Meal Planning + Music Obsession

First of all, I wanted to share with you my newest musical obsession.

Christina Perri.

She is by no means a brand new artist, you probably have heard her song “Jar of Hearts” and, if you’re a Twilight fan, her song “A Thousand Years.”

Anyway, after buying Twilight, Breaking Dawn Part 2 and listening to the “A Thousand Years Part 2” in the credits I decided to listen to it on YouTube. While doing so I discovered a playlist of her videos so I gave them a listen. I’m HOOKED.

Here’s her video for “Arms” which I absolutely LOVE!

Now, on to meal planning!!!

I’ve heard this concept in the past, but as someone who never cooked anything more complicated than Macaroni and Cheese (from the Blue Box of course!) or a burger on the George Foreman Grill, it didn’t make sense to me. However, now that I am officially a work at home mom (except when I do my sampling job on the weekends of course) I have the time to dedicate to cooking, as I’ve been trying to share on this blog….. though I don’t post nearly enough!

So, this is how I meal plan.

I start with an Excel document on my computer (you could use a notebook, white board, word doc, whatever is most convenient for you!)

I list across the top each day of the week. Then I start choosing recipes to make.

For us, Wednesday is dance night, so I take Allison to dance class around 5 and we don’t get back until a little after 6. The Husband doesn’t get home from work until a little after 6. This is not good when you have two small, hungry kids who need to get to bed around 7 pm or they lose it. Therefor, this has become crcokpot night. (Unless I’m bad and forget to thaw the food for the crock pot, then it usually becomes PB&J night…)

Alright, so back to the list, we’ve got a row with the days of the week.
Below that we have a row with each recipe listed under the days of the week.
Under THAT I copy and paste the ingredients list.
From the ingredients list, I go through each item and make sure I have it. If I don’t, I add it to the grocery shopping list.

My favorite things about meal planning are:

1. The Husband can’t complain about eating chicken every night of the week because I’ve already thought ahead and thought up alternatives. (Side note: I find it interesting that he didn’t complain when we ate pasta almost every night for about 3 weeks straight…. hmm…… )

And

2. Believe it or not, this has cut down on the grocery spending!!! In the past we would spend $80-$100+ each week on groceries. EACH. WEEK! That’s crazy! This was even before Miranda was born! What were we spending all of that hard earned cash on? I can’t even tell you! The worst part was that we would get home from the store and say “…there’s nothing to eat…”  Right now I’m spending about $40-$50 per week. This amount will go down I’m sure as I accumulate the basics for my kitchen. It’s not every week I’m going to need to buy All-Purpose Flour or Rice Vinegar. Those little things add up, but once you’ve got them, you’re set for a while!

So, to select the recipes for the meal planning I usually just turn to Pinterest. (You can follow me here: http://pinterest.com/carolineandrus ) I’ve got a bunch of yummies pinned already and if I think of something that I want to make, or want to cook with, I look it up. If I don’t find what I’m looking for I turn to Swagbucks (that’s my search engine of choice, I earn points towards prizes – such as Amazon gift cards! – simply for searching the Internet! Sign up link on the left side bar! You won’t be disappointed!)

After I’ve made and eaten each recipe, if it’s a new one, I type up whether we liked it or not, or if I want to make any changes for cooking it in the future.

You can also plan ahead to make a double batch each night and freeze for the future. Right now I’m still testing new recipes, so I’m not committed to freezing them yet! Once I do repeat a recipe I will certainly try to freeze it for later!

So there you have it! That’s how I meal plan! Mind you, I’m still getting into the habit of doing it. I’ve planned this week out (“World’s Best Chicken”, Chinese Pork Chow Mein, Stuffed Bell Peppers, Mini Lasagna Cups, Chicken Pot Pie Cupcakes) but failed to do so last week, resulting in every night going “I don’t know what to make…..”, but I planned the week prior with great success (in spite of the fact that I’ve been sick as can be!)

If you’re a reader of my recipe failures/successes, I’m going to be sharing Caramel Apple Pork Chops soon (or as I like to call them, Apple Pie Pork Chops!) as well as some yummy Sweet and Sour Meatballs and delish Orange Chicken!

Homemade Pasta Sauce – in BULK!

True story, I love pasta. I love pizza. I love bread dunked in sauce. I blame my Italian roots (I’m a quarter Italian, but it’s a strong quarter!)

So, when my mother in law taught me how to make her pizza sauce I was so happy. She uses it for pizza sauce, I use it for both pizza and pasta sauce. And it’s delicious.

This is the recipe that she photocopied for me, we don’t follow it to a T though.

Basically, the way I was taught was to throw can of tomato sauce, tomato paste, herbs, salt, sugar, pepper and olive oil into a pot and heat on low, stirring now and then. Taste as you go to get it just right. We also use onion powder instead of onions (sometimes I’ll do both or just chopped onions if I have them on hand.) Same goes for the garlic, we just use garlic powder and the thing about garlic powder is that a little bit goes a LONG way! So watch yourself as you add the garlic. Also, the last thing I do, is throw in some Italian Seasoning. Yum. Delish.

Oh! You can also add chopped tomatoes if you’re into that kind of thing. I am, but my family is sadly not, so I don’t usually add them.

The thing though, was that I was having to make this sauce so often. And until it was made my cupboard was filled with the canned sauce and paste, leaving room for little else. Plus I had to make a mess on the stove every time I wanted to make sauce.

