Tag Archives: meal planning

How to learn to cook without being overwhelmed

Kitchen utensils for bakery cooking on color background, Top vie

Does learning to cook sound like an exhausting, mentally overwhelming task to take to you?

Here’s a little secret. When I got married, I could. not. cook. I’m not exaggerating. Hamburger Helper was a feat. Dry chicken was my specialty. We were not bringing home much money, but I know some months our dining out spending inched a little too close to 4 digits. A large portion of that was due to my husband traveling for work, but still – it was ridiculous.

So what changed? How do I now enjoy cooking and actually cook meals my family asks for over and over? Well, the reason behind it was that I didn’t exactly have a choice. Our location and budget changed, forcing me to get serious about feeding my family (of 5 then) at home. However, I’ve put together a few things that helped me along the way and will hopefully also help to make your journey from drive thru extraordinaire to dinner bell(e) queen a little easier. If I can successfully learn to cook and actually find some joy in it, I’m certain pretty much anyone else can too.

*this article contains affiliate links*

  1. Start SUPER Simple
    Super duper simple. When I first started cooking, I’d search for things like “3 ingredient _________” or “4 ingredient ___________.” No joke. If it had too many ingredients or steps, I skipped it. Learning a totally new skill is overwhelming enough with 3 kids 3 and under at my feet. I sure didn’t need 15 steps and/or 10 ingredients, 4 of which I had never heard of! You will be surprised how much you can cook with only a few ingredients. You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated dishes for it to taste good.
  2. Make Your Own Seasonings
    Making your own taco or fajita seasoning is a great way to dip your toes into cooking from scratch! The actual cooking process isn’t much different (if at all) from using the pre-packaged seasonings, it’s healthier, and you can tailor it to suit your tastes!
  3. Get a Slow Cooker
    A slow cooker can make many recipes less complicated. There are tons of recipes out there that only require dumping in the ingredients, stirring, and then waiting on that slow cooker to do it’s thing. Soups, pulled pork sandwiches, and bbq chicken, are all quick and very easy with this method. (Check out my Slow Cooker Pinterest board here.)
  4. Get Organized with Meal Planning
    THIS was a huge one for me. The phrase “meal planning” sounds way more intimidating than it actually is. Meal planning just means an organized method to plan out your meals and keep track of what you are planning to eat and cook. Find a calendar arrangement you like, and write it all down, even if it’s just frozen pizza for lunch. Make a plan! I also recommend putting notes on the calendar for anything you have going on that would interfere with being able to spend time in the kitchen. DO NO TRY FANCY NEW RECIPES ON BUSY DAYS. Kids have practice? Not a good day for trying a new recipe with 15 steps. That’s a day for a sandwich, maybe a new hot sandwich. Maybe not.

    I’ve done a few articles about the methods I’ve used for meal planning. I started out putting pen to paper, which I still recommend for meal planning newbies, as mentioned here, and more recently I have switched to using an online planner subscription, Plan to Eat, which I shared about here. For both methods I prefer a full monthly calendar layout, even if I’m only planning a week or two at a time. It works best for my life, but feel free to do a weekly layout if that works better for you.

  5. Do not get too discouraged when that recipe everyone raved about online tastes terrible.
    It doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. Sometimes you follow a recipe exactly, and it just tastes bad. lol I’ve thrown a few in the trash after just a few bites. A couple never even made it to the table. I’m not a picky eater either, so those were rough.
  6. Get disposable dishes.
    This one is probably going to be a bit controversial, but stick with me. I’m not saying use paper plates every meal for 6 months. (Well, if you want to, do your thing, but that’s not what I’m getting at here.) You’re saving money compared to your previous dining out spending habits, so invest in some disposable plates or bowls for nights when you are planning to try a more complicated or time consuming meal. If you finish cooking and you feel proud of the meal you have prepared, you may just decide you would rather eat it on your regular dishes. You also might decide that was a lot of mental work, and it definitely took longer than the 15 minute prep time the recipe claimed and opt for an evening with less dishes.

These are just a few of the things that helped me as I taught myself to cook. Have you taught yourself to cook? If so, I’d love for you to share any other tips you may have in the comments.

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Filed under food, Homemaking

{Meal Planning 101} 8 Tips to get started meal planning

mealplanningimage

Meal planning is essential to our large family budget and the functioning of our household. When I started meal planning, life got a little easier! It saves time, money, and my sanity. I’ve been saying for a year or more that I would do this post, and for some reason I’m just now getting around to it! It’s probably best that I waited though, as I have tweaked things and am a bit more organized than I was then. Here are some steps to get you started meal planning. Remember, these ideas may work as is for your family or may need to be changed up a bit here and there to fit your needs.

*This article contains affiliate links. Ordering through these links would be a blessing to our family, but will not alter your pricing.*

1. Get a blank calendar.
I started out just printing a basic calendar from my printer presets, but eventually designed my own and laminated it to reuse and rearrange meals easier. I recommend ultra fine tip dry erase markers to write on it. However, for true beginners I suggest printing a new calendar every month. At the end of each month, tuck those into a folder for easy meal planning later! Get stuck? Just pull out an old calendar and copy the meals to your new one, rearranging as needed. This makes meal planning on those crazy days super easy.


meal planning calendar  

2. Get out your planner.
In meal planning, it’s important for me to take into account what we will be doing each day. This way I know what days would be best for trying new recipes and which days would be best for leftovers. Or maybe I need to utilize my InstantPot or slow cooker. For instance, I don’t want to plan a huge, complicated meal on a day I know we have homeschool co-op. Fill in a small note on days of big events, activities, or practices for the whole month.

