I have a good friend who recently told me about a online meal planning program that she uses called Plan to Eat. I was hesitant at first to add any more “things” to my plate, but after spending over 4 hours working on a meal plan recently, I decided I would look into the meal planning program she was telling me about.
Meal planning for our family is vital. We crash and burn if I fail to meal plan. With the amount of people depending on me to come up with 3 meals a day for 11 people, there is no “winging it”! The stress and pressure I am under when I do not take the time to plan our meals is incredible. However, meal planning is a tool that relieves that stress and pressure during the day. It makes our days run smoother and allows me to focus on other things that need tending.
My problem was that I was meal planning by hand — writing everything out – and for the amount of food that I was having to deal with on a weekly basis, it took me hours to come up with a simple meal plan and grocery list for my family. Because this proved to be really cumbersome, I usually stuck to the same foods over and over and had a hard time thinking about new things or variations.
My good friend thought of me and saved my life when she gave me the low down on Plan To Eat. Since it has helped me out, I thought I would share how it works with yall. I love it!!!!!!
Here’s how it works:
- Extensive, Custom Recipe Book: You create an online recipe book that has recipes that you import from websites, blogs or you can input them from your cookbooks or recipe box. You can see nutritional values, change serving sizes automatically (which is a huge plus for our big family), and all the recipes are searchable and can be tagged (like Mexican dishes, Easy lunches, vegetarian, soups etc.). It also keeps track of how often you have planned that specific food or recipe. Tired of having lasagna 3 times a week… you can easily space out your meals and try new things because you can quickly drag and drop.
- Drag and Drop Meal Planner: Quickly drag and drop recipes over to your calendar in the breakfast, lunch, supper and snack. You can also add individual ingredients, notes and events to your calendar. I love the ability to visually see our week and quickly drag recipes, notes, events to different days on the calendar. I can also quickly delete and rearrange items.
- Automated Shopping List Maker: Immediately creates your shopping list! The shopping list based is created from your meal plan. I go through my shopping list and put anything that I already have back in to my pantry by clicking ” To Pantry”.
- Lots of cool features like “cook from the pantry” options. I can also import items into my pantry and then click the cook from my pantry option and have it pull recipes from my recipe book that I can make based on what ingredients I have. It will also tell me what recipes I could almost make…like missing 1 ingredient to make Chicken Pasta or missing 2 ingredients to make Banana Bread.
- Mobile Ready: Have a iPhone or Android other smart phone? Plan To Eat is mobile ready! Easy shopping list right off your phone from your meal plan.
- Share your recipe book with friends…. socially interactive. I can share my recipe book or a portion of my recipes with other friends. Neat tool to try out other recipes and interact with other meal planners.
- They have a free month trial, after that it is $39 for the year or $4.95 a month. You can also earn credit for referring people who end up signing up. It’s already been well worth it to me.
I’ve found it very helpful in saving me time and allowing me to almost effortlessly plan a large menu for a large family with minimal time. The biggest time investment is in the beginning when you make your recipe book. Once you get a basic recipe book put together…you’re good to go! I showed my 12 year old daughter how it works and turned her loose. She created our recipe book and altered lots of recipes to fit in with our family needs. Great tool for getting your daughters involved in meal planning and grocery shopping.
I’m so glad I did… It’s made meal planning fun and enjoyable. Check it out here: Plan to Eat
I’m slowing quite a bit in this last 6 weeks of pregnancy. I have a few, actually a lot, of household goals this month that I still am wanting to get accomplished before the baby comes as well as getting my pantry stocked a bit more this month. So I’m taking some time off from blogging over the next month or so…it will be very random when I do post ;-)
Ohhh yeah…and school starts back this month!!! I’m a little overwhelmed at starting school and having a baby at the same time, however, I’m trying to be ultra proactive in being more organized than normal. This week, I’m gathering school supplies, making meal plans for the next month and altering my schedule to work with my down time. Lately, I’ve learned a lot from some more experienced homeschooling moms which has helped me put a lot of things in perspective. We’re excited about the upcoming school year, the coming fall weather and the arrival of the new baby.
I’ve been working my way through all the corn I bought at the produce auction last week. I ended up giving several grocery sacks of corn and zucchini away to several different friends. I froze more off the cob corn and I gave the pigs a treat by giving them almost the entire last bag to grow big and fat on. I figured I’d get it back later in ham anyway.
This week, I’m working on an extensive meal plan to help me get through the third trimester of pregnancy! My first thoughts on it are to make several weeks of meal plans and rotate them. Also, I would love to build up my supplies of paper products, dish soap, laundry supplies, trash bags etc. so I don’t have to worry about running out for the next 3 months or so. I’ll see how that goes after I get it all down on paper.
Now if I could just snap my fingers and the house would automatically clean itself…..
Sometimes I feel like I run a school cafeteria. The amount of food we go through is amazing. Often times I can get overwhelmed and bogged down wishing that the meals I make would go farther. With two teenage boys in the house and 7 more to follow, the amount of food my family requires isn’t going to magically decrease. It will only increase! I just need to face up to that fact and expect large amounts of food to be on order for a while! The trick is figuring out how to make large amounts of quality food without spending massive amounts of money and without keeping me in the kitchen all day!
I’m always looking for inspiration to help me meal plan and budget. Fall and Winter time are easier for me to meal plan. I incorporate lots of soups, stews and chili and add bread and cornbreads to those meals. I can make a large hearty meal to feed a large amount of people while warming up the house at the same time. However, in the summer time…I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to cook when it is hot outside. I hate heating up the kitchen!
