How to Meal Plan 8 Tips for Easy From Scratch Meals- today we're gonna be discussing meal planning, stocked pantries, and how to create healthy meals from scratch: meals for your family with the least amount of time and stress. Sound good?
First, let me welcome you to the pioneering today podcast with me, Melissa K Norris, your host, and this is where we talk about how to create a homemade and homegrown life from the garden to the barnyard and the kitchen, with or without the full on homestead.
Now, if you didn't listen to the previous episode, which was episode number 164, I highly recommend that you go back and listen to that episode because we talk about setting goals and planning out your entire year for your best homestead year ever. Because for those of us who raise and grow our own food, have livestock or do herbal things, our year and planning looks a little bit different than most of modern society and the rest of the world.
Listen below to, Episode #165– How to Meal Plan 8 Tips for Easy From Scratch Meals of the Pioneering Today Podcast, where we teach families how to grow, preserve and cook their own food using old-fashioned skill sets and wisdom to create a natural, self-sufficient home, with, or without the full-on homestead.
Whole Foods for Healthy Eating
In this episode, we’re diving into healthy eating. Healthy eating can cover so many different things and everybody has their own definition and idea of what healthy eating looks like. So for this episode, healthy eating is going to be food and it's closest whole form made from real food ingredients and preferably things without labels and a long ingredient list.
I’ve received several emails and messages asking for help with meal planning, specifically how I do it here on our homestead, and well as ideas on what to include in the meal plans or recipes or foods that we eat. In order to break this down, I'm going to walk you through the basis of our meal planning: It starts with the ingredients. Big surprise there, right?
Successful Meal Planning Begins with a Well-Stocked Kitchen
You have to have the food in order to cook it, but as a homesteader and somebody who raises 100 percent of their own meat and well over 50 percent of our fruits and vegetables, I'm starting with an inventory and a stocked larder first.
We raise pork, so when we butcher, we have a whole pig that goes into freezer. We also raise our own organic grass-fed pasture-raised beef, laying hens so that we have eggs and meat chickens. We're lucky enough that my husband's day job provides him with a fish bonus. Salmon filets are a bonus from his work, though we're not technically raising those salmon, I still include them in our inventory.
We have a little 17-foot boat that we go out in the bay with during the summertime and we catch our limit of crab, then we freeze and vacuum seal it. It's possible to can crab, but we predominantly freeze our crab. We harvest all of our own crab for a year and when we're lucky enough, we get venison as well. I’m starting with the meat because that's how I do my meal planning.
I meal plan by the main course first and usually the base of that revolves around meat.
You might not be at the point where you’re raising all of that yet, but if you can, find a local farmer or a local butcher and purchase a whole pig or a half a pig or a half or quarter of beef. The amount/size is going to depend on the size of your family and how much you are able to store.
You can also purchase a whole chicken instead of buying just the individual packs of breasts or thighs or wings, and you're going to save money, because usually you save money by purchasing it in bulk and whole form. Plus, then you've got the carcasses or the bones that we can then turn into broth.
We do can some of our meat, but I use our freezer space for the majority of our meat and then preserve all of the vegetables and fruit using different forms of food preservation like canning and dehydrating.
Create a Pantry and Freezer Inventory
The next step in successful meal planning is to create an inventory. You need to be able to know what you have at a quick glance. This can be difficult when you have, say, a full chest freezer. We actually have two. We have one in the house. It's an upright freezer and then we have a deep chest freezer out in our pump house. But you need to know how much you have. Do an inventory of your different cuts of meat and of your canned or dehydrated food.
This also helps with your garden planning. If you haven’t yet, go back and listen to episode #124 How to Plan Your Best Garden & Harvest for a Years Worth of Food. Having this inventory of what you've got on hand helps with planning everything out that you’re going to be planting and harvesting for the coming year because you’ll know how much of each item to plant based on how much you use in a year.
After you’ve got your inventory, then you know the ingredients that you have to work with. My goal is to go to the grocery store as a little as possible and to purchase as little as possible from the store.
When I have this inventory of our main ingredients, I can start to create our individual meals from what we have on hand.
Start With Dinner, Then Move Onto Breakfast and Lunch
Now, personally, I do main dishes first. My top priority is dinner. I want to know what we're having for dinner and I plan that out in advance and then it either becomes leftovers for the next night, which, I know some families don't like leftovers.
