and fennel flounder fillets

These fillets are so flavorful and a great way to get fish without it tasting fishy. They are even simple and elegant enough to make for a dinner party.

Recipe adapted from Food and Wine:

Ingredients:

  • 2 fennel bulbs(about one pound each), with fronds
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 4 4oz flounder fillets

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 450F. While the oven is heating, cut off the tops of the fennel bulbs. Chop fronds and set to the side for later. Cut fennel bulbs in to 8 wedges each. Toss with olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon of salt and pepper. Spread the fennel in an even layer and roast for 25 minutes. Stir the fennel and roast 15 minutes longer.

While fennel is roasting, combine the orange juice, zest, fennel seeds and remainder of salt and pepper in a Ziploc bag. Combine. Add in fillets and let marinate for about 30 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and top the fennel with the flounder and its marinade. Roast until the flounder is just done; about 7 minutes. Sprinkle the chopped fennel fronds over the flounder and serve.

4 oz of flounder and 1/4 of roasted fennel is 7 weight watchers points plus.

Spicy coconut curry mussels

 

I am a picky seafood eater. Brian is not. Brian is from Florida and loves all things seafood and probably wishes I made it more often. Sometimes I like to surprise him with seafood dishes. I made this over the weekend for the two of us.

Adapted from This Girl Can Eat:

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds of mussels(scrubbed, debearded and discard broken)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons red curry paste
  • 1 (13.5oz) can of lite coconut milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh, grated ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon thai chili sauce
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce(optional)
  • juice from 1/2 lime
  • chopped cilantro
  • french bread

In a large pot, add the butter, garlic, wine, curry paste and coconut milk.

Bring this to a boil over high heat. Stir. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 2-3 minutes.

Stir in the ginger and white pepper; turn the heat back to high. 

Add the mussels and cover the pot.

Cook until the mussels open, about 3-5 minutes. Mix in the Sriracha sauce, fish sauce and squeeze in the lime juice.

Remove the opened mussels immediately with a slotted spoon and arrange in wide soup bowls. Allow the cooking liquid to settle for a minute. This way, any sand or sediment will fall to the bottom. Carefully spoon the liquid over the mussels. Top with cilantro. Serve immediately with french bread for sopping up the sauce.