Here are some summer cooking lunch ideas we have been incorporating into our meal planning that are simple, relatively fast and work with paper plates.
- Deli Sandwiches: Buying good quality deli meat can be very expensive especially when you need to make a bazillion sandwiches. I do buy deli meat on occasion but usually save it for quick sandwiches for my pregnant self or the older ones. The younger ones would rather have peanut butter anyway. I look for sales on Boar’s Head deli meat and can usually find it on sale (sometimes with a coupon) at Publix for around $6 or $7 a pound. Costco / Sam’s have deli meat for around $5 or $6 a pound. Otherwise, I can use left over roast or chicken for sandwiches the next day. That’s better for you anyway right!
- Chicken Sandwiches: I can boil a couple of whole chickens and get a good amount of meat off the chickens to make a large bowl of chicken salad. I like to make grilled chicken salad sandwiches which is basically making a grilled cheese sandwich with chicken salad on it.
- Tuna Salad Sandwiches: I usually buy the ginormous can of tuna from Sams / Costco and make the whole can into tuna salad. Tuna salad always goes over better here if I add chopped pickles, chopped apples and chopped boiled egg in with it. I also like to grill my tuna salad sandwiches or toast the open-faced sandwich in the oven with sliced bell peppers, sliced purple onions and cheese on top.
- Peanut butter and jelly can always save the day. It’s better than stopping off at a fast food place! Costco carries really inexpensive organic peanut butter and usually they have organic strawberry preserves too. These items are great to have in your pantry stockpile!
- Taco meat for burritos, salads and nachos: Taco meat is very versatile. You can use it to make a summer taco salad for a quick and easy lunch. Taco meat can be cooked up in bulk and frozen in zip-lock baggies and quickly heated up when you need it. We also eat a lot of burritos for lunch because they are fast and easy to make in mass! We also make up large batches of nachos with the taco meat.
- Add ons: Adding lots of fruits and vegetables also helps feed my crew. Growing a garden helps with providing more vegetables and buying bulk fruit helps cut the cost of fruit by the pound.
- Baked goods: I’ve also found that making whole wheat and bran type muffins and quick breads is very filling and satisfying. I’m always on the lookout for bananas that are ripe and have been marked down because I use them for making muffins and breads. I try to avoid baking during the heat of the day . Bake after the sun has gone down if you’re going to bake!
Stay tuned for more summer lunch ideas in the coming weeks….
Please tell me this doesn’t just happen to me!!! Have you ever opened your refrigerator and found the container of leftovers shoved in the back….that you forgot about and wish you would have used.
Last week, I had a container of leftover spiced apples that I had forgotten about. The container was shoved in the back where I couldn’t see them…so when I made pancakes a few days later…I opened up a new can of apples and made another batch of spiced apples. In the process of making the batch of spiced apples, I found the container of leftover spiced apples! I could have just heated them up instead of starting a new batch! Thankfully, the leftover spiced apples were not long lost and our only problem was that we were eating lots of spiced apples for breakfast and lunch for two days.
It reminded me to keep inventory of my refrigerator and use up any leftovers as soon as possible. The times that we do have leftovers, I’m determined to use them wisely and incorporate them into my weekly meal planning. Here are some things I thought of:
- Keep a mental note of what you put in the refrigerator the day before.
- Remind my daughters to remind me of food in the refrigerator that we need to use. They are good a keeping me on track with reminders!
- Write it down if you aren’t a mental note taker.
- Try daily meal planning. Try to use up leftovers from the day before by incorporating them into that day’s meals.
How do you keep up with leftovers?
Currently, I am making weekly meal plans. I hope to move up to monthly meal planning and more freezer planning again starting in the summer, but so far, weekly meal planning works well too.
This week, I made a large batch of tuna for some of our lunches this week using the bulk sized tuna that comes in the giant can you can buy in bulk from Sams or Costco. For most families, the smaller cans that are packaged in packs of 6 or 8 might be a better deal and prevent you from eating tuna breakfast, lunch and supper for the week. For us, the bigger can works out better.
I put mayonnaise, chopped apple, chopped cucumber, celery seed in my tuna. I sometimes alter it and put chopped celery too. I’ve found that tuna keeps in a covered dish really well for several days. I’m not sure how much longer because we always use it by then.
What to do with tuna?
- Tuna Sandwiches. Plain ol’ tuna sandwiches for lunch is a favorite around here.
- Grilled tuna and cheese sandwiches. We love grilled sandwiches. By adding a little cheese, you can quickly transform the plain ol’ tuna sandwich into a warm grilled treat.
- Tuna melts. We add just about anything and everything to tuna melts. Start by lining up single pieces of bread on your cookie sheet, spread out the tuna, add sliced or chopped onions and green or red peppers and sprinkle cheese on top. Pop in the oven until the cheese is melted and eat like pizza.
- Tuna noodles. Another easy lunch! Add tuna to cooked egg noodles or macaroni noodles along with some cheese and a bit of milk.
- Tuna patties. Occasionally, we make cooked tuna patties. Same concept as a hamburger only with tuna.
For lunch meal planning, I love lunches that do not dirty up dishes. When I use sandwiches and fruit, nuts, chips or other hand non-messy foods, I can get away with using a paper towel or napkin for the “plate”. It makes for quick clean up too!