I’ve been honing my menu planning skills for the past ten years, but like so many things in life, you must constantly make adjustments as your seasons and needs change. My newest strategy for menu planning incorporates elements from many theories – from theme nights to freezer cooking and everything in between!
My current menu criteria is that it must be affordable, reasonably practical to cook, and of course, tasty. I am inconveniently not someone who likes to eat the same things over and over again, so there is a lot of variety – particularly at dinner time – and I often incorporate at least a few new recipes.
In this monthly series, I’ll be sharing one week’s worth of the dinners our family is really eating, the strategies I use to keep from losing my mind during the witching hour of dinner time, and a quick review of the new recipes and outcome. (Posts on lunch and breakfast strategies coming soon!) So here we go!
- Raspberry Pork Chops from Once a Month Meals
- Slow Cooker Philly Cheesesteaks from Mom on Time Out
- Scalloped Potatoes and Ham from The Pioneer Woman
- Parmesan Broiled Tilapia from Spend with Pennies
- Noodles and “Zoodles” w/ Saffron and Cream from Better Homes and Gardens
Please refer to the links above for the complete and/or original recipes. What follows is my process for streamlining our meals for the week and any substitutions or prep changes I made (I often tweak recipes to suit our tastes and budget or to make them easier to prepare or freeze). I also include information on the sides I served with each entree and a quick review for any new recipes I try.
I try to pick one day to tackle my prep ahead for the week. This usually takes me between one and two hours (including multiple interruptions from pets, kid, and husband), but it saves me both the time spent prepping, cooking and cleaning up the same things each night, as well as my sanity so I don’t come home from a busy day and feel like making dinner is a bigger mountain that I can climb. With this strategy, I’m able to throw a few things in a pan, make a side dish and have my family sitting down to eat in short order!
Raspberry Pork Chops, Roasted Cauliflower, roasted red potatoes
Prep: Mix vinegar, jam, and mustard together and refrigerate until cooking day. Chop cauliflower and add to storage bag with oil and seasonings.
Serve: Season and brown pork on both sides. Stir reserved sauce to combine and pour into skillet. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and cook about 10 min. Remove lid and allow to cook a few minutes more to allow sauce to thicken. Meanwhile, wash and chop potatoes and toss with seasoning and oil. Spread potatoes and cauliflower on sheet pan and roast at 450* for approx.30 minutes or until tender.
Review: I subbed blackberry jelly because it’s what I had on hand. These were amazing and met with rave reviews from the family!
Prep: Mix all ingredients in ziplock bag and freeze until cooking day.
Serving: Place (preferably) thawed ingredients in slow cooker and cook on low 6-8 hours. Toast serving rolls lightly, then load up with meat and pepper mixture and top with provolone cheese. Broil for a few minutes to melt the cheese. Serve with chips and sliced veggies.
Review: This is by far my favorite Philly Steak recipe to date. Most turn out rather boring in my opinion, but this had tons of flavor. Only thing I’d do differently is drain the meat mixture in advance of sandwich assembly since I hate soggy bread.
Scalloped Potatoes w/ Ham, Salad
Prep: Parboil potatoes to reduce cooking time. Prep casserole according to recipe directions and refrigerate until serving day. Chop salad and all veggies.
Serve: Bake casserole according to recipe directions. Toss desired salad ingredients in a bowl and serve.
Review: We didn’t care for this one very much. The texture and cooking process were fine, but the flavor was just lacking. If I made it again, I would add in a variety of seasonings during cooking to make it pop more.
Tilapia, Sautéed Summer Squash, Rice
Prep: Combine parm cheese, butter, mayo, lemon juice, dill, salt, and pepper and refrigerate until cooking day. Chop zucchini, yellow squash, and onion and add to bag with garlic and seasonings.
Serve: Prepare tilapia according to recipe directions. Prepare rice. If possible, thaw and drain squash mixture for improved texture and taste. Sauté in a bit of butter until browned.
Review: This was super easy and super tasty. We all snarfed our dinner down with relish.
Noodles and Zoodles
Prep: Chop and fry 4 slices of bacon and set aside. Sautee shredded zucchini in bacon grease; stir in reserved bacon, paprika, turmeric, salt, and pepper. Store until serving day.
Serve: Warm reserved mixture in pan; add cream and cook until heated. Toss with cooked spaghetti and parmesan cheese. Toss desired salad ingredients in a bowl and serve.
Review: This was planned and prepped and then life intervened and we never ate it. I’m ashamed to say, I didn’t even freeze it and had to throw it away. It is still on my list to try, though.
Prep: (I have to be honest, my incredible husband, Mr. Planned, has offered to take over dinner prep on Thursday nights so he made this one and I had no hand in it other than grocery shopping. However, it would still be easy to prep ahead; here’s what I would do.) Brown ground beef and add taco seasoning. Store until serving day. Chop lettuce and onion for serving.
Serve: Fill a cookie sheet with tortilla chips, cover with cheddar cheese and bake in a 350* for a couple of minutes until chips are warm and cheese has melted. Meanwhile, reheat beef mixture, warm refried beans, chop tomato, and set out sour cream, onion, lettuce, extra cheese, salsa, and guacamole. Allow everyone to build their own nacho plate and enjoy.
Prep: Pick up the phone and dial your favorite pizza place. Just kidding (mostly)! Prep pizza dough, sauce, and toppings. Store until serving day.
Serve: Assemble pizzas and bake according to the directions for your dough recipe. We do pizza once a week, so I will try to go into more details on the recipe and process I use in another post.