How I Meal Plan Part 1: The Basics

A few weeks ago I shared in our Rustic Posy Community group (found here http://www.facebook.com/groups/rusticposyboutique) a few of my favorite cookbooks for meal planning…and I got loads of questions on how I meal plan, where to start and plenty of people who commented they wished they could stick to a meal plan.  I planned to write this post at that time, but then my auto-immune issues cranked it into high gear so I’ve been in survival mode.

Even in survival mode, we stuck (mostly) to our meal plan, and I still managed to get groceries ordered and dinner made.  The thing is, since my auto immune issues have worsened, I’ve had to adjust my meal planning strategies!  I realized, this post needed to come in two parts.  This first part is going to be the basics.  It will be followed by a second part that’s going to be a little more detailed on how I plan for my auto immune diet, which can easily be tailored to planning any kind of special diet (ie- gluten-free, weight-loss oriented, etc.).

People tend to feel the need to meal plan for two main reasons-  to save money and simplify the meal making process.  It’s the never-ending question at 5:30pm-  what’s for dinner?!  I feel like I need to make one other disclaimer at this point-  what works for me, may not work for you.  Like all things when it comes to simplifying and organizing, there’s not a one-size fits all method.  It’s trial and error, tweaking and changing until you find the perfect fit for you and your needs.  You need to meal plan around your budget and your family’s needs and not anyone else’s.  This is a great place to start, but you may find you need to make a few adjustments to make it work for you!

I meal plan once a week.  I know there are people out there who plan two weeks at a time or even a whole month at a time (props to you amazing women!).  Planning once a week is what works for us.  I generally know what my next week is going to look like, know what produces will still be good in my fridge, etc.  In general, I don’t plan my sides, just my main dishes.  We have a pretty standard set of sides that go with most meals including rice dishes, various vegetables, breads, potato dishes, etc.  I do all my planning the day before my weekly grocery pick-up (thank you Wal-Mart grocery pick-up!  If you still need to try it out, use this code for $10 off your first pick-up order:  http://r.wmt.co/jGBtG ).  Currently for me, my planning day is Wednesday.  Now because I’m one of those weird people who get a crazy high off of organizing and planning, I love meal planning day.  It’s usually relaxing for me.  I also love to cook, so searching for new recipes to try is very leisurely for me.  Don’t overcomplicate it!  Yes, there are some amazing printables out there, but my planner works just fine.  In fact, I used to just write it out on a sticky note and stick it in my planner!  When I got my new planner, I customized it to include a meal planning section.  It’s where my life schedule is so for me, it makes sense to have my meal plan there too.

Everyone should have some go-to recipes.  If you don’t like cooking or new recipes, I’d suggest coming up with 20 or so basic recipes that you can rotate between.  If you’re like me and love to try new recipes, I have roughly 10-15 basic recipes I rotate through and then add three or four new recipes to try each week.  Some of our rotated recipes include:  spaghetti (a kiddo fav), sausage and eggs (because you can eat breakfast anytime!), taco bake or tacos, chicken alfredo and baked chicken.

When I sit down to meal plan, I do two things before I even start.  First, I check if there are any meals from the week before that didn’t get made.  Those automatically move to the week’s meal plan because I have already purchased the ingredients for those particular meals.  Second, I go through my freezers, pantry and fridge and note what proteins I have and any produce and perishables that need to be used up.  We are so incredibly blessed to get a large majority of our proteins from Greg’s parents on the farm, but around this time of the year, we start to run low on all of our proteins so I make darn sure I’m using the proteins already in my freezers.  (Another tip- when the budget is tight, I highly recommend planning a couple meatless meals during the week.  Greg is a huge meat-guy, but I’ve managed to find a few meatless meals even he enjoys!)

Once I have those lists I go my cookbooks and Pinterest and look for meals that would use up my current produce, perishables and meat.  I have some amazing boards on my Pinterest page.  Feel free to check them out here:  https://www.pinterest.com/rusticposy/  Now here is where people can get frustrated with meal planning:  you plan an amazing week of meals which is great, but you forget to account for what your week holds.  I know that on Monday, my son has taekwondo from 4:45pm-5:15pm.  If I plan a meal that requires a lot of hands-on prep plus a 40 minute cook time, that’s simply not going to work.  I’m going to end up ordering pizza and be frustrated because my meal plan “didn’t work.”  So look at your schedule and plan accordingly!

