January 15, 2016

Meal Planning a la Caroline + 101 Dinner Ideas

Earlier this week, I went grocery shopping. I had a set time frame (one hour, which is how long a boy scout meeting lasts), a set budget, and my list of what I needed.

There are six people in my family: my husband and myself, two boys, and two girls. Everybody eats an adult sized portion. On a given day, each person in my home eats breakfast, lunch, dinner, and I plan for two snacks: one to be eaten at school, and one for after school. Not including the snacks, here's what  I know:

  • 1 person = 3 meals  per day 
  • 6 people =  18 meals 
  • 1 week/6 people = 126 meals
  • 2 weeks/6 people = 252 meals

My grocery bill came up just shy of $120, which rounds out to about $0.48 per person, per meal, and like I said, that doesn't even include the snacks.

Now before I move on, I want to answer a few questions.

  • Do I use coupons? No, not really. For one thing, I don't have the time or printer ink to do all that. Also, I live on top of a mountain, and we have ONE very nice grocery store. We do not have Walgreens, and CVS, and Target, and Wal-Mart, and Harris Teeter, and etc. etc. etc. We have a Smith's. In the summer, we also have a farmer's market, but only on Thursdays, and only until noon, and I never remember it, and I don't carry cash. My options for grocery shopping are supremely limited. 
  • How often does my family eat meat? It kind of depends, but I'd say 3-4 dinners each week include meat. The meat is rarely the main event at our house. I would say that 3/4 of our plates are filled with vegetables and a starch. I use mushrooms a lot, because textually, they are meaty. In fact, I tell my kids all the time that mushrooms are the meat of the vegetable world. We have also "tricked" a lot of children into accidentally eating mushrooms, and enjoying them. 
  • What about food allergies? What about them? We DO have food allergies at our house. We also have food intolerance's, and food preferences. As far as preferences go, I don't care what you like. Something I say all the time is, "I am not a restaurant. I do not take orders." I also have a sign in my kitchen that says "Today's Menu: Eat it or Starve". But I'm getting off track. Food allergies: shellfish and white fish. Food intolerance's: dairy, yeast, and preservatives. 
  • Do you eat any fresh food? Oh my life, YES. Yes, yes, yes. We love our fresh fruits and veggies. When I'm deciding what to eat, and in what order, I go fresh to frozen. For example, dinners featuring leafy greens are eaten first, because they go bad first. Meanwhile, carrots and cabbages can last quite a while. This is why I love menu planning, because it helps me to feed my family good, home-cooked food, without going crazy, losing sleep, or murdering anyone. 

In a nutshell, here's what I do. 

Breakfast and Lunch are the same week to week. This means that on Monday, we have a breakfast sandwich, and then a turkey wrap for lunch. Tuesday, we have rice for breakfast, and homemade chicken nuggets for lunch. Wednesday is breakfast burritos, and soup. You get the idea. 

Dinners are where the fun begins. 

I have color-coded menu plans and shopping lists. My Basic Shopping List only includes the food items needed for Breakfasts and Lunches. It also includes all the different household supplies we need, because my grocery budget/toilet paper budget is one and the same. 

NOW. Before I go any further into explaining how my meal-planning system is set up, I need YOU to do some homework. 

Step One: Grab a pencil and paper, and WRITE DOWN all the dinners you LIKE to eat, all the dinners you WOULD like to eat, and what your FAMILY eats.

Step Two: Think of accompanying side dishes. Make sure you have a vegetable! Include an extra starch if you're a bread person, or have children who are always hungry. (Really though, why are they always hungry?) 

Thinking of dinners is the hardest part of menu planning, so I'm going to share what WE eat around here. There's 101 dinner ideas, which means that you could go almost 4 months with no repeats. If that's not glorious, I don't know what is. Feel free to steal/copy any dinner ideas that sound good to you! 