3.  Start with meals you love!
Start with family favorites. I started my meal planning with meals we knew and loved, adding in a new recipe here and there. Do not feel pressured to cook something new, fabulous, and pinterest-worthy every night! It’s just not necessary! If you love to cook and have the time however, go right ahead and enjoy! Don’t forget to include side dishes on your meal plan calendar!

4. Organize your recipe search.
I prefer Pinterest for this, but there are lots of ways it can be done. Here is a sample of how I organize mine. Hopefully it will give you ideas for how to best organize your recipes for your use.
Feed Me
My basic food board I add recipes to that I want to try as I find them.
Feed Me (Slow Cooker)
– Same as above, but all slow cooker meals. It helps speed up my meal planning if I don’t have to sift through other recipes to find one for an evening I know I’ll need a crockpot meal for.
Recipes We Liked
As I try new recipes, winners get added to this board.
Recipes We Liked (Slow Cooker Style)
Again, same as above, but crockpot meals.


However, I also have a notebook of recipes I have printed out, made copies of, or pages torn from magazines. I have them hole-punched and in a 3-ring binder with labeled dividers to separate them into categories such as: breakfast, chicken, beef, slow cooker, slow cooker soups, desserts, etc. Also, remember I said when I first started I printed a new calendar for each month? I stored those calendars in the back of my recipe binder.


  

5. Don’t be afraid to repeat meals!
This can make meal planning go much faster. Sometimes it’s fun for me to challenge myself and cook lots of different meals in a month. Other times, I’m a super busy large family mom and need to simplify our meal plan. in Fall and Winter, Thursdays are chili night at our house. Homemade pizza is a Friday night regular around here. This Fall, Monday will be a crockpot meal or prep-ahead and toss in the oven meal, as we will be attending our homeschool co-op that day. Tuesdays I change up the recipe each week, but it’s usually a Mexican dish.

6. Leave room for leftovers!
Pick a night that you will be busy or tired from a long day and declare it leftovers night. Not only will this be another easy space to fill on your meal planning calendar, it will also mean less food is left in the fridge and forgotten about.

7. Make your grocery list.
As you write meals on your calendar, make a list of everything you’ll need for that meal, even if it might already be in your freezer or cabinets. For items needed for multiple meals, I use tally marks next to that item to keep track of how much I’ll actually need.

8. Look through your cabinets and freezer.
Get an idea of what you already have on hand to work with. Mark items off your grocery list if you already have them.

I hope these tips help you get started and in the habit of meal planning with a little less headache. If you have success with my method, let me know! I’d love to hear from you. If you change something up to better fit your family, I’d love to hear about that too.

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Filed under cooking, meal planning, motherhood, organization

Emily’s Broccoli Cheese Soup {a no meat meal my husband actually liked!!}

I try really hard to carefully plan out our meals every two weeks. I browse through my notebook of tried recipes and my boards on Pinterest, print recipes, carefully check ingredient lists with what I have on hand, and make my grocery list. However, the reality of it is, all this usually occurs on on a Friday or Saturday afternoon while my kids are running around playing, fighting, and asking for a snack or help in the bathroom every 45 seconds. It’s a wonder I even make it to the store with a list, much less a list that will actually result in yummy meals. There’s always that one recipe that I totally goof up on. It never fails. I forget to write down an ingredient on my shopping list, I look at a jar of sauce or a spice in my cabinet wrong, or I under estimate how much of something my kids will devour before I get around to actually cooking the meal. Then I never realize it until I’m in the middle of prepping that meal. Happens every time.

Last week it was this recipe for Broccoli Cheddar Soup. The original post claims it to be a great copycat of Panera’s broccoli cheddar soup. I can’t help ya there. I’ve never actually had the broccoli cheddar soup at Panera, so I have no idea how close it is, or even what that recipe tastes like. 🙂 If someone tries it though, let me know how it turns out. My version of that recipe turned out great, so that’s what I’ll be making from now on. It even got a thumbs up from my husband. I am quite certain this is the ONLY non-meat soup recipe that he has ever said that about. He’s pretty darn picky about soup. He basically likes meat and vegetables with a bit of liquid. So here it is…

 

Emily’s Broccoli Cheese Soup
(makes 4 servings)

Ingredients
1/2 stick of butter (I may have used a tbsp more)
1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups half and half
3 cups homemade chicken stock
1/4 cup corn starch
1/4  tsp. nutmeg
2 bay leaves
1 large and 1 small carrot, chopped
1 head of broccoli florets (about 4 cups)
1 1/2 cups grated marble cheddar cheese
1 8 oz. bar colby jack cheese, cubed
Salt & Pepper to taste

measuring cup of cheese

 

IMG_5103

 

Directions:
Cook butter, onion, and garlic on medium heat until tender
Slowly add half and half and chicken stock.
In small bowl, mix the corn starch with a little water and stir until smooth.
Add corn starch mixture.
Add nutmeg and bay leaves .
Cook on medium until it has thickened.
Add the carrot and broccoli and simmer until desired tenderness.
Spoon out the bay leaves and discard them.
Add the cheese.
Stir until the cheese is completely melted.
Add salt & pepper, serve, and enjoy!

broccoli and cheese soup

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Filed under food, Food & Drink, recipe