As you’re making your meal plan, make your grocery list.  Check your pantry for ingredients you may already have so you’re not buying items unnecessarily.  I tend to make a grocery list and star the items I need to check on so I’m not constantly getting up to check my pantry.  What I love about picking up my groceries is that I don’t get lost in Target-land and put unnecessary things in my cart!  Haha!  I also love that I can see my total before I checkout.  I can see if I’m over budget and if there’s anything I can wait to get until next week.

To keep my pantry stocked on my basics, anytime something is taken out of it (a new bottle of ranch, olive oil, etc.), it immediately goes on my grocery list.  This way, I’m never out of something I use on a regular basis, and I don’t have to make quick trips to the grocery store down the street in the middle of the week (and pay double the price!).

Below are some of my fav cookbooks (missing are the Whole30 cookbooks!).  We try and eat a very “real food” diet with as little processed foods as possible.  Partly due to my auto immune issues and partly because it’s just healthier for you 😉

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Weekdays are busy and hectic with school and running to various activities so I make sure my weekday meals are easy prep and quick.  I work from home, so I’m able to start my meal prep earlier than those who work 8-5, then have to pick-up kids and get home and start dinner.  For you guys, I’d highly recommend some sort of meal prepping on the weekend, even if it’s just chopping your veggies, pre-measuring them out and putting them in labeled containers or bags for quick retrieval!

Because I really enjoy cooking, I tend to plan meals for Saturday and Sunday that involve a little more time.  I involve my kids and let them help measure, prep meat, etc.  They love getting to use kitchen tools and pour liquids, I get to teach them basic life skills and we get to spend quality time together.  These are the meals that can bake for an hour in the oven or cook for 6 hours in the slow cooker and make the house smell amazing.   (PS- if you’re willing to do a little extra prep work one evening or on the weekend, crockpot freezer meals will save you sooo much time!)

Below is a sample week of my basic meal plan.  I never used to plan breakfasts or lunches because I work from home and would just eat whatever I found to make.  But as I mentioned above, with my auto immune diet, I had to tweak that so we’ll cover that more in Part 2!  I currently meal plan on Wednesdays and pick up my groceries on Thursdays.

H-  Ham Casserole

F-  Twice Baked Potatoes (See! Meatless meals!)

S-  Italian Dressing Grilled Chicken

S-  Stuffed Cube Steak

M-  Sausage and Eggs

T-  Chicken Alfredo

W-  Baked Shells with Ricotta

Here’s the thing though-  life happens.  You can have a perfectly set meal plan but sometimes things come up, you get home later than planned, you  just simply don’t feel like cooking (if this happens to me, it’s usually on Friday evening!).  So here’s the other thing I want you to do:  stock up on a few quick items.  Have frozen pizzas and extra chicken breasts on hand.  Keep extra canned or frozen veggies and rice dishes on hand for these nights.  I can make a quick chicken meal that has five minutes of prep, bakes for a half hour and dinner is on the table!  If you’re making a casserole or spaghetti or soup, make a double batch and freeze half for these types of nights.  Don’t beat yourself when you have these nights!  Life is not about perfection, but we can be prepared for the things that pop-up, not get too stressed out, stay on budget and still feed our families.  And when all else fails, make eggs and toast 😉

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So there’s the basics!  How I meal plan, how I’m able to stick to my meal plan and all the details!  As I mentioned above, I recently had to change up my meal planning strategy due to my auto-immune diet.  In Part 2 of this post, I’ll focus on how I plan for my breakfasts and lunches and also how I do a little more detailed planning for dinner (because I promise my kids are not going to eat the roasted peppers, onions and tomatoes that come out of the oven!).  In the meantime, if you have any questions or struggles with meal planning, I’d love to help!  Comment here or contact me!  Blessings to you, Friends ❤

The Time I Ugly Cried

I ugly cried in the shower today.  Not a few tears or tears streaming down my cheeks.  Ugly, sobbing, couldn’t catch my breath crying.  The kind of crying you do when you simply can’t think of anything else to do.  When things seem so far out of your control, you feel like your only recourse is to cry.  I’m a fairly emotional person and find I need to ugly cry every few months or so.  The ugly cry comes when I’ve been doing my best to keep it all together, stressed beyond words with multiple things expected of me.  The ugly cry makes my eyes and my head hurt, and while I feel so much better afterwards, today I thought to myself while I know women just need to cry sometimes (I totally get that), why does it take getting to this point for it to happen?

