On the Plate October 5-11 + 5 Meal Planning Tips


We interrupt the Halloween merriment to get a handle on menu planning. After all, how can you get decorations up and costumes made if you’re floundering with the “what’s for dinner” question every night?!

A varied menu makes the week go by!

A varied menu makes the week go by!

Monday: Herbed chicken breast, savory mashed sweet potatoes, green beans
So, the sweet potatoes were supposed to the Garlic-Herb Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Parmesan from Cooking Classy. Instead, I was scrambling to finish the outdoor decorating before I lost the light (hah! didn’t exactly happen that way, but it got done), so I didn’t start dinner until almost 8pm. Not wanting to wait on roasting the sweet potatoes, I popped them into the microwave on the magical “potato” setting (seriously, best thing about our new microwave) and whipped them up with the herbs and Parmesan that the original recipe called for. Just as tasty in half the time.

Tuesday: Dinner out @ Northside Pies in Tallahassee, FL
I’ll do a proper write-up of Northside Pies one of these days, but our monthly meet-up there with friends was fun as always. Even though their menu doesn’t mention it, they do carry a gluten-free pizza crust in the 10″ size, though their salads aren’t bad at all if you’d rather not. I opted for the Figure 4, this week, and a Black Julep (copycat recipe to come on that one, it was so good!) cocktail. Since the fresh garlic was very large and in charge, along with the figs (both High-FODMAP ingredients), I only ate half while there and was fine. (It was only after I scarfed the other half after getting home that there were issues. Oh, well, it was worth it!)

Figure 4 on gluten-free crust and a Black Julep at Northside Pies

Figure 4 on gluten-free crust and a Black Julep at Northside Pies

Wednesday: Bang Bang Shrimp, coconut rice, and garlic spinach
If you have ever been to Bonefish Grill and tasted their signature shrimp dish, yes, this is virtually the same thing and so worth the effort, even the deep frying, on a weekday night. I used the copycat recipe from Fake Ginger and substituted gf flour and breadcrumbs where applicable. Point one: No recipe ever seems to allow enough breading material–I had to triple it, in the end, to do a pound of medium shrimp (enough for four servings). Point two: though it seems odd to do a back-and-forth breading like this, it actually worked really well, so I’m glad I harnessed my natural inclination to switch to a more traditional 3-step breading.

Thursday: Pepperoni Pizza Pasta and a green salad
Based on A Night Owl’s One Pot Pizza Rigatoni, this seemed like a quick and easy option, even if mine was more of a two-pot, slightly more involved version. First, I don’t trust gluten free pastas in a toss it all together and cook situation–there’s just way too high a chance for error. Second, I was going for a more budget-friendly meal so used the ground beef we already had in the freezer and a quick sauce made in the pan (rather than purchasing a $9 jar of Rao’s Sensitive Formula Marinara). I also didn’t put it under the broiler to finish, just put the lid on after combining the sauce and pasta and topping it with the mozzarella and reserved (turkey) pepperoni. Still excellent!

Friday: Fish Taco Nachos
Nacho night! I’s been thinking of doing fish tacos at some point, but the fiddliness of it all just made me not want to, but fish taco nachos–why not?! I seasoned some rice flour with cumin, coriander, paprika, cayenne, salt, and black pepper and dredged the tuna steaks in it before searing in garlic olive oil, crumbling the tuna steaks once they’d cooled enough to handle. Then I built the pan of nachos with my sweet potato refried bean substitute, shredded fiesta cheese blend, and green onions; topping with shredded cabbage and an avocado crema once they were out of the oven. We like to just take the whole pan to the coffee table and munch while catching up with our shows on Hulu.

Saturday: Waffles, Eggs & Bacon
I kept putting off trying the whipped egg white waffles I’ve seen in several places, but that’s also what the Pamela’s mix called for so I gave it a shot. Dude… such amazing gluten-free waffles we’ve never made or tasted elsewhere. The egg whites were so worth it! I don’t see us going back to the old way any time soon!

