Meal Planning at Christine’s House

Like many others, my routine is a bit upside down right now. I am working from home rather than making the trip to Iowa State’s campus each day. I am sticking close to home and avoiding unnecessary trips out of the house. My days look different, but I still want to make healthy choices and enjoy tasty food. I enjoy cooking and I am using this opportunity to do it a lot. For me, planning has helped me eat well and minimize trips out for groceries.

Because I am only cooking for myself, my planning is a bit different from Jody’s, Justine’s and Katy’s. I try to keep it flexible and focus on making good use of what I have. The strategy that works best for me is to keep a running list of what I have on hand from various food groups. From that list, I can spot what recipes I have ingredients to prepare. I can also compose meals by pulling items from different food groups and improvising a bit. The list also serves as a guide for me when it is time to shop. As I use the last of any food, I cross it off and I know I need to add it to my online grocery order. 

Take a look at the picture below for my current list. 

In addition to keeping this ‘foods on hand’ list, I am also trying to maintain some of the habits I had when I was leaving the house every day for work. For example, I keep a container of cut up vegetables in the refrigerator, so that they are easy to grab and throw into recipes or eat as a snack. I also use my water bottle that I used to take to work to keep up with drinking enough each day. 

What strategies work best for you with meal planning right now? Do you keep it flexible or prefer to have more details pinned down in advance? We would love to hear from you, so please share in the comments or on our social media. 


Take care!
Christine

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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What’s Cooking in Jody’s Kitchen? Part 2

On Monday I shared that my family’s list of favorite meals has been helpful for meal planning while we are spending our days at home. Today I’ll share some of our favorites that I’m planning to make. Normally, we are on the go and I plan meals for specific days based on how much time I will have to cook. Now that we are just home, I have a list of recipes that I can make and I choose in the afternoon what we will have for supper. If I am cooking then I get to pick! Mom’s prerogative! For breakfast and lunch, we are keeping it simple. If you would like some snack ideas, check out my blog on snacking

Here are some of our favorite meals:

Lentil Tacos
Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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What’s Cooking in Jody’s Kitchen?

Last week Katy kicked off our series of sharing how the members of our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. Team are meal planning and cooking during the current pandemic. This week I’ll share what I’m cooking in my kitchen!

I’m currently working from home while also trying to do a little homeschooling with my 10 year old son and 6 year old daughter. Never a dull moment! My husband is in law enforcement so he is still going to work during the day.

When I first learned that I was going to be working from home and my kids would be home with me, I started working on a schedule and thinking about my meal plan. I have to admit though, we didn’t even follow the schedule on the first day. I quickly realized we were going to need to be flexible based on my work commitments. The one part of that schedule that has stuck is when we eat. This helps my kids know when the next meal or snack is coming so I’m not constantly asked if they can have a snack or when we are going to eat. This is also a nice sense of normalcy for them as meals and snacks at school happened on a schedule.

Something that has been helpful for meal planning during this time is a list I keep of my family’s favorit meals. I created this a while ago and have it hanging on a board in my kitchen. I look through it to see what meals use items that I can keep on hand or are easy to adapt. For example, tacos is one of our favorite meals. And I like that they are simple to make! I have a few packets of taco seasoning on hand (and I know I can make some homemade taco seasoning as well)). I’ve bought some extra hamburger and shredded cheese to put in the freezer and I have a couple packets of taco shells in my pantry. I almost always have salsa and sour cream in the refrigerator because we use them frequently. We also like to have spinach leaves with our tacos but if we haven’t been to the store recently and don’t have any, we just go without.

To help with meal planning during this time, I’d recommend making a list of your family’s favorite meals. I find it helps meal planning go quicker and I’m not spending as much time trying to think about what we should have. Sometimes we have to adapt the recipe based on what’s available but are still getting to enjoy foods we like. 

Family Favorite Meals
Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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A Glimpse into Katy’s Kitchen – Part 2

On Monday, I shared a few tips on how to better organize your kitchen space. I spent some time using those tips to organize my kitchen and now that it is back to being user-friendly, I want to share what meal planning looks like for my family. With my husband working from home, I find that I need to be a little bit more creative when it comes to planning our weekly meals. 

One of my top goals when meal planning is to ensure that we have a variety of options to choose from each day. Now that we are eating all our meals at home and limiting takeout and restaurant visits, I don’t want to get burned out eating the same meals too often. To help with this, I choose 2-3 new recipes to make each week with the hope that they will become new family favorites to rotate into my weekly plans. Three new recipes that we tried this week (and loved!) included: Stuffed Peppers, Vegetable Quesadillas, and Spicy Tuna Salad.

