Do you ever feel like you make the same three meals on repeat and need a menu revamp? I feel that way frequently and find myself trying to come up with loads of new meal ideas and then blow my budget on all of the ingredients to put just a few of them together.
When I can sit down and make a meal plan, then make my grocery list from that, I feel like my life is so much more organized. But I have learned through the years that I really need to pick one new meal idea each week or even every other week, then stick to tried and true, easy to throw together, family favorites the rest of the time. This revelation has truly changed the way I grocery shop, and even the way I cook. I can easily swap certain ingredients for others which mixes it up just enough to feel different and not blow my budget.
Some of our usuals that are easily interchangeable:
- Mexican (soft or crunchy tacos; fish tacos; shredded pork quesadillas, nachos or taco salads)
- Italian (spaghetti, lasagna, goulash, chicken alfredo, pizza casserole, pizza bites)
- Meat/Veggie/Starch (all roasted on a pan in the oven, or slow cooker meals are my fave!)
- chicken/brussel sprouts/sweet potatoes
- chicken/broccoli and cauliflower/rice
- smoked sausage/peppers and onions/roasted potato wedges
- pork loin/green beans or asparagus/mashed potatoes
- Sandwiches (pulled pork, shredded chicken, sloppy joes, or burgers)
- Grilled kebabs/kabobs in warmer weather (Hawaiian pork, shrimp boil, chicken fajitas, steak)
The best part about any of these meal ideas is that you can really just pick up whatever protein, vegetable, and starch or sauce you feel like having, and make any one of these meals on a whim. I like to stock up on marinara sauce, gluten free noodles, rice, tortilla chips, and any other ingredients that I use for sauces to just have on hand at any moment. Then I pick up meat when it is on sale and throw it in the freezer. Then I really just have to make sure I have fresh produce to go with everything else.
Having this plan in place has really helped to cut back on the amount of money I spend at the grocery store, as well as the number of trips I have to make. I usually make one monthly trip to specialty stores to pick up all of our dairy free cheeses, butter, and specialty gluten free products that aren't sold at every store. I make one trip to Aldi or shop the sales at my regular store for pantry items and meat.
Then I just have to make a run for produce and anything that I feel like grabbing on my weekly/bi-weekly shopping trip. I also build days into our menu to go out for dinner, or when we're just sticking with leftovers or doing a "fend for yourself" night to give myself an occasional break from cooking.
One of the other easy ways to switch up flavors is to add a sweet and savory sauce to your meat and veggies. This Sweet Stir-fry Chicken and Veggies recipe has been a family favorite for many years. It's fast and delicious, and the kids just love it. Most of the ingredients are things I always have around and can just throw together quickly on a weeknight.
- 3-4 chicken breasts, cleaned and cut into strips
- 1/4 cup Tamari (gluten-free soy sauce)
- 2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
- 2 Tbsp honey
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp fresh grated ginger
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 medium white onion, diced
- 1 green bell pepper, diced
- 1 cup sugar snap peas
- 1 cup broccoli, cut into pieces
- 1 4 oz. can water chestnuts, drained
- toasted sesame seeds for topping (optional)
In a small bowl, combine the Tamari, rice wine vinegar, honey, garlic, sesame oil, and ginger.
Season the strips of chicken with salt and pepper on all sides. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add olive oil to the pan and when oil is hot, carefully place the chicken in an even layer. Turn the chicken periodically until cooked on all sides.
Add onions and green bell peppers to pan and cook for 1 minute. Add the snap peas and broccoli. Pour the liquid mixture in the pan and cover with a lid. Reduce heat to medium and continue to cook for 3-5 minutes or until the chicken is cooked completely through and the vegetables have softened.
Add the water chestnuts, stir to combine, and cook for another 1-2 minutes before serving. Serve over brown rice or noodles.
Original post 6-10-2013; updated 11-20-2016.