Monday, January 12, 2015

the meal plan

Although some things about life as a working mom feel overwhelming at times (so exhausting they drove me to blog on a Saturday of all things...haha, actually, it turns out some people actually read blogs on Saturdays! So it worked out.), I like to celebrate and share the things that I do feel like are working and making life easier for us right now. For one thing, pretty much the only reason I even know these things is because someone before me figured it out and shared it's only fair for me to do the same in turn. It's like the circle of life or something, I think. (P.S. I can't say 'circle of life' without thinking of this shirt and how much it cracks me up. If I ever saw someone wearing it, we would be best friends for life.)

In short, the things that make life as a working mom possible are:

1. Have a live-in maid.
2. Have a live-in cook.

Essentially, we should all just be Emily Gilmore- only nicer to our help. And our child(ren).

BUT, in the event that you do not happen to be filthy stinkin rich like Emily and me, I came up with a few hypothetical tips that could help with your lack of 1 and 2 above. Okay, never mind. They're not hypothetical. They're actually exactly what I'm doing right now because actually, I'm not filthy rich. I'm sure you never guessed that.

At any rate, when I returned to work in November, I quickly realized that one of the most important Life Things that I was going to need to revamp was our meals. For the last year-ish, we'd been using eMeals for our meal planning. We loved it. It certainly made coming up with meals and shopping a lot easier, and we were always really pleased with our meals. But it meant we cooked (and cleaned up) every (or most) nights. Which was fine when our days consisted of just going to work + going to the gym + dinner + doing whatever we wanted til bedtime. It was great! I loved the variety of foods, the new dishes and flavors I learned to cook with...all of it. But once Millie came along and I went back to work...well, I have basically 3 hours between getting home from work and her going to bed. There's a zero percent chance I want to spend 30-50% of that time cooking and cleaning. I want to spend every minute possible kissing these sweet cheeks:

So something had to change. 

My friend Amanda has mentioned over the years that her family's 'thing' is to just make one big dish (casserole or whatever) on Sunday and they just eat that reheated all week for dinners. To be honest, when I first heard that, I was like...yuck. I mean, who wants to eat the same thing for dinner for five nights in a row? Not me.

But once I realized that my desire to have exciting, fresh meals each night conflicted pretty badly with my desire to spend as much time as possible with Millie, that idea started sounding pretty smart. Boring- but smart. So Matt and I started doing our meal planning similarly. We plan meals and shop for our food for the next week on Saturday, and then cook several meals (on Saturday and Sunday) that will last us through the week. I still can't fathom eating the exact same thing for every single meal, so we usually cook three-ish things that will last through 4-5 lunches and 4-5 dinners. We include lunches in our plans because packing a sandwich is often the quickest way to ensure I go out to eat for lunch. Blech.

I found these meal planning sheets in the Dollar Spot at Target a few years ago- they're great! I just wish they had Saturday and Sunday on the top, since that's when our plans actually start...but that wouldn't really make much sense at all in general, so we just adapt.

A lot of the time we double recipes (like Matt went ahead and made two quiches on Sunday so that we could have them for more meals...not much more work up front, but saves a lot of work later in the week. Also, please note that these are crust-less quiches and generally healthy, so no need to judge that we eat a quarter of a quiche each as a serving, ha), and we also have a number of approved super easy and fast things we're willing to cook from scratch for a 'fresh' meal (like brinner, loaded baked (microwaved) potatoes, etc.) if we end up with not quite enough servings from our main meals. We always eat at our Mexican restaurant on Tuesdays (BOGO tacos) and sometimes we get extra tacos there to use as meals later in the week, too. Ha. They're cheap and fabulous (even reheated), so it only makes sense to me! There are a lot of catered events at my work- I don't normally get to partake in these meals when they're actually being served, but the leftovers almost always end up being available for the staff (and staff husbands who come for lunch, like Matt!) to eat on later. We can always count on there being leftovers for us to eat on Thursday, but often it'll work out that we get free meals there other days, too! This is awesome because FREE FOOD (it helps that we're not terribly picky eaters). That's why we usually leave a space or two blank, to account for unexpected foods...and if none arrive, we just go out to eat or wing it with a quick and easy meal.

None of this is terribly revolutionary, but I think what's been the most helpful is figuring out what meals work well for this kind of 'meal plan.' Obviously it's best if the foods are the kind that reheat well and don't get grosser as the week goes on. It's also good if the meals are filling by themselves- we don't really plan for side dishes. Sometimes we'll throw in an orange or banana or something, or maybe a salad if we're feeling super ambitious, but pretty much this is a one-dish shindig. Slightly boring, perhaps, but the beauty of not cooking + no cleanup (besides putting our plates, forks, and a Pyrex dish in the dishwasher) on weeknights is really priceless and worth a little monotony. So we want the meals to feel satisfying on their own, plus be relatively healthy. Oh, and I don't like the meals to be too similar to one another- like, not 3 varieties of rice-based casseroles. Or three soups. If I'm going to eat the same things all week long, at least they can be a little bit different.

