The Adventure Starts Here: Meal Planning

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Meal Planning

In our house, I do 95% of the cooking.  Chris is a great help and often does the cutting preparations whenever we are having company over.  But when it comes to making dinner for the family, I take care of it.  And since I'm home all day, that's the way it should be.  I usually try to cook 4-5 times a week and the other 2-3 days we either eat leftovers, take-out, or something super simple that doesn't require "cooking".  While I didn't stop cooking, I found that I got into quite a rut with the meals I was preparing.  So for October, I set a goal to try 3 new recipes.  I'm happy to report that I met and exceeded my goal.  I'm sharing the new recipes we tried this month below.  

In order to be successful with making dinner every night, I have to meal plan.  If I don't plan ahead, I get tired and have no motivation to go to the store and make something when 5 o'clock hits.  Instead, I end up having cereal, kraft mac & cheese, or snacking way too much.  Chris honestly doesn't care if I cooked or not.  Sometimes he even prefers to make a sandwich or have a Bocca burger when he gets home.  But I enjoy eating real meals and I actually don't mind cooking.  To make sure I'm prepared during the week, I follow a few "meal planning" steps....

1.  On the weekend, I take a look at my calendar to see what my plans for the week are.  Then I consult with Chris to see if he thinks he will have to stay late any nights.  Based on our activities, I decide which nights need a quick and simple meal versus one that takes more prep and time to cook.  

2.  This past month, I tried to make at least one new recipe each week.  Most often I tried to make those on a day where I have more time at home to prep.  I then choose a few tried and true recipes and enter everything into my calendar (right on my iPhone).  I also try to plan a few recipes that will result in leftovers (like pasta or the rice dish listed below).  That way I can have 1-2 nights where I don't have to cook another meal.  

3.  Once the meals are entered into my calendar, I start making a list of the ingredients I need to buy in order to make everything.  Often I will have the staples in the pantry and even the meat in our freezer.  But I have to make sure I have the fresh produce and any new ingredient I don't often use.  Sometimes I have to schedule two trips to the grocery store if I need something fresh for a Thursday/Friday meal that will go bad if I buy the weekend before.  So I will even enter grocery trips into my calendar to make sure I remember to go before I'm making that meal.  Each night, I remind myself what I'm making the next day so that I don't forget to take the meat out of the freezer to thaw (I prefer a slow defrost instead of using the microwave).  

While it definitely requires some time and extra thought on the weekend, I find that it helps weeknight cooking go so much more smoothly!  I can honestly say that if I didn't do this, I wouldn't cook as often.  Taking a toddler to the grocery store at 4pm because I don't have a certain ingredient is not fun.  At that point I'd rather go pick up a pizza!

Here are the new recipes we tried this month.  I got the first two recipes from a friend (and amazing cook) and I found the rest on Pinterest.

Baked Ziti with Vodka Sauce

A pretty simple casserole that makes lots of leftovers and would work great if you need a meal to drop off to a friend!

1 package (1 lb) ziti, uncooked (I used a penne rigate since I had it on hand)
3 cups sauce (tomato or vodka)
1 lb cooked ground beef (optional)
15 oz ricotta cheese
2 cups (8 oz) shredded mozzarella cheese
1 egg
1 tsp oregano leaves (recipe called for fresh but I used from the jar)
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
3 tbsp grated parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 375 degrees
Cook pasta according to package (for 9 minutes)
In a large bowl, stir together the hot pasta, 1 1/2 cups sauce, ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, egg, spices, and ground beef (if using). 
Spray Pam into a 13X9X2 baking dish. 
Spoon pasta mixture in dish and top with remaining 1 1/2 cups of sauce.
Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and cover with foil.
Bake for 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

You can make this ahead by preparing up until it says to bake.  Cover with plastic wrap, then foil.  Refrigerate up to 24 hours or freeze up to 2 months.  When ready to bake, thaw the frozen casserole in refrigerator overnight.  Add 10 minutes to baking time.  

Slow Cooker Chicken Taquitos

I love that this is a slow cooker recipe and only requires a little bit of "hands on" prep!