The answer? Costco! Both cost effective and time saving for the future! I can’t remember the cost offhand, but I believe The Husband said that the sauce was around $2.99, the paste must have been somewhere around there as well, possibly a little more.

EDIT: I went back and calculated the amounts to make it slightly easier. I left the old amount (such as 27 tsp of Basil) and added the new amount next to it in parentheses (about 9 TBSP or 1/2 cup) 

So, if you want to make a HUGE batch you’ll need the following.

  • A huge sauce pan/stock pot for the stove (I used an 8 quart sauce pan, I had a couple of inches from the top and did this in 3 batches.)
  • Contadina Tomato Sauce – 105 oz (Costco) x 3
  • Contadina Tomato Paste – 111 oz (Costco) x 1
  • Basil – 27 tsp (about 9 TBSP or 1/2 cup)
  • Oregano – 27 tsp (about 9 TBSP or 1/2 cup)
  • Italian Seasoning (to taste)
  • Garlic Powder (to taste)
  • Onion Powder (to taste)
  • Salt – 18 tsp (about 6 tbsp)
  • Sugar – 10.5 tsp (about 3 and 1/2 TBSP)
  • Pepper – 2 – 1/4 tsp
  • Olive Oil – 36 TBSP (2 and 1/4 cups)

Now, because my pot wasn’t big enough for EVERYTHING I divided my recipe by thirds. Basically one giant can of tomato sauce to 1/3 giant can of tomato paste.

SO – here’s the ingredients per batch if you make it in three batches like I did.

  • huge sauce pan/stock pot for the stove (I used an 8 quart sauce pan, I had a couple of inches from the top and did this in 3 batches.)
  • Contadina Tomato Sauce – 105 oz (Costco) x 1
  • Contadina Tomato Paste – 4.625 cups (round it)
  • Basil – 9 tsp (about 3 TBSP)
  • Oregano – 9 tsp (about 3 TBSP)
  • Italian Seasoning (to taste)
  • Garlic Powder (to taste)
  • Onion Powder (to taste)
  • Salt – 6 tsp (about 2 TBSP)
  • Sugar – 3.5 tsp
  • Pepper – 6/8 tsp
  • Olive Oil – 12 TBSP (or 3/4 cup)

This is what the cans of Tomato Paste and Tomato Sauce from Costco look like. Remember, you’ll need THREE cans of sauce for each can of paste for this recipe.

1. To start you simply dump the can of tomato sauce in the pot and then measure out and put in the tomato paste.

I scooped the paste out with a wooden spoon into a measuring cup.

2. Next up add the olive oil and stir it in.

3. Add the Basil, Oregano, salt, sugar and pepper and stir.

Dumped in lots of good stuff to stir in! I usually stir after adding each ingredient, but this makes SUCH a better photo!

4. Add the garlic, not too much, a little bit goes a long way. Have a taste and you can always add more!

5. Add the onion powder, just a little is all you need. Now’s a good time to taste again.

6.Add the Italian seasoning. Taste again.

7. Let simmer for a little while, until all of the herbs are nice and blended.

You can always add other veggies like onion, green pepper and so on.

Also, if you need to sneak in extra nutrients because your kids (or you!) don’t enjoy eating vegetables, this is a great place to add in some puree’d veggies. I added some Butternut Squash into one of my batches. You can put in a surprising amount without affecting the taste! I have a friend who I believe uses pureed carrots. I didn’t have any carrots on hand.

The only thing left to do is to allow your sauce to cool and then get it ready for freezing! You can get freezer safe canning jars, but I didn’t have those (Whoops! Bought regular canning jars without doing my research!) so I used freezer bags.

First batch!
We had pasta that night so this isn’t 100% of the sauce.
2 bags – 3 cups each
3 bags – 2.5 cups each
1 bag – 2 cups

I’ve found that 3 cups is about the max you should put into a quart sized freezer bag and really, unless your family is huge or you’re making something in bulk, you’re not going to need that much sauce at one time anyway!

This was the second and third batch I did. This was on a another night, a few days later. I don’t recommend doing that since the big can of paste, which was covered in the fridge, ended up with a blackish build-up near the rim. I wiped it out with a paper towel so that it didn’t end up in the last two batches of sauce.
Here we have:
5 bags – 3 cups
6 bags – 2 cups
1 bag – 1 1/3 cups
1 bag – 2 2/3 cups
= a LOT of sauce!!!

If you go the freezer bag route it can get pretty messy. I finally discovered that holding the bag open as shown in the following photo and using a 1/3 cup measuring cup to scoop and pour works best. A ladle would have worked well also, but I don’t know how much my ladle holds and I wanted to measure, so measuring cup it was!

This was how I held the bag open and made the least amount of mess.
Bottom of bag rests on counter/stove/wherever and sort of “pinch” the center of the bag as shown. Once the first scoop is in it weighs down the bottom and helps to make less mess pouring into the bag.

And there you have it! Home made pasta sauce for many, many meals to come!

By the way, I wouldn’t recommend this unless you have a deep freezer! This would probably fill or come close to filling most standard freezers. We are fortunate enough to have inherited my parents old chest freezer, which sits in our laundry room in the basement, filled with frozen sauce, breast milk and bags of fresh veggies – among other items.

Enjoy! And let me know if you decide to do this! I love helping and would be honored if this helped someone 🙂
Oh, and while I was busy with the sauce (the first day) this is what was happening to our bag of recycling!

Miranda made a HUGE mess with the recycling!