Imperfect, Flexible, Doable Meal Blueprint

You can judge the state of chaotic-ness in our family by one thing alone: meals.

Yep, if I have the meals under control for my crowd of hungry little people and menfolk, I somehow feel better about things, even if the washer is broken and the house is a disaster, meals are somehow the standard by which all other things are measured.

I found a system that works for me.  And I don’t always follow it, but when I do, I’m amazed.

Here’s what I do:

1. Over the weekend plan just 3 meals for the next week

I  don’t assign a day to each meal, because life is crazy I want to be able to make my mind up the morning or night before about what we are having. And if I plan a meal for a certain day and we don’t have it on that day, because I’m a control freak, it puts me in a funk.  So I don’t match the meals to the days so I can stay sane.  But usually I cook on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.  It’s really nothing fancy for example, this week:

THAT’s it.  That is ALL the meals I have planned for the entire week.  And it’s enough because, of rule number 2

2. Keep a few items on hand all the time

  • pork loin in the freezer
  • beef stew meat in the freezer
  • chicken in the freezer
  • rice
  • italian turkey meatballs
  • pasta
  • pillsbury pie crust for chicken pie
  • cheese {how embarrassing}
  • fruit
  • vegetables that my kids will actually eat {carrots, broccoli, asparagus and cucumber}

I try to always have a pork loin in the freezer so if I need to make this I can.  The other ingredients are always in my cabinets and my boys would dip legos in the sauce and eat it.  It’s that good.

3. Sunday or Monday: make bread dough.  Yes, I just wrote that.

I PROMISE, it’s SO easy, like 3 or 4 ingredients.  I HATE to bake, I hate perfect measurements and this dough is really forgiving and takes literally 5 minutes to make.

You don’t knead it.

You just let it rise and then put the big batch of dough in the fridge.  You pull off a hunk and let that rise whenever you need bread and the dough lasts in the refrigerator–for 14 days!

You can find out all about that dough in the book: Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking. There is also a website, and here is the master recipe if you are ambitious and want to make your bread NOW.  Wow, that website has lots of information, maybe you don’t even need the book?  I like having the book because I like books and it’s easy to find everything. Now my kids are bread addicts.  They would rather have fresh bread when they come home from school than cookies–it’s that good.

The truth is, when I make bread with my own two hands, I feel slightly like superwoman.

this is the first loaf I ever made, I DIED that it was so beautiful!  ME! I made real bread! in a real loaf shape! and it tasted good!  I am now a 5 minutes a day bread evangelist!

4. Sunday or Monday Make A Big Salad

Sometimes I buy a salad kit and pour that into a big bowl sometimes I buy heads of lettuce and actually chop and junk, and then I put in whatever vegetables we have around depending on what I’m planning for dinners that week.  We eat the salad every dayish for the first few days and sometimes we have Big Salad night where we have hardboiled eggs and ham in our salad and we call that a meal.  My husband is ok with that~and of course there is bread so everyone is happy and I feel like a real adult even if I used bagged salad because hello, homemade bread people.

5. Regular Days

For the past four years I’ve made pizza EVERY Friday.  I did that until my boys started playing Hockey and now sometimes Friday is busier for us.  But, if we are home I can use the bread dough for pizza or I make whole wheat pizza dough.

  • Friday is pizza night
  • Saturday is soup day–so my sister just told me this one and I’m already doing it and loving it.  Kendra, from the now closed blog, My First Kitchen says she makes a batch of soup every Saturday and then eats it for lunch all week.  I think that is brilliant so now I make soup on Saturday too.
  • Sunday is cheese night. We are healthy, no?  Really, grilled cheese or dang cheese quesadillas and cut up apples or strawberries and whatever is around the house–yogurt, left over brocoli casserole, soup?  My husband eats at church every Sunday night so it’s just me and the boys so we get cheese.
  • Leftover night

Usually, Thursday is leftover night, after making a meal Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday we usually have leftovers and hey, I can make a batch of bread!

6. Grocery Shop Online

This is one of those luxuries I only afforded myself if I was deathly ill or hugely pregnant.  But now that Nesting Place is growing into the work that I love, I’ve decided it’s worth the $16.95 a month to have someone else do my grocery shopping for me.  This morning I placed an order at Harris Teeter after 8am and at 9:30 Melissa called to let me know my order is ready.  I’ll have time to get the chicken in the crock pot for dinner tonight.

Once I decided to focus on doing the things that ONLY I can do – {I’m the only one who can be a wife to my husband, mom to my boys, writer of Nesting Place, exercise for me, make my own friends} and get help in the areas that someone else can do for me, I saw spending that $17 a month differently.  It saves me hours a month to pay someone else to shop for me and since I have my own business, I can afford to pay someone.  Our grocery store even lets you use coupons with your online order–I’m seriously considering paying someone to clip coupons for me.

It’s taken me ages to figure out what works for me, but a mixture of planning, flexibility and routine and allowing someone else to help has worked for me. And when I actually take a few minutes over the weekend to think about our meals, our days magically go better.

Now, lay it on me, I know you have some life changing meal tips that will change my life, what are they?

how to plan out meals

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  1. I love this post! I’m going to be seeing about getting that book on my Nook. Ive been wanting to make my own bread but was intimidated to try. And hey I’m a big couponer so if you need somebody to clip your coupons let me know lol!