Sometimes the Ugly Cry has good reason.  The last time it happened was when we lost our Baby Girl.  We found out her heart was no longer beating on a Monday evening.  To be honest, I had little emotion.  I had had this weird gut feeling for the last few days that something was wrong, but was trying to write it off as being paranoid from previous miscarriages.  All I could think of was what was next.  Tell family and friends. Check.   Call the doctor Tuesday morning.  Check.  Ultrasound and doctor appointment.  Check.  Discuss options and schedule surgery.  Check.  It wasn’t until Tuesday evening when I was in the shower (that’s where I prefer to do my ugly crying), that I completely lost it.  This was a justified Ugly Cry.  Heartbreak deserves ugly crying.

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But what about other times?  How do I let myself get to this point?  Since losing Clara, I’ve been making it a point to spend my time on things that matter to me, not others.  I make time to do the things that bring joy to my soul.  I literally schedule time to bake, go to the gym and make sure  my kids are getting plenty of mommy-time.  But this last week?  I’ve felt pressure from all directions that took some of that time away from me.  The stress of finances while we wait to see if workforce insurance is going to cover my husband’s back injury has me moving savings around to cover his six days of missed work and overtime.  The stress of needing to make my work quotas to ensure I get my monthly bonus.  This last weekend, I had a lot of places I was supposed to be, but I also had cranky kids, have been battling an ongoing stress headache (remember I said this last week has been tough) and it was Father’s Day weekend.  I finally realized I had to choose, and I couldn’t do it all.  I prayed for grace for the things I decided to opt out of.  My hubby lovingly let me go the gym after a busy morning of serving my amazing customers on Saturday, knowing that working out is a huge stress reliever for me.  Sunday, we spent some amazing family time together and did yard work but still didn’t get it all done.

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This morning, as I looked at my to do list, realizing how far behind I was, it all culminated into the Ugly Cry.  I’ve been working really hard on being ok with it when the vacuuming doesn’t get done the day I planned to do it.  I’ve been learning to be ok with it when I don’t check off everything on my to-do list for the day because I chose to go to the zoo with my kids instead.  But as I write this and stare at my sink full of dirty dishes (and cupboardless kitchen cabinets because life has kept us from completing the project by the time we wanted to), I can’t help but think of all the women just like me.  The women who strive to do it all and chide themselves when they don’t get it all done.  The women who work hard to please others and feel guilty when they fail or don’t do what others think they should do.  The women who try as they might to keep their stress levels down find themselves ugly crying in the shower because her checkbook makes her nauseous right now and she’s cut everything from her budget that month that she possibly can and she has to pay for her dog to get fixed tomorrow because he’s started marking everything in the house.

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To my fellow Ugly-Criers, you are Daughters of the King.  You are loved and your value and worth is not derived from how much of your to-do list you get done or how many people you please on this Earth.  Take a deep breath, and take a good look at that to-do list.  Will the world end if the laundry doesn’t get folded today?  Will things fall apart if you take an extra day to get those bathrooms cleaned?  Will your Friends disown you if you decide to go MIA from Pinterest night?  Don’t ever, for one second, feel guilty about taking the time to do the things that make your soul happy.  Don’t ever, for one second, feel bad about choosing family time over other’s expectations of you.

When we found out Wyatt had Sensory Processing Disorder, we had to be stricter in some areas and experiment with different therapies until we found what worked for him.  I know we were judged harshly by some for some of those decisions, but my child’s well-being was far more important than what somebody thought of my parenting.  My Friends, your well-being is no different.  Say “no” to the things you don’t need to do, even if you disappoint others.  Heck, say “no” to the things you don’t want to do!  When you look back on the years, you will never once regret saying no to something so that you could do something that made your soul sing or your children smile from ear-to-ear.  Schedule that time at the gym.  Schedule time to read on the deck with a glass of wine.  Skip the yard work for a day and go to the zoo.  To be clear- I’m not saying abandon all responsibilities.  I’m one of those people who get super stressed out by a disorganized home so keeping it orderly is a priority for me.  What I am saying is don’t get so focused on the to-do lists and expected activities that you miss out on the things that make you happy.  Choose joy, even if it means you take your kid out of one of their five activities so you can enjoy more time as a family.  Give yourself grace to to do those things.

And sometimes, you just need to ugly cry.  Sometimes, you need to scream and let all those emotions out.  Then you get to look at the world through those tears and realize you are right where you’re meant to be.  You have so much to be grateful for.  You have no need to worry because Jesus holds the world in His hands, and Sisters, He has your back.

The Time Cycle Class Almost Killed Me

I went back to the gym today.  I thought I was going to die 20 minutes into my Cycle class… on the lowest setting.  I thought I was going to puke when I was done with the 45 minute class.  True story.  I was praying I could make it the locker room before I lost my yogurt.  (I was fine, by the way.)  Why I decided to go back to the gym and attend the cycle class with Barb, (whom I think is) the toughest instructor but also one of the most amazing people ever, is beyond me.  But I was determined this morning.