I happen to adore leftovers because it means I don't have to cook again that night. We'll also add leftovers, if there's not enough for the entire family to have a meal or if I can't repurpose them, into something else. They become lunch for my husband and myself after our main dish or our dinner meal plan. Then I do breakfast.
Now, I don't write our meal plan out on a calendar and schedule all of our meals and snacks in advance. Now some of you, you have the type of personality where you may feel like you need it all written out every single day, and there's nothing wrong with that. I just find that I don't roll that way and so I think it's really important for us to glean tips from other people and things that work well for other people, but we really have to adapt it for what works best for our brain and our systems and the way that we do things.
Create a Master Meal Plan of Your Favorite Meals
- Rather than planning different meals for every night of the week or month, create a Master List of your family's favorite meals to use for ideas and inspiration when you don't know what to make
I’ve tried in the past to plan out every single thing, t a whole month's worth of menu plans, but I just don't keep up with it and that doesn't work for me long-term. In fact, that almost stresses me out a little bit. Instead, I like to have a master meal plan of our favorite recipes. There are some dinners that we have often, usually not every single week, but every single month we will have some type of tacos; soft tacos or taco salad, but once a month we're going to have some sort of tacos.
Usually once a month we’re going to have spaghetti. We’ll also usually have butter chicken and pizza, I think you can see where I'm going with this. Pick your family's absolute favorite meals and recipes and plug those in, or put them on a running list. It can be a list on paper, it can be in your plan or it can be in your head, but know what your family's favorite recipes are and build off of those first. Those are your cornerstone pieces when it comes to your meal planning.
Stock Up On Basic but Versatile Ingredients
No big surprise here as you're listening to something called the Pioneering Today Podcast, our meal planning involves very little pre-made or store-bought convenience meals and foods.
The reason I'm bringing this up is because it’s so important for us to learn how to cook from scratch using basic ingredients and basic foods because then you can look at the ingredients that you have on hand and you don't always have to have a recipe, but you'll have the skill sets to put them together to form a meal.
One of those skill sets is knowing how to do baking and cooking substitutions for the ingredients that you have on hand. Back in Episode #162, I shared 12 baking substitutions that every homesteader needs to know.
If you’re getting ready to cook a meal and you need to make a roux or a gravy or a sauce and you look and you discover, “oh, I don't have any milk or cream, what are some ways that I can still make this recipe work even though I don't happen to have these exact ingredients on hand?”
Being able to substitute ingredients like that is a valuable skill set and having those kitchen skill basics -instead of just recipes- is so key and comes in really handy.
For example, we haven't bought condensed cream cans of anything in probably over a decade because I know that I can take a fat source, whether it's coconut oil, butter, lard, etc. and I can melt that in a skillet or a sauce pan, add in a little bit of thickener -it might be flour, cornstarch, or Xantham Gum- and then add in my liquid; water, broth, milk, or cream combination and get it nice and bubbly and thick, and then there’s no need for me to have a condensed can of cream anything on hand.
I can add in different mushrooms, onions, garlic and celery or you can flavor it however you like and you can whip that up in just a few minutes. That can be then the basis of a pot pie filling. It can simply be a gravy, smothered on whatever type of meat and vegetables you've got.
You see where I'm going with that. That's the type of cooking, recipes, skills and step by step tutorials you'll find in my book, Handmade that teaches you those basic skill sets so that you can build and create meals from scratch with ingredients from your pantry.
Wanna get 5 of my recipes for FREE straight from the book? Click here to get the mini freezer cooking menu with 5 recipes that turn into 10 suppers!
Basic but versatile ingredients you should consider keeping on hand include things like:
- flour or wheat berries for grinding your own
- fats (ie. butter, lard, coconut oil, olive oil, etc.)
- dried beans
Start Each Week With Some Meal Prep
- Make meal planning easier by cooking up a big Sunday dinner and using the leftovers to form the basis of your meals for the next few days
- Get creative by transforming leftovers into all new meals (ie. a whole chicken might become chicken soup, chicken pot pie or chicken salad which can be made into sandwiches)
I meal plan out for supper and breakfast up to a week, but often times even just two or three days out.
One of my favorite things to do meal planning wise is, on Sunday I cook a whole chicken or perhaps a ham or roast or some other big portion of meat. Usually on Sunday my husband and I are not working. That's our home day with family, so we always try to make sure that we don't do anything Sunday afternoon and evening so that we’re at home and we can prepare a larger meal.
