Welcome to How I Eat: Meal Planning for Normal People. (If you missed it, click over to read more about this series on The Pajama Chef.) This series is meant to inspire readers (and myself!) with tips and tricks for meal planning and getting dinner on the table. Whether you’re cooking for one or a crowd, I firmly believe that good food shouldn’t be sacrificed just because life is busy.
Today’s feature on How I Eat is Amy of Savory Moments. Amy loves food, as many food bloggers do, but her interest was sparked by a trip to Thailand! How cool is that? Currently Amy stays at home with her boy/girl twins, who are just a little younger than my son. It’s been so fun to get baby/toddler cooking ideas from Amy and chat online about kid stuff. Amy has lots of baby/toddler recipes on her blog and even started a Facebook group on this topic that I’ve found really helpful! Before kids, she worked in aquatic ecosystem restoration and science. I’ve been following Amy’s blog for awhile and have always been impressed with her interest in cooking seasonally, locally, and frugally.
Tell us about yourself. Who are you cooking for? What else influences how you get meals on the table?
I cook for my husband who has a crazy work schedule and our twin toddlers (and myself, of course!). I’m currently a SAHM, but with two rambunctious toddlers, kitchen time can be difficult to come by!
What meals do you plan?
In a typical week, approximately how many meals per week do you plan to eat at home or prepare to take with you (e.g., to work or school)? No shame… curious minds want to know! For this, I would include any food purchased at the grocery store (e.g., rotisserie chicken, bagged salad mix, etc.) but not takeout.
- 21: I make all my own food and very rarely eat out.
What is your basic meal planning method?
I look through the Aldi ad, scroll through Ibotta (editor’s note: that’s my [Sarah’s] referral code–you’ll get $10 for signing up and I’ll get $5… highly recommend this moneymaking app!) for good rebates, and check out our freezer white board (we buy some meat in bulk – for example a half pig each year from a local farmer, so I need to ensure we use it up), and go from there. I try to incorporate at least one vegetarian dinner per week and then mix up the rest – one chicken, one pasta, one beef, one pork. I’ve written about how and why I make our weekly menu before.
What are your favorite weeknight meals?
Anything that goes in the slow cooker is always a hit for me. I love to make things like salsa chicken (just chicken and salsa with maybe peppers + onions) cooked on low and then use it for tacos, burrito bowls, nachos, quesadillas, etc. I also love soups and chilis. Stir fries and fried rice are also my go-to meals, especially in the summer and fall when produce is abundant. I’ll throw together whatever odds and ends of vegetables we have around and use them up like that. Since I’m a food blogger, I tend to like to try something new each week, but I also fall back on a lot of staples and favorites that aren’t really “food blog” worthy type meals since they aren’t measured, etc. One pot skillet meals are also an easy weeknight choice like this Skillet Chicken and Summer Squash Quinoa or One Pan Stuffed Peppers Skillet (below).
What are your “no-brainer” meals? Or what meals do you make when there’s “nothing” to eat?
I always keep a frozen pizza on hand (no shame!) for those times when you just need one. Also, breakfast for dinner! Pancakes are always a hit with everyone, especially the twins, so they are something I’ll whip up and it makes everyone happy!
Do you use any tools to help you create your meal plan and/or execute it?
- Meal planning whiteboard or chalkboard
While I don’t “plan” breakfast and lunches, we do have a basic system down for those. Breakfast is generally oatmeal, scrambled eggs, or pancakes, and lunches are either leftovers or some sort of sandwich meal. Occasionally we change those up, but in general those are what we eat for those meals.
What is your best advice for someone who is just starting to meal plan?
Try not to get frustrated and give it some time. It can be hard to get into the habit of making and sticking to meal plans, but once you do it’s such a time and money saver. I hate having to think all day “what’s for dinner??”
Thank you, Amy! I know you didn’t really talk about Aldi much, but I have to say… it’s been such a game-changer in my food budget lately. And the quality has vastly improved from what I remember even just a few years ago. If you have an Aldi around you, check it out! You may be pleasantly surprised. Amy’s advice to plan your meals around the store ads is relevant no matter where you shop. You can save so much money that way. Also, I like your formula-based approach for breakfast and lunch. I kind of do that as well, and it can simplify grocery shopping significantly if you aren’t trying to buy ingredients to make various recipes breakfast or lunch. Instead, you can just check the pantry and fridge to see whether you need more oatmeal, eggs, lunch meat, etc. Easy easy!