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Monday, January 20, 2014

Frozen: How To Plan A Weekly Menu

Before we get to cold stuff, I am hot stuff this week! I am thrilled to have been featured in the Philofaxy "Reader Under the Spotlight" yesterday. Go find out my secrets.

And now to the main event...planning a menu from your freezer. So many people struggle with what to eat and trying not to eat out every meal, especially since eating at home is healthier and saves time and money. But without a blueprint for planning meals, dinner time can be the most stressful part of the day.


For Christmas, I received a deep chest freezer. As I am currently a stay-at-home mom, saving money is very important to us. This freezer has been a blessing in that respect. By having a freezer, I am able to cheaply stock up on meat (when it's on clearance, like turkeys, on sale for $0.79 a pound and with a $3 off sticker after Christmas) and fruits and vegetables (bought in bulk from the produce stand in season and then frozen for meals). 

But the biggest benefit of the freezer is the convenience. This week, for example, I can't go shopping on Tuesday (my normal day). No problem. The freezer will feed us chicken breasts until Wednesday. My store doesn't have our brand of milk about once a month. No problem. I keep a couple of gallons in freezer. Need a quick meal because karate is tonight? Warm up a pre-made freezer meal, like ham or chili.

I plan my menu for the week on Sundays (or early on Mondays). When planning, I follow these steps:

1. What days are we eating out?

I block out those days on my menu. (See Wednesday and Friday, below.)


This week, we are eating out for my husband's birthday and we are going to a gymnastics meet where we will probably eat something quick on the road. (Actually, we might end up eating pb&j that afternoon, but I won't be cooking.)

2. What is on sale this week?

Chicken breasts are on sale this week at my grocery store. At least one meal will be planned around whatever meat is on sale. (See Sunday, above.) I just google or go to my store's website to see the sales.

3. What meal can come directly from the freezer?

At least one meal each week is planned based on ingredients or individually pre-packed frozen meals (homemade, of course) that are in my freezer. (See Tuesday, above.)

This week, I have all the ingredients for bacon cheeseburgers in the freezer.

TIP: Here's the thing about my "from my freezer" meal...it's the meal that I substitute out if something amazing is at sale at the grocery store. So, when I shop on Tuesdays, if ribeyes are on clearance, the hamburger meat, buns, bacon, onions, and cheese all stay in the freezer, and we have ribeyes instead.

4. Which meals can also feed the freezer?


I assign at least one meal, but preferably two, cooked from scratch that will have enough leftovers to make many individual meals in the freezer. (See Thursday and Saturday, above.)

TIP: The leftovers are individually frozen in one or two serving packs. This works best to eliminate waste, since I can simply defrost the leftovers for quick lunch for one of us or defrost four packets for the whole family.

Right now, I have two turkeys in my freezer, so this week, I will defrost and cook one (along with homemade cranberry sauce, which also freezes quite well). I also need more chili, as it is a staple in our house (in a bowl with crackers, over baked potatoes or tator tots, over pasta, or over nachos...seriously, chili can be served so many ways), so chili is also on the menu. If I worked outside the home more, I'd only do this once a week.


REMINDER: Put a note in your planner to defrost the turkey and ground beef several days in advance. Put another note in your planner to freeze the leftovers before they get bad.


5.What simple meals can supplement for the rest of the days?

We generally do quick meals, like stir-fry, pasta, breakfast, or grilled cheese, on the remaining days. (See Monday, above.)

6. What about breakfast and lunch?


All my dinners are covered, but what about breakfast and lunch? 

I only write breakfast or lunch on the menu if I am cooking something special. For example, if I know I'm packing leftover turkey for lunch when substitute teaching, that goes on the menu. If a friend is joining me for bacon and pancakes, that goes on the menu.


Well, we keep regular foods stocked for breakfast. Whenever a box of cereal is emptied, the person who empties it lets me know. Whenever we are out of frozen waffles (homemade starting this week) or syrup, whoever runs out lets me know. I keep two of most things in stock, so my family member lets me know and then gets out the last box of cereal or whatever.

Personally, I eat a banana, a bagel, or a piece of toast. My husband eats nuts and the kids eat waffles or cereal. It's pretty constant.

For lunch, we do a combo of buying school lunches, making one meat for the whole week with raw veggies for my STRANGE husband, and leftovers, boiled shrimp and potatoes, or salads for me.


TIP: Go through your menu and make sure you have all the ingredients or add the ingredients to your shopping list.

BONUS TIP: I only defrost big stuff, like a turkey, in advance in the fridge. For a pound of ground beef, I just defrost in the sink under cold water. Make a note in your planner to defrost the meat in time!

I hope this helps you make a menu plan.


Etcetera.

6 comments:

Donna McBroom-Theriot said...

I really enjoyed this article. I haven't been into planning meals in a long time. I think it's because I know I have a couple of weeks worth of food in the freezer and can pick and choose from cooked veggies and an assortment of meats, seafood, etc. This is a great post to help someone learn how to manage meals.

yezenia said...

I don't have much room in my small freezer yet things still get lost and forgotten in there. I've started keeping a inventory on the freezer so I add things as I buy them on sale and then cross them out as I take them out to defrost. So far it's helped but I still need to learn how to plan meals in advance. My weird schedule and living situation (working nights and sometimes staying at my mom's place instead of coming home) makes meals a bit stressful.

Anonymous said...

Brown the hamburger meat then freeze it for a super fast dinner, be it tacos, chili, or a skillet meal. You can add it right to the pot without thawing.

My planner and freezer are some of my best friends.

Erin said...

Ok so I am new to the planner/FF thing and trying to use it to make my life easier...meal planning is starting to be a must do. With my boys getting older, therefore more involved in activities I am really struggling to get dinner on the table in a reasonable time. I am going to give this a try! Any tips for someone starting from zero? We do have a deep freeze but right now it pretty much is just holding deer meat and popsicles.

Giftie Etcetera said...

Find a delicious, easy-to-cook dish that your family loves (for us, it's chili) and make a double batch to start! You don't need to feed the freezer all at once.

Homemakersdaily.com said...

I don't plan breakfast and lunch either.