1. 7 Layer Burritos
2. Bacon and Green Bean Pasta Toss
3. Baked Potato Bar
4. Baked Potato Soup W/ Rolls
5. BBQ Chicken W/ Cornbread + Green Beans
6. Bean and Cheese Quesadilla
7. Bean and Corn Salad
8. Beef Stew
9. Beef Stroganoff W/ Peas
10. BLT Sandwich + Potato Salad
11. Broccoli Cheese Soup
12. Burrito Bowls
13. Cabbage Stew W/ Sourdough Bread
14. Café Rio Copycat
15. Calzones + Hot Wings
16. Cheese Enchiladas W/ Rice + Beans
17. Cherry Cheese Blintzes
18. Chicken Broccoli Casserole
19. Chicken Cacciatore W/ Green Beans
20. Chicken Caesar Salad
21. Chicken Delicious Over Rice
22. Chicken Dumplings
23. Chicken Mole Taco W/ Avocado + Spanish Rice
24. Chicken Noodle Soup
25. Chicken Parmesan W/ Green Beans
26. Chicken Pot Pie
27. Chicken Salad Sandwiches
28. Chicken Tenders With Oven Fries + Coleslaw
29. Chicken Tortilla Soup
30. Chili + Cornbread
31. Chinese Sundaes (Aka Hawaiian Haystacks)
32. Cilantro Lime Chicken
33. Clam Chowder W/ Rolls
34. Cobb Salad
35. Corn Chowder
36. Cranberry Pork Roast W/ Roast Potatoes + Green Beans
37. Creamy Chicken & Rice Soup
38. Egg Muffins
39. Egg Salad Sandwich
40. Eggplant Parmesan
41. Fajitas + Rice + Beans
42. Fettuccine Alfredo W/ Steamed Vegetables
43. Fish Filet W/ Baked Potato + Spinach
44. French Onion Soup W/ Club Sandwich
45. French Toast W/ Bacon + Eggs
46. Fried Chicken W/ Corn + Green Beans
47. Frittata
48. Goulash W/ Green Vegetable
49. Green Salad W/ Breadsticks
50. Grilled Cheese + Tomato Soup
51. Grilled Chicken Over Salad Greens
52. Hamburgers & French Fries
53. Herbed Chicken W/ Warm Tomato Vinaigrette On Salad Greens
54. Hot Dogs W/ Fries + Pickle
55. Huevos Rancheros
56. Indian Fry Bread
57. Island Broiled Chicken W/ Wild Mushroom Rice + Broccoli
58. Lasagna W/ Garlic Bread + Green Beans
59. Macaroni and Cheese
60. Meatballs + Mashed Potato
61. Meatloaf W/ Mixed Vegetables
62. Minestrone Soup
63. Nacho’s Supreme
64. Omelets
65. Orange Chicken Stir Fry
66. Pancakes W/ Hash Brown, Eggs, Sausage, And Orange Juice
67. Pasta Salad
68. Pita Sandwiches
69. Pizza And Salad
70. Pizza Donuts
71. Pollo Fundido W/ Lettuce + Tomato
72. Pork Chops W/ Broccoli Bacon Salad
73. Pork Chops W/ Stuffing, Applesauce, Peas
74. Posse Stew
75. Pot Roast W/ Root Vegetable
76. Potato Leek Soup
77. Potato Surprise
78. Pulled Pork Sandwich W/ Baked Beans
79. Ravioli W/ Green Beans
80. Red Beef Enchilada’s With Spanish Rice
81. Reuben Sandwich W/ Oven Fries + Pickle
82. Rigatoni Bolognese
83. Roast Chicken W/ Carrots + Boiled Potatoes
84. Salsa Chicken
85. Shepherd’s Pie
86. Shish Kabobs Over Rice
87. Sloppy Joes W/ Potato Salad
88. Spaghetti W/ Garlic Bread + Green Beans
89. Steaks W/ Mashed Potatoes + Green Salad
90. Strawberry Spinach Salad
91. Stuffed Bell Peppers
92. Stuffed Tomatoes
93. Sub Sandwich W/ Chips + Pickle
94. Sweet and Sour Chicken W/ Egg Rolls + Rice
95. Taco Salad
96. Tacos
97. Tamales
98. Thanksgiving Casserole W/ Candied Yams
99. Tuna Noodle Casserole
100. Veggie Lo-Mein
101. Veggie Stir-Fry W/ Rice + Egg Rolls