Here are a few of our favorite recipes we've been using. You may notice that most of them are from Budget Bytes. That is because I am obsessed with that webpage and everything I've ever made from there is amazing. If I could marry a webpage...phew.

-Sausage and Kale Skillet- someone brought us this when Millie was a newborn and it was what introduced me to Budget Bytes! This meal is AMAZING and we make it...ummm...often.
-Lemony Kale and Quinoa Salad- we polished off this in one meal, but it was delicious!
-Bacon and Spinach Pasta with Parmesan- you start with BACON, so there's really no way this one can go wrong. It's awesome and reheats surprisingly well (pasta isn't always a sure bet in the microwave).
-African Peanut Stew- we've made this one SEVERAL times and I am kinda obsessed with it. Lasts at least 3 meals- it's surprisingly filling and satisfying, considering there's no meat in it!
-Slow Cooker Chicken and Dumplings- best c&d I've ever had, hands down. Sadly, I can't double this recipe because my crock pot isn't big enough, so we can only get 2.5ish meals out of it.
-Slow Cooker Chicken Taco Bowls- lasts forevvvvverrr. Like at least 4 meals.
-Sweet Chili Chicken Bowls- YUM. Similar to the taco bowls, but with an Asian flair!
-Spinach, Mushroom, and Feta Crustless Quiche- delicious, but obviously we make ours sans mushrooms because we are not disgusting. We do throw in other random veggies to make it more exciting, though!
-Creamy Chicken and Black Bean Enchiladas- super good, and the homemade enchilada sauce is awesome! Makes a lot!
-Paleo Chop & Drop Roasted Veggies & Sausage- one of my favorites- I actually took this to Thanksgiving dinner this year (minus the sausage)! Chopping up all the veggies takes forever, but it's worth it in the end.
-Slow Cooker Chicken Caesar Sandwiches- we haven't made this one lately, but I remember it being awesome the last time I made it.
-Crock Pot Turkey White Bean Pumpkin Chili- this is my go-to chili recipe, but I basically double all of her spices. I find it a little bland as use a heavy hand!! I also sometimes use venison sausage instead of turkey. That definitely kicks things up a bit!
-Zesty Quinoa Salad- not a very creative name, but SUCH a good salad. I've taken this to several potlucks and people always compliment it! Also, it gets better as the week goes on and the flavors all blend and soak together.
-Moroccan Stew- I discovered this one during my hardcore Endo Diet (remember the 'bird food diet'??) days, and it's just as good now as it was then. Yum.

Eating the same thing multiple days in a row is a lot less miserable when the food is awesome. But even if you're only planning to eat it once or twice, you should check out these recipes...because who doesn't like easy new recipes?

So this whole meal planning thing has made my working mom gig a lot more manageable. As soon as I start thinking about whining about having to eat leftovers again, I just ask myself "would you rather waste Millie time cooking and cleaning up?" and the answer is always no, and I just go microwave my soup and consider it a small (and privileged) sacrifice to 'suffer' through leftovers to gain time with my baby. I'm sure at some point we'll change things up and start cooking at night again, but this is really working for us for now. It also really helps that (and honestly, is probably ONLY possible because) Matt is an equal partner in all of this planning and cooking. I would die (not really, but maybe) if I had to spend my Saturday and Sunday cooking and cleaning up from all these meals. Luckily we tag-team, so Matt does at least half of it while I get to relax and play. That way it doesn't end up being a huge burden on either of us. I'm thankful for a husband who not only parents equally, but participates in every aspect of running our 'household' (which brings me back to sounding like I'm Emily Gilmore...) and doing the not-so-fun parts of adulthood (like cleaning) alongside me. 

If you have any favorite recipes that make awesome leftovers, please share!! Also, if you do happen to be mega rich and want to share your live-in maids and cooks with me, I'm open to that as well. Thanks!


  1. Glad you are getting into a dinnertime groove! My advice is to enjoy eating all the "exciting" stuff you can now, lest you get stuck with a picky toddler/preschooler and have to eat the same boring things on rotation to avoid a battle every night ;)

  2. Sweet. . . I'm going to try some of these recipes. I have been in a cooking rut ever since Camille was born. As in. . . I don't cook. :) So thankful that Brandon, like Matt, is totally willing and capable of picking up some slack in that department. I should really step up my game though since you know, Camille turns ONE on Wed. I don't think I can use having a new baby as an excuse anymore. Ha!

  3. You know I'm all about meal planning. But never from the perspective of a working mom. Fun to see how you are adjusting to being

  4. A slightly different twist on the kale and quinoa salad that I adore:

    (Oh, hi! I'm Erin. I guess this is me coming out of creepy stalker-dom, so I figure I should introduce myself.)