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I haven’t been to the gym since February.  I had started going to the gym regularly the end of October last year and had actually stuck with it.  I was working out with a friend, feeling better about myself and actually feeling stronger.  I had more energy and loved the “me time” of just being able to focus on myself.  (Side note-  I used to think “me time” was kind of selfish.  Then I learned how important it actually is!)  Along came our unexpected pregnancy which came with the worst morning sickness I’ve had with any of my pregnancies.  I was exhausted and constantly nauseous.  Thus ended my gym reign, but I was so nauseous all the time, I actually lost weight that first trimester.  Then.  Then we lost that Baby Girl.  I’m an emotional eater, guys.  Not only am I an emotional eater, but I LOVE to bake and cook.  So I baked all the things, because being in the kitchen is one of my happy places…and then I ate all the things.

Now before I go any further with this post, I want to make something very clear:  I do not for one second think any of our value and worth is placed in how we look.  I think your character and soul and how you treat other people are what make you smokin’ hot.  If your kids are still alive at the end of the day and you’ve made it through the day without tearing another person down, you’re pretty much killing it in my book.

So anyway, back to my gym day today.  I haven’t been feeling good about myself.  I’ve been feeding my body crap food (you all know what I’m talking about).  My Chron’s Disease has been flaring up.  My clothes aren’t fitting quite like they used to.  I don’t have a lot of energy and just plain-old don’t feel well.  I am ready to change that- to get back in control of my health and my energy.  To change some habits that have unfortunately formed.

I’ve been reading this book called “Girl, Wash Your Face” by Rachel Hollis.  It’s a fantastic book that I’d recommend to anyone.  One of the things she heavily emphasizes is not breaking promises to yourself.  If you truly want something, you’ll find a way to make it happen.  I promised myself no more emotional eating and that I was going to get back to feeling good about myself.  So this morning, I put on my Jades and sneakers and headed to the gym (where I had my near-death experience).

But here’s the real point of this entire post:  When I got done, I DID NOT feel good about myself right away.  I mean, when you finish a workout like that, you’re supposed to feel amazing.  You just finished a cycle class and didn’t die.  Yay, you!  But all I could think to myself was how out of shape I am.  I used to be able to do so much more in Cycle class.  Barb didn’t used to scare the be-jesus out of me.  ‘Why did you eat so much junk at the lake this weekend?  Of course you feel like crap.’ I had taken this selfie to share with my online community and thought ‘Why the hell am I smiling in this photo?!  There is no way I’m posting this with how crappy I feel.’  (Remember in my last post how I talked about how easy it is to just post the good stuff?)

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Except then I really looked at that selfie.  This red-faced photo (because I get really red when I work-out.  I have no idea why) of me in my workout clothes that don’t quite fit like they used to.  This photo was proof that I’d upheld my promise to myself!  This photo was me DOING something about how I feel about myself.  And just like that, I felt my mindset shift. ‘Girl, you just worked your ass off!  You damn well better post that photo!’

It’s so, so easy to bring our own selves down with our own negative self-talk.  It’s so, so easy to take something that should make us feel awesome and turn it into something that makes us feel defeated.  I have no desire to be ripped, but I’d love to be toned.  I have no desire to run a marathon, but I’d love to be able to run a few miles and not feel like puking.  I really don’t put a lot of stock into the scale (altho I can tell you I weigh more now than I ever have other than when I was pregnant with the boys); I just want to feel better about myself and my health.  I used to think saying positive things about myself was really silly, but I’m learning that it’s actually kind of essential to my well-being.

Today, if this is you, I’d love to invite you to my online community.  You can find the link at the end of this post.  (Yes, my LuLaRoe business is also run from there, but the community that has formed there is so, so much more than clothes.  If you hate it, I will take no offense if you leave, but you may find an amazing group of women who are dealing with some of the same life things you are).  I’m going to be running an accountability group of sorts within and would love to have you join us.

What promises have you made yourself and not been keeping?  What negative self-talk needs to be flipped around?  Start small, my Friends.  Don’t expect to be perfect and make a bunch of changes over night, but for the love of all things good in this world, OWN your successes!  Shout them from the rooftops!  The big and small!  Because as long as you’re moving forward, that’s really all the matters, and it deserves to be celebrated.

My Online Community:  http://www.facebook.com/groups/rusticposyboutique