Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A month of meal plans

making dinner
{making dinner - roasted pork chops with polenta}

I said I'd follow up with the month of pre-planned meals. So here I am! I'm really glad I did it and I have plenty of thoughts about it.

It blew our grocery budget out of the water (all that meat!). I spent a little over $400 when I usually spend a little less than $350. This included the meal ingredients + our usual stuff like milk, cheese, fruit, nuts, eggs, etc. I cut back on our fancy cheese + beer spending to help keep things in line but it wasn't quite enough.

I didn't quite manage to do the full plan because I ended up cooking only 4 out of 5 meals each week. We had a lot of leftovers and even my obsessive need to complete challenges couldn't convince me to cook food we probably wouldn't get around to eating.

I'd recommend trying a set meal plan if you're in a rut or feel like you can't get up the energy to cook. Having the mental part taken out made it much more bearable for me. It was a huge relief to have grocery lists and meals planned out for me and it helped me get back into meal planning.

It also helped me figure out what we liked about the meal plan (quick prep time, leftovers for lunch, no decision making when we get home in the evening) and what we didn't like (eating meat 4/5 days per week, ending up with more food than we could manage) and having that information was helpful. I've been doing my own weekly meal planning since the month was up and I'll be sharing that soon.

Overall, if you're having trouble motivating to cook or if you've never done weekly meal planning, I think this is a great way to jumpstart a routine. I think Real Simple also offers a paid subscription where you get something similar every week (with vegetarian options, maybe?) but as tempting as that sounds I know I'm capable of spending 20 minutes a week to do the planning on my own now that I'm back in the groove.

Some of the meals were very good, some were lackluster. All were perfectly edible.

Turkey burgers with creamy romaine slaw - so good, have made these three times
Lamb meatballs with couscous and feta - another three timer, love the apricots
Red currant glazed chicken with spinach - love this method of cooking chicken
Ravioli with brussels sprouts and bacon - used TJs refrigerated ravioli
Mushroom herb strata - way more indulgent than our usual dinners!
Roasted pork chops with polenta - simple but good esp. with summer tomatoes
Sweet potato and brie flatbread - used TJs pizza dough, surprisingly good

Liked but might not make again: 
Pork cutlets with spicy noodles - tasted good, didn't love frying the pork
Curry shrimp with snow peas - not enough curry flavor?
Shrimp with white beans and toast - good but not exciting
Balsamic glazed pork with lentils - good but nothing special
Seared steak with cauliflower puree - totally fine, not exciting
Asian beef and mango salad - liked this a lot actually, but I don't think it will be a staple

Didn't love: 
Roasted tilapia with potatoes and lemons - our tilapia wasn't great and that might have been the issue
Penne with tomatoes, eggplant and mozzarella - mozz seems like a strange choice because you end up with big melted globs of it instead of even distribution. tastes good, but not special, even with good tomatoes.
Chorizo-potato tacos with black bean salsa - so much blander than I expected! also, wouldn't bother with hard shell tacos next time, soft corn would be just as good, maybe better.

Didn't get around to cooking: 
Steak with roasted carrots and onions
Chicken paprikash
Salmon with potato salad
Cajun chicken with collard greens

Shopping lists are right here.

Just to be clear - this post isn't sponsored by Real Simple in any way. I found the meal plan while I was googling. There are tons of meal plans provided on various sites but the majority of them involve a whole lot of hamburger and/or cream of mushroom soup, so I was relieved to find something that seemed more in line with my general recipe collection.


  1. I usually plan my meals weekly and it takes the headache of having to decide what to eat when I come home from work. I also found that I was spending less money. Lifesaver!

    As for the shrimp and white beans meal that you didn't love, you might want to give this Bon Apetit recipe a try (http://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/quick-recipes/2012/10/garlic-shrimp-and-white-beans). It's a favorite/regular in my kitchen and far from boring and flavorless!

  2. So interesting! I keep meaning to try a meal plan--I'm vegetarian and a lot of things get old really fast, so it was great to read your experience.

    Re: potato tacos, I always use soft corn tortillas, fill them with potato/cheese/etc, and THEN fry them. Not the healthiest (this is why I don't make 'em that often), but definitely the tastiest option!

  3. I want to come over for dinner, lol. I agree meal planning is better than I expected, there's not a need to be spontaneous with dinner when you worked an 11 hour day, and cooking while starving means I am eating while cooking and dinner comes and my poor husband is eating dinner by himself, so sad. I am extra motivated now:)

  4. I meal plan weekly and post it on my blog to hold myself accountable. It's nice to look back when I'm in a rut and remember the recipes that were winners!

  5. Oh I don't even want to admit how much we spend on groceries every month. Granted we are a family of four but still. I even try to go meatless several days a week, but it adds up so fast. All that organic milk, lots of cheese... Anyway...meal planning is great. I'm checking out your recipes now - think those turkey burgers might get added to next week's menu!


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