  5. The delicious free leftovers are my FAVORITE thing about working at a church! We have a really talented chef on staff so most of the meals are home-cooked, too... and it's fancy stuff, not your typical fried chicken and mac & cheese church meals. Of course, I've gained about 15 pounds since I started working here, haha.... Also I second what first commenter says about enjoying the delicious flavors before you have a picky toddler who thinks everything you make is "yucky food"!

  6. This is super smart! I've been trying to get better at meal planning in order to save my sanity with work picking up and it's helping a lot. Your meals all sound so creative and fun, I'm definitely not as good in that department because I'm the picky eater but I'm working on getting better.

  7. Thanks for your thoughts on meal planning, I try to do this as well! Here are some of my favorite weeknight meals that are super fast and yummy! Also, have you tried recipes from Skinnytaste blog?! Love that site!

    Black Bean Quesadillas:

    Busy day pork chops - These are delicious. I usually pair it with couscous (quick and simple grain and veggies):

    Loaded Baked Sweet Potatoes - I'm obsessed with these, yum!

    1. I do like Skinnytaste- my chili recipe is from there!! And thanks for the link to these loaded sweet potatoes- I made them a few years ago and have totally forgotten about them, but they were awesome!! Need to add them back into the rotation!! :)

  8. I need to bookmark this page for the recipes you have - several I want to try! I have been married for 10 years and a mom for 5.5 years and still am an utter failure at meals. It's 6:15, we need baths to start in 15 minutes, and I go 'hmm, should we have dinner?' #momfail

  9. We are in a 10 meal rotation rut so I definitely will be trying some of these recipes!

  10. I love absolutely Everyo about this post!!! We are so terrible about meal planning, especially this time of the year with the boy's insanely busy hockey schedules. Your advice will used by U.S. starting this weekend. I'm going to make a plan to plan...can you plan to plan?!

  11. Glad that I could help inspire you to be more practical and less exciting- ha! I blame (er, I mean, credit) Allison & Wade since we got the idea from them. Also, I think "boring - but smart" is actually a perfect way to describe my life in general, ha!

  12. I love this blog, and I love that you linked all the recipes! We struggle with this as well. I have to confess that since we moved we have been eating A LOT of sandwiches and cereal. Not the best meals, but easy and quick and doesn't involve going anywhere. This week I made some queso and tune casserole, as well as broccoli and breakfast cups on Sunday, and I actually kind of liked the routine of it. I think I might steal some of these recipes for this week!

  13. Thank you for posting all of those yummy recipes! And oh my goodness, could your little Millie possibly be any cuter? I can't get over those adorable cheeks and lashes!

  14. I love your blog and it helps that your baby is absolutely adorable!!! :) It is hard being a working mom and cooking dinner is even harder. I try to do crockpot meals, but often times it cooks too long and they turn out horrible. I am trying to do a better job of meal planning this year so we will see how it goes! :) Lana

    1. Thanks, Lana!!! Yeah, I have the same issue with trying to do crockpot meals on a work day- we're gone from home for more than 8 hours, so everything dries up. Womp womp. So I try to do these crockpot meals on the weekend and then just enjoy the fruits of my labor during the week, ha.

  15. Thanks for introducing me to Budget Bytes! I have the White Chicken Chili in the crockpot right now. I love the short list of ingredients on the first few recipes that you posted. A long list of ingredients scares me!

  16. I made the sausage kale skillet on Mon and the chicken taco bowls last night.

    I didn't tell my husband about the kale till I sat it in front of him. For some reason he "thinks" he hates it but if I hide it in food he never knows and never complains. This one was hard to hide but he ate it and loved it. The chicken bowl was super easy and I can see myself making this every week. Now we have 2 nights of leftovers to take us into the weekend. Disneyland on Friday, dinner at the in-laws on Sat and then Sun we always have sushi. Next week I will try the sweet chili chicken bowls and the chop and drop.

    Thanks for the recipes!


    1. Oh wow! I'm so glad you (and your husband!) liked them- and yeah, the kale in that dish isn't very subtle, ha!! Have a blast at Disneyland- that sounds amazing! :)

  17. I think I can just pin this post and fulfill my resolution of having one new meal a month. The only trick will be making some of them vegetarian :)

    Even as a SAHM, meal planning has been a lifesaver. Otherwise I get to 4pm and it's like "What are we eating today?" And the answer is always "Order pizza!" I can totally see us cooking meals ahead on weekends and eating leftovers all week if I ever go back to work full-time.

  18. So I introduced Janice to your blog and she reads it often. She made the chicken taco bowls a couple of months ago, and then last weekend she made the African Peanut Stew. Her comment was "African Peanut Stew is yummy!! Tell Erika for me please."


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