My next priority when writing down my plan is to limit food waste by using the ingredients I already have in the house. Luckily, the steps I take to limit food waste also help me shop less frequently. I use the Five Day Meal Planner as a guide to creating my weekly meal planning sheet. I look for recipes that use the ingredients I have and some that use similar ingredients for the week to simplify my shopping list. I also plan how we will incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables into meals and snacks so I am certain they will be used before they spoil.  

Below is an example of what my meal planning typically looks like each week. Instead of committing to making recipes on specific days, I like giving my family the option to choose from a variety of meals and snacks. Once that meal has been made for the week, we simply cross it off and continue choosing from the other options throughout the week. Doing this keeps me organized and makes it easier to decide what to make each day. 

There is no right or wrong way to make your family’s meal plan- find what works for you! We hope that over the course of this series you will learn some new meal planning tips and find new recipes to try at home. 

Cheers to planning out your meals this week!

Katy Moscoso

Katy Moscoso

Katy Moscoso is a Program Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. As a new mom she is always on the lookout for easy, healthy recipes to prepare for her family.

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Meatballs

Meatballs

Happy New Year!  Our January recipe of the month is Meatballs.  This recipe is on the menu plan regularly at my home because everyone in my family likes it and because it is versatile.

I have heard a lot of family members and friends complaining recently about being in a meal rut.  If you are feeling the same way, this meatball recipe may be for you. Last week I made a double batch of these and was able to use them for several different meals:

  • Meatballs work well on their own with a fruit and a vegetable on the side.
  • Serve meatballs with noodles and a favorite sauce to make your own version of spaghetti and meatballs.
  • Leftover meatballs make tasty sandwiches topped with cheese and veggies.

These meatballs freeze well, so you can freeze them in individual servings for future meals.  Use this recipe your way and let us know how you like it.

Enjoy!

meatballs

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover is a Registered Dietitian and mom who loves to cook for her family.

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Meal Planning at My House – Jody

This past month we have been sharing how we each like to do meal planning. To see how Christine and Justine like to do meal planning, check out their blogs here and here.


In addition to the ideas Christine and Justine have shared, I also like to make and freeze main dishes ahead of time. On occasion, I like to spend a Saturday morning making 4-5 main dishes to put in the freezer. Then when I’m making my meal plans for the next few weeks, I can include a meal from the freezer.


Since my kids went back to school this past week, now is a good time for me to get some meals in the freezer.


Here are some of our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipes that freeze well.

For more recipes, check out the Freezes Well section of Spend Smart. Eat Smart.

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Meal Planning at My House – Justine

Meal planning can look different in every home. In my home, meal planning is flexible. I like to keep it flexible because, with a family of five, things can change very quickly. Today I will share the process I use to plan supper meals at my home.

The first thing I do is choose our main dishes for one week. I usually choose four or five main dishes because I like to double recipes and serve leftovers two or three times per week. Next, I choose side dishes. I usually do not want to cook both main dishes and side dishes, so I keep it simple with sides. I buy a variety of canned, fresh, and frozen fruits and vegetables for sides. Canned and frozen fruits and vegetables are especially important for our family because they store well and they are quick and easy to prepare.

I do not assign specific meals to days of the week. I just post the list of meals I have available on the refrigerator and then make the meal that will be best for my family on a particular day. For example, I tend to go grocery shopping on Friday or Saturday, so I will cook larger meals over the weekend that can be saved for leftovers on a busy night later in the week.

This past weekend, I cooked a pork roast in the slow cooker. So far, we have had two meals from the pork and I think we can get two more. Even though our main dishes will be similar for these meals, I can use the fruits and vegetables I have on hand to change things up a little. This flexible approach to meal planning works well for my family. Stay tuned next week for the approach that works best for Jody and her family.

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover is a Registered Dietitian and mom who loves to cook for her family.

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Meal Planning at My House – Christine

Our theme for blogs this month is meal planning. Each of our primary bloggers will share how they approach meal planning at their own home. We hope that you will be able to take some ideas from each of us to make meal planning go a bit easier for you.

easy roasted veggies

Meal planning is important to me because I want to make meal prep easy and I like to avoid food waste as much as I can. Most of the time I plan meals for just one person, so my strategies look different from someone who is planning for a whole family. Justine and Jody will have tips for families throughout the month.

Here are some of my favorite go-to strategies.

