Meal Planning for March 2016

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016

February’s meal plan results are in, and it’s officially a success! Everyone has been fed, nutrients have been provided, and no one has complained about what was for dinner.

In terms of groceries, I’ve run out of tomatoes, eggs and peanut butter. There’s a shelf with just three cans: mushrooms, black beans, and chickpeas, and that last can of chickpeas is almost ready to be sacrificed in the name of hummus… Flour is low but not gone, and the skim milk powder is the only thing still going strong.

But…

All the meals were cooked as planned and we didn’t run out of variety.

And…

I was close to my (adjusted) budget of $125 per week, coming in at an average of $129 per week.

I can move forward now, using the same process as before, just refined a bit with what I’ve learned in tow.

Onto March Meal Planning!

#1: Identify your goals

Thinking back to Meal Planning 101, this is my opportunity to figure out just what it is I’m trying to do, so that I can stay focused on what’s important.

For March, my goals are similar to February. I need to plan meals that:

  1. …are Healthy for a growing toddler.

  2. …stay on budget (after last month, I’m aiming for $130 a week, for 5 weeks worth of planning).

  3. …rely on slow cookers on Tuesdays/Thursdays to accommodate my and my husbands out-of-house activities.

  4. …are quick to prepare (30 minutes) on Monday and Friday, to allow for the fastest food possible.

  5. …have carbs on the side to allow me to follow a moderate carb intake.

  6. …leave leftovers for lunches to allow me and Gord to eat well at work.

Side note: you may notice I’m not including vegetarian meals as a goal. Even though I enjoy going weekday vegetarian, my current need for low-carb options has shut this down temporarily. Vegetarian meals are, unfortunately for me, usually carb-loaded. So I’m going to forego another month of veggie meals for the sake of keeping the carbs at bay. I figure come June I can switch back.

#2: List out recipes that help you achieve your goals

What recipes can I make that allow me to achieve these goals?

My first goal is nonnegotiable: Healthy foods for my toddler.

Goal 2 (within budget) means I’ll aim to re-use ingredients across multiple meals. This means rejecting recipes that use rare or expensive ingredients that might spoil.

Goal 3 (slow cooker twice a week) will take some attention – 10 unique meals in a slow cooker? I’m up for that challenge!

Goal 4 (quick to prepare) will take some attention as well. Nothing’s worse than spoiling my toddler’s dinner because a girl’s gotta eat and mommy’s too slow…

My final goal (carbs on the side) is flexible, so long as I don’t make… um… mac and cheese in rice porridge sauce? I think I’ll pull through…

So what am I looking at?

  • Spaghetti – Low-cost, tasty and healthy. This one’s a no-brainer!

  • Burgers & steamed veggies – Buns for the family and lettuce wraps for me makes this one easy to pull off.

  • Peanut butter soup – This is one thing that I always know my daughter will eat. I swear by this Oh She Glows cookbook recipe.

  • Salad – Taco salad and Tuna salad, both of these keep the flavour high enough to entice my daughter, but healthy enough that I feel good feeding it to her.

  • Curry – I think we’ll make curry a few times this month. Gord loves the stuff!

  • Chicken cacciatore – This one will make a great slow-cooker meal. Sub in chicken breasts for ease-of-preparation and I’ll have me a lower-fat version I can feel good about.

  • Chicken veggie soup – Another “recipe” that has a few variations. I think I’ll go for “Jiggs dinner”, “Mushroom pepper”, and “corn” varieties this month!

  • Fish fillets with rice and veggies with Tahini mayo – Oh She Glows strikes again! Another thing that my daughter loves made with ingredients I didn’t even know existed until a few years ago.

  • Pizza – I’ll have to adapt this one for myself, but the rest of the family deserves something a little extra tasty every now and then.

  • Nachos – Another thing I’ll have to adjust for moderate-carb intake. Peppers instead of chips, maybe?

  • Sweet Chili Cashew Chicken, steamed veg and rice – This creamy dish is one of the first things I ever ad-libbed. It was delicious. So I did it again!

  • Pass the Peas Asian-inspired stir fry, with baked chicken breast and rice – This one was an unexpected delicious success. I’m adding this one to the meal plan rotation for good!

