|Food photographer I'm not, but this was part of a freezer cooking day!|
There are a few things that I cannot live without in order for meal planning to be a success at our house.
The first is a rice cooker - I can set it in the morning and it's steaming away when we get home and ready at dinner time - one less hassle. I have this one (search around online and in stores, I got it for less than half of this price).
The other must have is a program-able bread maker! I can't even find the one I have to show you because it is older and was given to me. But I highly suggest one with a dough setting and a delay timer so you can bake while you are away!
Of course a crock pot - I actually have three that are all different sizes. Here is one of them but you can find them in all shapes and sizes and with or without however many fancy buttons and settings you want. And in case anyone is interested, I would love this one - I could do a lot with this one!
A running list of favorites. Keep pen and paper handy - I've got a list of main dishes and a list of sides and when we find something that becomes a regular I jot it down. When you have no idea what to eat - go to your list, even if you don't see something you're interested in on the list it will get some ideas going for you.
A vacuum sealer is also a must - down below I explain how we shop but we use the deep freezer to preserve what we buy until it's ready to be used. This is the model we have - a fantastic score from our wedding registry so it's a bit older but still gets the job done!
How I shop for groceries also plays a role in menu planning.
Once monthly I head to a super center (aka Wal Mart) - essentials only - from the miscellaneous toilet paper and trash bags to pantry staples (flour, sugar, rice) these things are just less expensive over all in larger stores.
Once weekly I head out for milk, bread, and other items to fill in the list. I'm not one of those who can plan an entire month, so we plan one week at a time. When it's open, eggs, fruits, and veggies come from the farmers market. I get what is on the list that we must have and I shop sales. Shopping sales allows me to stock up on things at their lowest price. I'm not good nor do I think I'll ever be a good "couponer" but I do know when our sales turn and keep a small notebook with the average weeks between big sales. Like cereal goes on sale at one store for a little more than $1 per box so I'll buy the max and then don't buy cereal for three months after that.
Sales or bulk is how we also purchase meat. There was recently a sale in our area that stocked us up on chicken, steaks, and pork chops all for less than $1 to $2 per pound (yes - New York strips for $1.89 per pound). We were able to buy the steak portions whole and have them cut to fit our needs so we also got beef tips, and roast. Fish comes with the territory - it's always there and always plentiful and always a variety of what ever the Husband has been catching! We also have a good stock of venison, I know it's not for everyone but I know we've got close to 20 meals in the freezer thanks to some good friends who hunt regularly. We substitute it in recipes calling for beef and sausage.
You can search my menu plans from the side bar. I also link up my menus over at orgjunkie.com, it is a fantastic resource if you're just getting started!