For example, if it's a whole chicken, we will either smoke or roast a whole chicken. Then that evening we'll have vegetables based on either what's in season if we're still harvesting things from the garden, or what we've got in the pantry, then a side and usually some type of starch.
Depending on what I'm doing diet-wise, sometimes I'm doing low carb, then my planning is going to look a little bit different and I'll just double up on vegetables. But it may be mashed potatoes, rice, roasted potatoes, or a baked sweet potatoes, but we usually always do a vegetable or two, meat and then a side and sometimes bread, which we’ll talk about in a little bit more detail coming up.
That first night, obviously we will just eat that meal as is. Then I'll plan out the second night (Monday) depending on how much of the vegetables we have left. If there's enough left to do an entire second meal of that, we'll do that, but usually I'll turn that into something else.
We'll chop up a part of the chicken and make chicken salad and sandwiches for lunch the following day. For dinner I've got a variety of different things I like to do with chicken and the same thing goes for turkey, it might be a pot pie, chicken and dumplings, soup, chicken and broccoli casserole with a biscuit topping on top…
Get Creative With Your Leftovers
Back in November I conquered making homemade croissant rolls, which is a three-day process and totally worth it, but I will often take croissant dough and then make a stuffed croissant roll, but we'll do it up savory, dinner-style, so they're kind of like a pizza pocket.
I take some diced cooked chicken (you could really do it with any meat), a little bit of cream cheese,onion powder, garlic powder and put that inside the croissant roll and then bake it.
Usually whatever I've cooked for Sunday is transformed into enough meals to take us through Tuesday or Wednesday evening. If we've done chicken for three nights, even if it's in various forums, then I'm going to do a red meat or venison next, followed by salmon or crab the rest of the week.
Ultimately if we have one meal that is heavier in fat, so it's more of a Keto-style meal or just more fat-based, then I'll try and plan for the next night to do something that's a little more vegetable heavy and less fat heavy. I do try to choose our meals so that we've got a good balance going on.
Meal Planning Breakfasts
- Breakfast meals are prime candidates for batch cooking and freezer cooking.
- You can make muffins, pancakes or waffles ahead of time and freeze them. Then simply pop them in the toaster or the microwave for a quick and easy hot breakfast.
I incorporate batch cooking with my meal planning. If you're curious about batch cooking and freezer cooking specifically, I’ve got 12 time-saving tips for homemade meals in Episode #155 that goes over batch and freezer cooking. You can do it for your dinners as well, but I really use batch cooking for my breakfasts.
I will make large batches of pancakes, waffles, and muffins. Some will go in the fridge so we have them for fast and easy reheating in the morning. But if I'm doing a big batch cooking session and I want enough of it to take us out for a couple of weeks, then I freeze some.
The great thing about pancakes and waffles when you do them frozen -and even muffins, but especially with pancakes and waffles- is you can put them frozen in the toaster and they will thaw and warm out and be ready to eat with in a few minutes.
For the past three days of our meals, I'll give you a little bit of what our real plan looked like. I made up a huge batch of sourdough waffles and pancakes a week ago and we have been having those for breakfast.
Learn how to make a sourdough starter (including ancient grains, gluten-free, all-purpose or fresh ground flour) with just two ingredients, plus how to keep it from getting overly sweet or sour, troubleshooting, my favorite sourdough pancake waffle recipe, including gluten-free variations and a whole bunch more. You can sign up by clicking here
Meal Planning Ideas – 3 days of meals in our house
Okay, so back to the past three days and what our meal plan looked like. As I said, sourdough pancakes or waffles is breakfast. Lunch is leftover chicken salad and leftover fried cabbage and sausage. We had done tacos one night, so the kids took the leftover taco meat and either had tacos or made nachos for themselves for lunch. There were a couple of different items and we just rotated through those for lunch based on who wants what and what their favorite is.
Snacks were homemade California rolls and one of my favorites, a little bit of cheese and home-canned pickles. We still have kale growing in the garden and my kids love kale. Kale chips cook up in less than 10 minutes, so they're fast and nutritious. Another easy snack, as well as fruit. We don't grow citrus (we are way too far north), but I did purchase a five-pound bag of the little cutie oranges at Costco for my daughter, so she has been having an orange once or twice a day as a snack as well.