  • Baked beans with peppers and celery – I’m going to try to make “baked beans” in the slow cooker. It seems like something that should be possible. Like any good Canadian, I’ve got my Maple Syrup ready and waiting.

  • Veggie butter chicken – I’m pretty sure I’d lose my meal planning “privileges” if I neglected to add this one to the list.

  • Taco soup – Slow-cooker-ready, this meal will keep everyone full and happy, including my pocket-book!

  • Savoury Crêpes – I asked my husband to come up with something he’d like for supper at some point in March. This is what he asked for. I think he’s trying to stump me… I have no idea how, but it shall be done!

#3: List each day and assign a recipe to each day

I’m going to take the same approach this month that I did last month: Five nights a week of planned meals that include leftovers for lunches. Weekends are unplanned.

March, 2016
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday

My meal plan is for the whole month. I’m going to aim for one shopping trip again, so all the fresh/spoilable ingredients will be front-loaded in the first week. Slow cooker meals are also easy to pencil in, so they’ll go in first:

March, 2016
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
29(February)
Veggie Taco Salad

Next up: Fill in the blanks! My tactic for this is to avoid too much of the same flavour in the same week (avoiding two curry nights in the same week, for example), and to have something fun on Fridays.

March, 2016
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
29(February)
Veggie Taco Salad
14Sweet Chili Cashew Chicken 16Pass the Peas with chicken & rice
28Sweet Chili Cashew Chicken 30Veggie Butter Chicken

#4: Plan to Plan

What I’m cooking is all settled, so now I need to figure out what I can do ahead of time to make cooking that much quicker. If I can soak and cook beans a few days before or chop onions and peel carrots the night before, that will make cooking quicker on busy after-work evenings.

I’m aiming to prep everything for the week on Sundays so I’m going to write down what I need to do for each meal, then do it all on Sunday.

Example, Week 1 (Feb 29 – Mar 5)

Veggie Taco Salad – I can chop the peppers and onions ahead of time, and soak/cook the black beans. Everything else (mixed greens, mushrooms, spices, salsa, etc) can be prepped the day of fairly quickly.

Chicken Cacciatore – I can chop the peppers and onions ahead of time. Everything else is canned or frozen.

Tuna Salad – This one will all be chopped up just before supper, so no prep for this one.

Chicken Veggie soup – I can chop up the carrots, onion and turnip before-hand.

Nachos – Onion and peppers for this one.

So, all totalled, that’s 3 peppers chopped, 4 onions diced, 1 cup of dried beans soaked and cooked, 3 carrots sliced, and 1 small turnip.

#5: Prepare a shopping list

Now that I know what I’m cooking and what I’ll need for each recipe, I can prepare a shopping list. Half the work is already done from identifying the prep items, now to finish the items I’ll need for each recipe and tally them up for the month. When all is said and done, I have a fairly long list, but I know nothing will be wasted.

Finally, now that I have my grocery list, it’s time to add in some of the essentials I might not have listed in my recipes. Add in some hand soap and a few other toiletries, and I’m done!

Shopping!

Five weeks of meal planning and groceries and I’m $502 poorer, but I’m all set for the rest of the month! At an average of $100.40 a week, that leaves me a bit of wiggle room if I need to top up something in a few weeks.

So, to recap:

Meal Plan for the month of March, 2016

  • Identify your goals. For March, I need to plan meals that:

    1. …are Healthy for a growing toddler.

    2. …stay on budget of $130 a week.

    3. …rely on slow cookers on Tuesdays/Thursdays to accommodate out-of-house activities.

    4. …are quick to prepare (30 minutes) on Monday and Friday.

    5. …have carbs on the side for a moderate carb intake.

    6. …leave leftovers for lunches during the work week.

  • Find recipes that work with your goals (shown in the calendar below).

  • Assign recipes to a day (shown in the calendar below).

  • Plan to plan, and identify preparation tasks that can be done ahead of time.

  • Prepare a shopping list and go shopping.

  • March, 2016
    Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
    29(February)
    Veggie Taco Salad
    14Sweet Chili Cashew Chicken 16Pass the Peas with chicken & rice
    28Sweet Chili Cashew Chicken 30Veggie Butter Chicken
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