Sunday: Pot Roast, Potatoes and Carrots
One-pot slow-cooker perfection for a Sunday supper. And, no, I don’t fool with the canned soup or dry soup mixes, I just add salt, pepper, garlic oil, Worcestershire sauce and a little parsley and it’s good to go. We have a few pieces of the roast leftover after making up the lunches and I’d be lying if I said debris fries weren’t a distinct possibility.

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Two weeks ago, when I posted my last On the Plate, several readers remarked about needing to meal plan more often or otherwise not being able to make the time to do it. So here’s my process for putting together a week’s menu, in the hopes that it’ll help those of you still on the fence or wondering where to start.

  1. Inspiration sources. I “save for later” anything I find possibly interesting while going through my blog feeds in Feedly. This way, when I sit down to menu plan, I can click on the sidebar link and scroll through easily. If something sounds good, I decide what day it’ll be best on and plug it into my Google Drive document. Pinterest is another good inspiration source, naturally, so if I know I’ve pinned something over the last couple of weeks, I go check there to refresh my memory. And, then, there’s always grabbing a cookbook off the shelf at random and thumbing through until something catches my eye (or going straight to the post-it notes if I’ve already flagged things in the book). Checking your store’s sale paper online is also a good way to dream up dinner ideas.
  2. Inventory. “Shopping” the pantry and freezer to see what we have on hand not only reduces the chances of over-buying but also tells me if something needs to be used up before it goes bad. We stock up on meats every couple of months at Sam’s club, so looking to see what we have left usually grants a certain amount of direction.
  3. Routine. We don’t tend to follow a prescribed schedule on what to eat on what days, but if that helps you, use it! Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, etc. can make things a lot easier and it helps set expectations among the family. Our routine is more along the lines of knowing that we’ll cycle through the main proteins of any given week (pork chops, chicken breasts or thighs, beef, fish or shrimp) plus a breakfast for dinner night and maybe a meatless meal. So if I’m planning and I have a few spots to fill, I run through the list and see what’s “missing.”
  4. Favorites. We don’t eat the same thing each week, but we do have certain favorites that we fall back on to fill menu gaps. For me, it’s most often Sushi bowls, for Todd it’s Jambalaya or a Shrimp and Orzo dish we both loved from our Menu Mailer days.
  5. Balance. Don’t plan multiple ingredient or technique-heavy items in the same meal. Just don’t do that to yourself! Take, for instance, Bang Bang Shrimp. That requires a sauce, breading, and deep frying. No way was I going to, say, make handmade spring rolls on top of that! Instead, I made coconut rice (1 can of coconut milk, 1 can of water, 1 1/2 cups white rice) in the rice cooker and put some frozen spinach in a pot on the stove with some water and garlic oil to simmer until done. Keep in mind what preparation each item needs, and swap out something if you’ve got two heavy hitters in one meal.

I hope these tips helped you get a handle on weekly meal planning. If you’re still feeling a bit overwhelmed at the process but want more organization to your dinners, there are services out there to help! Three we’ve used in the past (yes, even a former chef doesn’t always want to think about what to make every night) are Menu Mailer ($21/quarter and up), eMeals ($39/quarter), and Paleo Plan ($9.99/month). Menu Mailer and eMeals also offer shopping lists as part of the weekly planning service, I don’t think Paleo Plan does, but it’s been a while since I’ve used any of them.

Is Price Matching the New Couponing?


Or is it merely an extension of the concept?

Ages ago I had a coworker who would complain, good-naturedly, about his wife’s habit of going to 4 different stores to do her grocery shopping. He’d even chosen the phrase “the tuna run” because they drove to a particular store simply because that store was having a fabulous sale on tuna fish.

It’s no surprise he wondered if the gas they used going from store to store cost more than what she saved with these obstacle course-like trips.

And that was back when gas was still under $2 a gallon!