  2. You’ve changed my life! I was too intimidated to try homemade bread, other than quick breads. However, you inspired me to give it a try. Oh. My. Gosh. Its amazing and so delicious! Thank you for introducing me to this incredible recipe. I’m going to link back to this post if that’s ok. :)

  3. you want the easiest meal ever?

    cook a whole chicken {or two} each Wednesday. simply slather bird in herbs and ghee {or butter} and throw in the oven @ 350 for 2 hours.

    dinner is served.
    leftovers= chicken salad for lunch.

    but wait! don’t toss that carcass!

    throw in a stock pot filled with water…with the trio of onions, carrots, and celery a dash of apple cider vinegar {to draw out the goodness of minerals} and salt.

    cook for 24 hours on low. boom. you have stock made for a whole week to make your saturday soup, doctor up mashed potatoes, or simply drink for good health with each meal.

    get the book nourishing traditions by sally fallon. she is all about kickin’ it old school. and my family’s health improves each day.

    wish I could eat your artisinal bread…but I am GF. :(

    • Blessedly, Zoe and Jeff have also written Healthy Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, which includes a GF chapter. The recipe for a GF Crusty Boule is here!

  4. Hi Nester,
    Just wanted to belatedly pass along my family’s thanks to you for introducing us to this yummylicious bread! I have made it almost nightly since this post and whenever my family groans with delight I always say, “Thank Nester.”

    I confess though that I can only make one small loaf per night though or memories of gaining 10 pounds of bread-weight from a summer waitressing at Cape Cod will become reality! :) Merry Christmas, friend.

  5. Nicola Rushing says

    I adore your blog and home, but at first I just skimmed two sentences of this post and moved on. Then I came back later after I decided not to skip it after all, and it was sooo good I could kick myself for not reading it earlier! Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom with us!

  6. I like to make a big pot of mashed potatoes at the begining of the week. It’s a great side with ANYTHING (fish, chicken, pork chops). You can also use them to make mashed potato soup later on in the week!

  7. long-time anonymous reader says

    I’ve now made all of the recipes in this post. This is my favorite post from you- ever. Please post more about streamlining the meal plan? Or give more great links? Thank you SO MUCH!!!

  8. I don’t know how many times I have come back to this post but this time I am going to pin it to make it easy to find.

  9. Are you still following this meal blueprint Nester? Are you still baking this bread? I’m going to give it a go!

    • we haven’t had a kitchen for 2 months while we are re-doing it, but as soon as I get my kitchen back YES!! hopefully in the next 4 weeks, my boys are begging for bread and I’m dying to make it!!

  10. I only have to cook for me but this really fantastic advice for everyone! I’m not very organised so i’m always on the look out for tips to make my life a bit easier – going to be trying these this weekend! Thank you!! Gail xx

  11. i love this. all of this!! and the BREAD…i just made my own loaf of bread a few weeks ago and too, felt like superwoman! this one seems like an even better idea than the one i did and my husband would LOVE it! my greatest lifesaver for family meals is a girls cooking group that i do. i just wrote about it on my blog with instructions, recipes and the whole nine yards. if you’re interested you can find it at: http://www.graceuncommon. :)

  12. We are twins, right down to cheese on Sundays!
    – I make chicken stock in the crockpot and use it as my soup base. All you have to do is roast a chicken or two for dinner and throw the bones in the pot, cover with water, and cook on low. After 12 hrs or so I drain it by half (and save that stock in the fridge/freezer), cover with water again and keep it going. You can do this for a few days and have LOTS of stock that is so good for you, from stuff I used to just trash.
    -homemade bread is so lovely! I use a KitchenAid to knead it (you only have to knead it once for about 9 minutes, let it rise, divide it into your greased pans and let it rise again and bake). I throw leftover oatmeal into the mix and it’s fabulous. (you can do this with any spent grain, or toss in a little leftover mashed potato as well).
    – if you make sure one meal a week comes from a big chunk of meat on the bone, you’ll have enough left over to add to soup, pizza, etc… even a cup of meat goes a long way if it’s added to veggies on a pizza!
    – Maybe I’m just a child of the 70s but any veggie that is not broccoli, corn or a green bean feels fancy to me. So when I add Red! Bell! Peppers! to anything I do a happy dance. (Just me? Okay then….)
    – If you’re bored of pizza you can just roll it all up and bake it seam-side down and call it stromboli/calzones.
    – Once I realized that the chopped tomato/onion/jalapeno/cilantro called for in curry recipes was basically the same ingredients in my store pico de gallo, I use ti with wild abandon. Meat + veggies + curry paste + coconut milk + pico = best curry over rice ever!
    – I started paying my worst offender a quarter if he took at least 2 sizeable bites of a new veggie at dinner. It really does make life so much pleasanter.

  13. kesh Lewis says

    Love love the ideas and humor!

  14. First of all…I have that bread book. It’s amazing!
    Second…I have a pork loin in my refrigerator. I’m thinking the balsamic glazed pork loin will be on Saturday’s menu.

  15. It is in reality a nice and helpful piece of information. I’m
    happy that you shared this useful info with us.

    Please keep us up to date like this. Thank you for sharing.

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