For dinner we had the tacos, last night we didcrab fettuccine with homemade egg noodles and sadly there was not enough of that leftover for dinner tonight. So my husband took it for lunch instead with homemade sourdough bread.
And tonight I'm going to be cooking up a ham, so again, start with having a large piece of meat/protein first.
How to Plan for School Lunches
The kids aren’t in school at the time of this recording, they’re still home on winter break, but they will sometimes do hot lunch and sometimes they will take cold lunch. When we're packing it looks a little bit different, especially for the kid, as far as lunches go, compared to when we're at home.
My son loves seaweed snacks, which are really just thin sheets of seaweed. That is one of his favorite snacks and although it’s not something we produce on the homestead, it's really a great snack food in comparison to, say, a bag of Doritos chips. I'm more than happy to comply with that and it packs easy.
My daughter loves to make sandwiches. One of her favorites is chicken salad, so we’ll have that quite a bit and then she loves pickles so she will pack pickles and cheese sometimes or just cold cuts of meat, or I’ll pack whatever we had for dinner the night before with an ice pack. It just needs to be something that's okay cold.
They do have access to a microwave in the lunchroom, but they don't really use it. Yogurt with fruit, fruit snacks, (I mean chopped up apple slices or fruit that we have dried from the homestead) , homemade trail mix or homemade granola, and then there's always the good standby which is our homemade jam and peanut butter or almond butter sandwiches. They both love popcorn, so we'll often send them with little bags of popcorn as a snack as well. It happens to be one of my favorites too.
Keep Homemade “Grab & Go” Items On Hand for Quick Snacks
We also love deviled eggs. That’s one thing that I will make up quite often, depending on how well the chickens are laying in the winter. I don’t use artificial lights so I don't force my chickens to lay eggs all year, so my egg supply is a dwindling a bit by this time of year. In fact, right now I'm only getting usually one egg a day out of our nine hens, but when they are laying regularly the rest of the year, we almost always have a plate of deviled eggs in the fridge for lunch or snacks.
Other great candidates for homemade grab & go snacks you can make in batches include:
- Hard-Boiled Eggs (deviled or plain)
- Sliced cheese and pickles
- Veggies and dip
Meal Planning Made Easy
Keep meal planning simple this year and get healthy, homemade meals on the table every day. Here's a quick recap of how we do it, and how you can do it too:
- Start with a well-stocked kitchen. Stock your fridge, freezer, pantry and/or cold-storage with basic but versatile ingredients that can be transformed into a wide variety of different dishes.
- Create an inventory list of all of the ingredients you have on hand already. This makes it easier to know what you already have so you don't waste money on things you don't need.
- Create a Master Meal Plan of your family's favorite meals. Use this to help you with your weekly meal planning so you don't have to reinvent the wheel every week.
- Plan your meals around one main ingredient. For us this usually means planning meals around cuts of meat we have put up in our freezer and pantry. Easily create a meal by starting with a main ingredient like meat and adding some vegetables and a starch.
- Meal prep on Sundays (or whatever day of the week you start your meal planning on). Cook a big dinner with leftovers that you can use all week long.
- Transform leftovers into all new meals. Use your leftovers to fill in the gaps for breakfasts and lunches throughout the week or transform them into all new dishes for weeknight meals.
- Get on board with batch and freezer cooking. Make a double batch of foods that freeze well and put some in the freezer for when you need a quick snack or meal. Breakfast foods like muffins, pancakes and waffles are prime candidates for freezing and re-heating quickly. Get my FREE mini menu with 5 freezer cooking suppers that turn into 10 suppers here –> Freezer Cooking Hand Made Mini Menu
- Keep homemade grab & go snacks on hand for quick snacks and easy bag lunches.
Make This the Year You Nail Down Your Meal Planning
Want some help? Get my FREE mini menu with 5 freezer cooking suppers that turn into 10 suppers here –> Freezer Cooking Hand Made Mini Menu
More Tips on Cooking and Baking from Scratch:
- Must Have Kitchen Items for Easier From Scratch Cooking
- 7 Time Saving Tips When Cooking from Scratch
- Batch & Freezer Cooking – 12 Time Saving Tips for Homemade Meals
- Baking Hacks and Tips for Busy Nights
- Traditional Cooking Tips to Get Homemade Food on Your Table Every Day
- 12 Baking Substitutions Every Homesteader Needs to Know
- From Scratch Christmas Dinner Menu – From the Garden