Oh, for those days…

But I digress. The point was, she was willing to go that extra mile to save her pennies, and many people do far more these days.

Back when I was first exposed to the Extreme Couponing phenomenon my biggest complaint was and still is that coupons are frequently for highly-processed convenience foods. Sure, we could use the occasional household goods coupons, but it certainly wasn’t worth our while when the majority of what we buy is fresh or frozen produce (without the instant sauces), meats that have been no more processed that a trip through the butcher’s table, and basic staples.

Now, though, I’ve come across something that might just fill the gap.

On Pinterest (it’s not just for decorating ideas) I noticed a friends pin on price-matching.

For those who aren’t instantly familiar, some stores (of which Wal-Mart is a shining example) will match the price of another store. While they may loose a small amount of the mark-up represented in the shelf price, it’s far better than having you go to another store and them losing out on the sale completely.

Apparently, this extends to groceries, too. Including produce and meat.

And all it takes to take advantage of this tactic, is a little homework.

Many grocery chains have a weekly sales flyer. Most of them also have this flyer available online so you don’t even have to subscribe to a mailing list or swing by every Tuesday or so when the ads come out. And since Wal-Mart, at least, doesn’t require you to have the advertisement on you to claim the lower price, all you need is the knowledge.

I shop at Wal-Mart on my weeks of kitchen duty. It’s not my first choice, honestly, as I prefer to aesthetic quality of shopping at Publix, but the receipts bear witness to the fact that I spend less at Wal-Mart. So, unless I need a specialty ingredient or am just swinging-in on my way home from work, Wal-Mart it is.

Across town, however, we have a Save-a-Lot and a Harvey’s, both known for deep discounts and pretty good sales. I’m not about to trek down there on the weekends, though, so price matching through their online ads allows me the savings without having to go to more than one store. I didn’t even check Winn-Dixie, come to think of it.

Something else I learned by doing my homework was that a lot of these store-sites have a “shopping list” feature where you can click on the items in the ad or drag them over and it puts your choices on a printable list. Just because you don’t need the ad, doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt to have the prices at your fingertips–and only the ones that you need.

So this week was my test, just to see if it was really as easy as it seemed.

Turned out, of my shopping list this week there was only 1 thing I needed that I could price match, but all I did was speak up as the cashier was about to scan it and they changed the price with no problem.

The girl behind me asked “That really works?”

Apparently it does.

I didn’t cut my food bill in half this week–truth be told I saved a whopping $2–but the point is that it IS possible, it’s a lot less cumbersome than coupons, and the homework is a far sight simpler than the other way.

Has anyone else tried this? What were your experiences with it?

I Really Should Know Better

Everyday Adventures

Than to pick up a mystery novel at bedtime. More than 3 hours later I _finally_ convinced myself to put the book down, turn out the light and attempt to go to sleep. It was tough. But I finished the book after work so I wouldn’t face the same temptation, tonight.

It was a productive weekend, though! The examples for the first two October articles took longer than expected but I got them both done AND finished the article drafts. Plus I’m a week up on the comic and plan to get two more weeks done this week (tonight was mostly organizing bills, scanning and uploading). I’m in good shape!

What I also did tonight was grocery shopping. I thought Monday night wouldn’t be so busy but WOW was I wrong! It was absolute madness in there and totally due to student infiltration. The worst aisles, not surprisingly, were the pasta/sauce aisle and the bread/soda aisle. And no one says excuse me or even tries not to block corners or narrow passages. And this is our future. Polite, isn’t it?

But the strangest thing of all? The occupational physics of bagging that allows the check-out girl to think that a clamshell-container with a single piece of chocolate cake (my reward for not skipping this errand/putting up with the massive headache) is safe in a plastic bag with 2 very large sweet potatoes. It’s right up there when they stand a tray of sushi on it’s end between boxes of cereal and dishwashing powder. Might as well combine a carton of eggs with some loose rocks. Of course, maybe it was the rocks in her head that scrambled her brains…