  1. I start with what I have. I begin my meal plan for each week with what I already have to reduce food waste. I often cook up a stir-fry or soup on Sunday with any vegetables from the previous week to get them used up before they spoil. One recipe that is great for this is our Easy Roasted Veggies.
  2. I do not cook for one. I generally cook a full batch of whatever I am making and I freeze leftovers in small containers. This way, I cook once and I know there are lots of yummy things in my freezer. The containers in the freezer make super-fast lunches and dinners.
  3. I pre-prep ingredients. When I get home from work at night I am usually very hungry and not in the mood to start cooking from scratch. I try to do myself a favor and be ready for this situation by having pre-prepped ingredients in my fridge or freezer. Here are some of my standbys:
    • Chopped onions in an airtight container in the freezer. These are great for cooking. If you will use the onion within a few days, you can store it in the refrigerator. I will often chop up 4 or 5 onions and keep them in the freezer to use for many meals. This works with peppers as well!
    • Cooked proteins. This time of year, I grill outside a lot. If I light my grill, I fill it. This means that I often have many frozen protein foods like grilled chicken and hamburgers. I can heat these up very quickly to get a meal started and cut my cooking time way down.
    • Cut fruit and vegetables in the refrigerator. I know that I am much more likely to reach for fruits and vegetables for snacks when they are cut and ready to go. I tend to purchase fruits and vegetables that can be cleaned and/or prepped ahead, such as:
      • Carrots
      • Celery
      • Pea pods
      • Peppers
      • Watermelon
      • Grapes

I hope one of these ideas is helpful to you and stay tune all month for Justine and Jody’s meal planning routines!

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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Broccoli or Carrots? Meal Planning with Kids

One thing I feel I do a pretty good job at is letting my kids help in the kitchen. Even though it takes a little more time and there are a few more messes, it is fun and I know my kids are learning important skills. On the other hand, one area I don’t take the time to get them involved in is meal planning. Once in a while I will ask them to pick between a couple of choices but that’s about it. Meal planning is definitely a skill I want my children to have as adults, so now is the time!

Just like with cooking, getting kids involved in meal planning may mean it takes more time but it’s time you can spend together and your kids will learn valuable skills, including how to plan a balanced meal. And since they are helping to plan the meal, they may be more likely to eat what is served.

Want to give this a try with me? Here are some tips you and I can both use to get our kids involved with meal planning.

1. Download our 5-Day Meal Planning Worksheet. I like our worksheet because it has the food groups listed at the bottom so you can make sure you include a variety of food groups in your meals. As you plan your meals, have your kids tell you which foods are part of which food group.

2. Make a list of options. If you have younger kids, make a list of options based on what you have on hand and what items are on sale at the store. Then they can choose between options such as spaghetti or lasagna, broccoli or carrots. If your kids are older, they may want to help think of the dishes to make. Another option would be to plan the main dishes and have your kids choose which fruits and vegetables to have.

3. Have a kid’s night. If planning a week’s worth of meals with your kids sounds too overwhelming, choose one night that they can plan the meal. You can provide guidelines such as they need to include foods from three different food groups.

If your kids help you plan a whole week’s worth of meals or just one night, they will learn skills that they can use for a lifetime. Next week I’ll share some tips for how to get kids involved with grocery shopping.

 

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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A Three-Week Meal Plan

 

Last week Justine shared with you how she does meal planning for her family. I use a similar strategy for my family of four. If you are new to meal planning or starting as a new years’ resolution, we have just the thing for you, a sample three-week meal plan. It includes ideas for meals and snacks as well as links to recipes!

Our sample is a place to start and can be adapted for your family’s needs based on what they like, how many snacks they need each day, and family activities. When creating a meal plan, here are some tips to keep in mind:

 

  • Plan for leftovers – To help keep food costs low and reduce food waste, make leftovers a part of your meal plan. You will see in the sample meal plan that we planned to have leftovers from supper the next day for lunch occasionally. Depending on the size of your family, you may need to increase the size of the recipe if you want to have leftovers to use at another meal.
  • Prepare extra – To maximize the benefit of your time in the kitchen, plan recipes that use similar ingredients so you can cook extra of an ingredient to use in a recipe another day. For example, if you make Chicken Alfredo Pasta one night, cook extra chicken to use in Chicken Club Salad the next day for lunch. This will also help with food costs and food waste. For food safety purposes, you should use extra cooked meat in a recipe within a day or two of it being cooked.
  • Keep variety in mind – Even though we recommend using leftovers and preparing extra ingredients to use in multiple recipes, it’s also a good idea to include variety in your menu plans. This helps keep meals exciting and makes sure you get a variety of vitamins and minerals. Use a variety of colors of fruits and vegetables. Try different kinds of protein like beef, chicken, or fish and non-meat sources like eggs, beans and nuts. Use different grains like whole grain pasta, brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat bread.
  • Plan the fruits and vegetables – Many times the main meal is planned, which is often a source of protein, but not the side dishes. Be sure to plan what fruits and vegetables will be a part of the meals and snacks. This helps to be sure they are included in meals and snacks and are part of your shopping list. Use different kinds of fruits and vegetables including fresh, canned, frozen, and dried.

 

Meal planning may take a little time when you first get started, but it saves time when it comes to getting a meal on the table. No extra tips to the grocery store and stressing about what you are going to have for supper.

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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