So on my FB meal planning page, I always post the week's menu. It occurred to me this week when I posted, that my menu's might look boring or overly simply to an outsider. I wanted to take some time to explain why my menu's look the way that they do and how your menu's should look.
I also want to introduce you to the meal planning software that I use that legit keeps the wheels on this crazy train. So let's start there.
For about 5-6 years now, I have been using a meal plan software called Paprika It's a cute little paprika container icon and you can get it in the Apple apps store, or click the name above - I linked to their website. I'm not sure what the situation is for other operating systems, as everything we own is Apple.
There are a lot of reasons why I really love this app. The first is that I can store all my recipes in it. That means it will create my grocery lists and I can pull up my recipes wherever I am - which makes it so easy to share them with you all!
Here is my recipe page and it legit has everything in it. Each time I get a new recipe it goes straight in here, well...ok usually it goes in a pile on my desk and 2 months later I actually put it in here. But that doesn't happen as often anymore because I get a lot of recipes online. Well that is where this app really shines! It has a browser feature that allows me to capture recipes straight from the internet!
Do you have a load of recipes on pinterest but you never open that app to meal plan? OR you are like me and you open it to meal plan but then 30 minutes later you've pinned 68 ideas for how to organize your linen closet but you haven't even opened your food board. What, that's just me?
Anyway! I did a lot of my recipe building from there at the beginning. I still keep a little recipe box at home for having a paper copy of things, but this is easier. I really like, as well, the ability to tag my recipes in anyway. As you can see in the middle window above, there are all my categories. I only have chicken tonight? Click the chicken file. Really need a marinade? Open marinades. I've got people coming for a lunch date? Open my lunch folder. And I can tag a recipe with as many tags as I want. It honestly, friends, makes meal planning incredibly easy. It also helps me to use the things that I have on hand.
Here is a snippet of the browser feature:
The next two features in this app are the grocery list and the pantry. Now, I do not utilize the pantry feature like I should. I honestly think that if I even had the time to keep track of what was in my pantry with an inventory type list, I'd use that time for something else. It isn't important to me, maybe I'd learn a language or something. BUT, I'll give it up to anyone that does this because I think it would be awesome. In my season, however, not going to happen - we can talk about that later.
Finally, the best part about this app is that it will let me meal plan as far ahead as I want. I do mine a month at a time - because with two small humans sometimes that is even too far in advance. There is a lot that can change in a month. I highly recommend a month. A week can really get away from you, so planning week to week sets yourself up for failure.
Paprika will let you plan breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack. Essentially you could out everything you will eat all day long into this app. I only plan my dinners (my kids have a separate rotating weekly schedules of breakfasts and lunches so they don't get bored...another post sometime can tell you more about that) and I use the snack color (they put the different meals in different colors) to note an special occasions that might interfere or coincide with dinner time. If you are planning a party or gathering of any sort - it will also allow you to create a menu and put it into your meal plan.
Paprika is a drag and drop, which means that you can drag something from your recipe list (far right column) and place it into your menu. If you don't have something saved into your recipe folder (like I don't have a recipe for pork chops and green beans - too basic) then you can right click and add something manually. It also switches to just a weekly view if you need to narrow your focus to what week you are in!
So there is Paprika for you! Like I said, I have been a loyal user for about 5-6 years now and I don't see myself switching anytime soon. It does take some time and effort in the beginning to load all of your recipes in and get it set up the way that you want, but after that is done - I can meal plan a month in about 10-15 minutes and I can make a grocery list in 5 minutes. It's my ninja mom secret weapon. Only it wasn't a secret.
Do you use a program that you love? Comment on the bottom of this blog and tell us what it is!! I'm sure that in 5 years there have been some awesome advancements in the world of meal planning software.
If you are looking for something a little more structured than this, I have heard great things about Prep Dish. This service is about $14 a month and they send you a meal plan, grocery list, and a list of things to PREP beforehand so that all you are doing at dinner time is cooking and dishing, no prepping required (because you have already done that!). If you want more information about how it works, click the previous words! I have not personally used this site yet - but I plan on trying it out as soon as my current season has run its course. So let's talk about that now.
I prepare my meals in what I call Meal Cycles. All it is is a structure that I stick to when meal planning each week. I usually stick with a cycle for a weather season and then switch, but recently I have been catering our cycles to our life seasons more so than the weather. Here is what that looks like:
In the fall/winter I do a lot of soups, bakes, and chilis; obviously because the weather means it's less likely I want to stand out by the grill. In the Spring/Summer we do a lot of grilling and use a ton more fresh produce - so our meal cycle reflects that.
