Make Dinner Happen Friday #1: Use It Up Edition

Make Dinner Happen Friday #1Make Dinner Happen Friday is a new series where I will share with you what I am planning on cooking next week.  So come and join me in making dinner happen!
This week is all about “using it up.”  We are blessed this week with a full pantry and freezer, so I built my meal plan this week around what we already have.  I start my meal plans on Friday because that is the day that I go to the grocery store (although that might be changing soon as we are getting into the school year).
Black Bean Jalapeno Griddle Cakes with Salsa, Chipotle Mashed Potato Cakes, and Salad
I am trying out a couple of new recipes here with the griddle cakes and mashed potato cakes based off of recipes from How to Cook Everything – I’ll let you know how they turned out!  I will be using my favorite salsa recipe from The Pioneer Woman.  I already have these ingredients from the meal plan last week (we ended up with more leftovers than I was planning, so we had an extra “leftovers day”).
Rosemary Roasted Pork Loin with Garlic Parmesan Cheesy Scalloped PotatoesRosemary Roasted Pork Loin with Garlic Parmesan Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes
This will be a basic rosemary marinated pork loin (which I already have in the freezer) that is oven roasted (do be honest, I don’t have something specific in mind – I’ll just throw some marinade together that day), served with these delicious-looking scalloped potatoes (I will just be using red potatoes and cheddar and Parmesan cheeses because that is what I already have).
Brunch: Cinnamon Apple Baked French Toast with Cheesy Hash Brown Cups
On Sunday, brunch is our big meal, and I have been on a kick of trying new recipes lately.  This Cinnamon Apple Baked French Toast looked tasty, plus I already have apples!  I have made these really tasty Baked Hash Brown Cups (with cheese!), though!  I’ll be using the red potatoes that I already have and grating them myself.
Dinner: Spaghetti with Garlic Knots and Salad
Basic spaghetti with our homemade spaghetti sauce served with homemade garlic knots using the olive oil dough from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day.  This sounds really elaborate, but really this is so easy and delicious!
Camembert Macaroni and Cheese and Camembert Stuffed Figs
I have some camembert cheese left over from last week (we had a French-inspired meal that, of course, had to include some “fancy” cheese), so we are going to try this macaroni and cheese and these cheese stuffed figs to use it up.  Figs are in-season here now, so I will be able to pick some up at the farmer’s market on Saturday.
Spaghetti Squash Chicken Pad Thai with Bean Sprouts and Peppers
Spaghetti squash and peppers are also in season, so I am going to attempt this Pad Thai recipe using chicken thighs that I have in the freezer.  I have never made homemade Pad Thai, so this is going to be an adventure.  Since I try to make most of my food from scratch, I am going to use this pad Thai sauce recipe.  This is going to be tricky since I am not sure if I can find tamarind paste here in central Arkansas.  I am adding bean sprouts and bell peppers because I am apparently incapable of making any recipe exactly as written :).
Buffalo Tacos with Chipotle Corn Casserole
We will be having these tacos seasoned with buffalo sauce (I will be using my homemade buffalo sauce).  I thought this corn casserole would go with this well with a little bit of chipotle seasoning added to it.
Sausage and Potatoes with Salad
Pan fried kielbasa and red potatoes (which – you guessed it – I already have) with a side salad (btw, a “salad” in our house mostly means lettuce with sunflower seeds, but we will also add any kind of extra vegetables that we have around).
So there you have it – our meal plan for next week!  So I challenge you – what are you going to put on your meal plan this week to “use it up?”  Share it on Facebook or Twitter with #makedinnerhappen!

Why I Meal Plan

Why I Meal PlanSometimes meal planning feels like something that we “should” do because it’s what the mom who has it all together does (I talked about those types of reasons here). You meal plan because you are supposed to, but that will only get you so far. Until you have a conviction about why YOU want to meal plan, you will never stick with it.
So today, I wanted to share why I meal plan, and as we go along, I hope that you think about why you want to meal plan and what it means for you and your family.