3-4 chicken breasts, frozen or thawed
8 ounces of cream cheese
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cumin
16 taco sized tortillas (I used less but had more filling in each of mine)
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (I used a mexican blend)
Optional toppings: fresh cilantro, jalape├▒os, dipping sauces (ranch, salsa, sour cream)

Add chicken, 1/2 cup water, cream cheese, and spices to crockpot.  Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high 3-4 hours.  (Lesser time for thawed chicken and greater time for frozen chicken)
Minutes before serving, preheat the oven to 425 degrees and great a baking sheet with cooking spray. 
Use two forks to shred chicken and stir it in with the other contents of the crockpot.  
You may want to heat the tortillas a little bit in a pan to make the softer and easier to work with.  I didn't find it necessary.  
Sprinkle cheese in the middle of each tortilla.  Top cheese with 2-3 tablespoons of shredded chicken mixture.  Roll tortillas tightly into a log-shape taquito. 
Place the taquitos on a baking sheet and spray heavily with cooking spray.  Bake 10-15 minutes until cheese is melted and tortillas begin to brown.  (For crispier taquitos, switch the oven to broil for 2-3 minutes).  
Serve warm with dipping sauces and toppings if desired. 


My mom used to make this all the time, but it was the first time I made it.  I will definitely be making this again!

8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
15 ounces ricotta cheese
4 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup shredded Romano or Parmesan cheese
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 box (12 to 14 shells) manicotti noodles
3 to 4 cups marinara sauce (1 jar + a little more)
1/2 cup shredded Romano or Parmesan cheese, for topping

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large bowl, mix spinach, cheeses, eggs, salt and pepper. Stir together until well blended.
Place about 1 1/2 cups of marinara sauce in a 9x13-inch pan. Spread it around to cover the bottom.
Place the mixed filling into a plastic bag. You can use either a frosting piping bag or a gallon zip bag. Snip the corner, gather the top and squeeze the filling into the corner. Hold an uncooked manicotti shell in your hand and squeeze the filling inside the shell. Let it overflow on both sides. Place the filled shell into the sauce-lined pan. Repeat with remaining manicotti and fill the pan with the stuffed shells, until you run out of shells and filling. You should be able to fill 12 to 14 shells- if you run out of room in your pan, use a separate smaller pan to accommodate the extra.
Cover the pasta with marinara sauce, using about 2 1/2 cups of sauce. Sprinkle 1/2 cup Romano/Parmesan on top. At this point, you can cover with foil and refrigerate until you're ready to bake, or you can cover with foil and place it in the oven immediately.
Bake, covered with foil, 50 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 10 minutes.

Spinach and Cheddar Quiche

Chris was hesitant to a quiche in general, but it turned out really great and we loved it!  I just used a store bought pie crust :)

Caprese Grilled Chicken

This was probably my least favorite.  The chicken didn't have much flavor but I'm sure I could fix that for the future.  

One Pot Mexican Rice Casserole

I have made this in the past, but I love it so much that I had to share it :)

One Pot Mexican Rice Casserole

Any recipes you love that I should know about?  I'm always interested in new ones :)


  1. I soooo need motivation in this area! Great tips!

  2. If you stay home all day you're supposed to cook? I missed that memo and Jeff did too. Don't tell him :)

  3. Mmmmm...that pasta and the quiche both look amazing! Need to add these to our menu rotation!

  4. I pretty much opperate the same way with my menu planning. On Sunday morning I check our calendar to see how many dinners I need to make, then I check the pantry and freezer to see what we already have that I can use, then I ask Keith if he has any requests. Lately I've been trying to simplify meals, so I haven't really tried anything new in a while, but my husband would love the Slow Cooker Chicken Taquitos you shared!

  5. Umm so it's 4:30pm and you have me STARVING. These look and sound so good!!! Even though I am not the one that cooks (I do all the baking), I know Seth would like to try some new meals. These look pretty quick and easy for week nights so I'll have to suggest them to him. I also definitely agree that you NEED to meal prep in order to be successful. I'd rather take a couple extra minutes on the weekend to not be scrambling during the week!

  6. And there is the quiche recipe!!! ha!
    You crack me up with your iPhone calendar! Don't worry, I plan all my stuff too. I just use paper and pen because I can't figure out the iPhone sometimes.
    Loving these recipes! Definitely going to try that crockpot recipe. Crockpot meals are so hard for me to get on board with because they usually look less than appealing and seem to make me crave something fresh. Gotta anymore crock meals that are must tries?

  7. Love quiche and fritattas, so easy and versatile! Yum

  8. Always love new meal ideas/recipes..!! That's where I struggle most is coming up with ideas for the week, so if I don't get a list made, I'll just try and wing it and that never ends well. Thanks for sharing!!


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