Right now, however, we have some life things that are defining our seasons. Would I like to share with you all my super wonderful, utterly delicious, completely luxurious recipes of flank steak, steak rolls, roasted red pepper pasta dishes and homemade desserts and sauces that will make you so happy you would cry - yes, yes I do. BUT I do not have the time or energy right now to be standing at a stove or at my island for 2 hours while I create (one of my favorite things to do). I have two kids that nap until around 430-500pm and when the monsters arise, they need to be eating in 30 minutes. Tops.
Have you ever dealt with a hungry lion or bear, that's pretty much Ruby Radcliffe. She doesn't care that it's fancy, she's going to shove it in her mouth so fast she won't taste it. Not a season for that.
Will on the other hand, while equally as hungry, barely eats anything. We've worked really really hard to get him to eat the few things that he does and so in this season, we are sticking to what works.
Parenting is hella hard right now. Ruby is a trying child and we are working on figuring her out - she is in addition to our super sensitive Will who needs to be parented in a completely different way and needs his spirit led on top of everything else. Because he is older; and apparently parenting CHANGES RIGHT WHEN YOU ARE GETTING THE HANG OF IT!! (sorry, lost my cool for a sec) So our season requires more energy on them and less on presenting gourmet meals.
The final nail in our meal cycle this season is that I am trying very hard to lose the baby weight that I gained with both my babes. That throws a wrench in things because the meals I cook have to work for me (rounder than I'd like to be) and David (the skinniest human on the planet). So I have chosen and I'm sticking to the meals that work in this particular cycle.
I've learned a lot about being ok with the season that I am in and not pushing to any more than we are. Recently I was listening to a podcast that you all might really enjoy called "That Sounds Fun" by Annie F. Downs. She's a prominent author and basically she's just the type of person I want to be friends with; but she's kinda famous so she probably doesn't want to slum it with a mom covered in PEANUT BUTTER!? We didn't have peanut butter today!? Where did that even come from!?
Anyway, Annie was interviewing a woman named Hillary Yancey. She has a son with substantial medical struggles and the way she views life is nothing short of freeing. At one point in the interview Hillary mentions that once their family gave trying to "keep pace" with the world, that they enjoyed life and God and each other so much more. So that's why I'm just trying to own my season.
Like I said, I've learned a lot and I'm going to keep learning. By releasing myself of feeling like I have to have a new, healthy, impressive, 3 course, 4 part dinner every night, I'm freeing myself to enjoy more time with my kids outside (because thats the only place that Ruby is safe anymore) and do crafts and talk to my husband. It's really been great.
Here is a breakdown of my current cycle:
--This can mean spaghetti with meat sauce or spaghetti with meatballs for variation.
--This varies between tacos, taco salad, chicken or ground turkey tacos, or chicken enchiladas.
W TH: These switch off between a chicken dish or a pork dish.
--Options for these are: Pork Chops (various marinades), Pork Loin, BBQ pulled pork, Grilled Chicken (various marinades), Chicken in store bought simmer sauces over rice (cauliflower if you are me), Chicken Stir Fry, and Kabobs.
F: Between Chopped Chicken Salad (my kids just eat the chicken) and Burgers (Turkey if you are me)
Sa: Usually we have something going on so we either enjoy that company or we have leftovers or we go out. If we aren't going out - we will do whatever we didn't do on Friday (example: Friday we have burgers, Saturday we have chopped chicken salad)
SN: I do not cook on Sundays. It's just the way I do. Find yo own food. Snacks, popcorn, frozen pizza, PBJ I don't care. Sundays are for Jesus, and mommy rest.
My sides right now are: Naan (my kids eat the heck out of it), green beans (a staple), fresh fruit (it's summer and my family main lines fruit in the summer), and boxed couscous. I pick from these - They are simple and fast and healthy. 3 stars, as my hubs says.
There you have it folks - the absolute brain of my meal planning life. I have a million good recipes but I also have fun kids and a cute husband and I want a life. I don't want to spend 3 hours meal planning because I have to sift through a hundred options and I definitely don't want to spend every evening cooking and then fighting with my kids to eat and then putting them all to bed tired and angry.
I'm living a hard season, and hard seasons require easy meals.