Why I Meal Plan

I never set out to learn “how to meal plan.” Rather, I just wanted to feed my family real, home cooked food while balancing a part-time job and going back to school – all while my oldest was just a few months old (did I mention I might be a little crazy) :).  At the time, I had only one goal: to make healthy meals for my family.  I wanted to make sure that they had wholesome food as my son was growing.  At the time, I used once a month cooking (which I will tell you about in another post), and I discovered a couple more ways that meal planning helped my family.
My home finally started to get organized.  I am not an organized person by nature, and in the postpartum haze, our household really got chaotic.  While meal planning doesn’t keep my counters clean (quite the opposite when I actually am cooking), it does free up mental space and time to work towards getting those other chores done to keep our household running smoothly.  There was structure to our daily meals, which was the beginning of structure for our family.  The once a month cooking, in particular, was a huge blessing to my family through student teaching and after each of our two other children were born, making these times significantly less chaotic for our family.
It actually saved me money.  This one came as a surprise to me at the time.  I had always heard that people buy junk food because it is cheaper, but in reality, cooking from scratch is much cheaper.  At the time, my husband was in graduate school and I was working part-time, so you can tell we had a ton of money just lying around (total sarcasm – we were so broke, we didn’t know how broke we were).  But meal planning helped me save money by wasting less food and by allowing me to cook from scratch.
Years later, I am still meal planning, although I rarely do once a month cooking.  Now, I am working to incorporate more locally produced food into our family’s diet (especially after reading Joel Salatin’s book).  Meal planning allows me to use up the local produce that I buy so that it doesn’t let it go to waste.  And, this winter I will be able to more fully use the food that I have frozen and dehydrated.
Finally, the big reason that I meal plan is that food is my love language.  I show people that I love them with food that I cook for them.  When I see my little one-year-old toddle across the floor on those chunky legs with a big smile across those chubby cheeks, I remember why it is that I get out my pencil and paper every week and plan our meals.  I do it for my family because I love them and this is the best way that I know to show my love for them.

Why Do You Meal Plan

So now that I have shared why I meal plan, I invite you to think about why you meal plan (or why you would want to start).  Meal planning is not about what you are “supposed” to do.  It’s not about what that totally put-together mom does (who I am pretty sure doesn’t really exist).  It’s about you and your family.  So whether you too need to get organized and save money, or you want to change something about the food your family eats, meal planning can help you achieve those goals.
Share with us on Facebook or Twitter why you meal plan!

Back to School: 3 Tips to Get Meal Planning Now


Here in the Meredith household, we started our first real homeschooling year this past week with my oldest son’s first day of kindergarten (here in Arkansas, it is too hot to be outside much now anyway, so we will take some time off in the fall when the weather is beautiful!).  It is a transition to be sure with two little ones along for the ride.
SXLLMFirst Day of Kindergarten for My Big Guy
Fortunately, I have my meal planning to rely on to help my household run more smoothly and make our homeschooling days that much easier.  Whether you are also homeschoolers or have kids in school (or just have all littles!), meal planning is a must-have time- and energy-saving practice.
But what if you have never meal planned before?  How do you start?  Here are some tips to keep from getting overwhelmed!

1.     Start Now

Summer is a great time to get your feet wet with meal planning.  Since schedules tend to be somewhat chaotic, knowing what you are going to cook on a particular day can be especially helpful to.  By getting started now before the hectic back-to-school days, you can learn the basics and confidently approach that first week back.

2.     Start Small

Meal plans that you see online range from a week to a month (I have even done some that were longer than that), but you need not start that way.  We are all growing into the people that God calls us to become, so none of those people (most definitely including myself) started with those elaborate meal plans.  Start with 1-2 days a week.  If you are starting this summer, pick the day or two each week when you are most likely to pick up fast food or take out and decide what you are going to have for supper instead.  Slow cooker pulled chicken sandwiches work great for busy summer days!

3.     Just Start

Jump right in and meal plan!The first time that you do this, it will not be perfect and that’s ok.  You might forget to get something at the store, you might even forget to get something started in time for supper.  The important thing is to get started.  With time and practice you will become better and better at meal planning.  If you need help getting started, check out How to Meal Plan in 1-2-3.
So now you are ready to get started with meal planning.  Will you take the meal planning challenge?  Share what you are planning on making for your 1-2 days quick get-started meal plan!
If you need more help getting started with meal planning, check out our meal planning coaching sessionsAlso, I am starting a new series of videos and worksheets for Culinary Science.  The first video is up now and the worksheet will be coming soon.  More information and videos will be coming soon!