Almost exactly a month ago, I wrote about my intro into monthly meal planning. I fully intended on writing this post a week later, but anyone who knows me or has followed me for any period of time understands my terrible habit of writing inconsistently…so I’m back and am following up with a full breakdown of my first month’s menu. As a friendly reminder, most of my measurements are rough estimates since I cook to taste, so be patient with me!
I found a recipe on pinterest here that I based this recipe off of, but I made a meat sauce that I’ve been using for years. The original plan was to make extra meat sauce to freeze up separately to put with pasta for other easy meals, but I got a little carried away and used up all of the sauce on the seven lasagnas I made. I also added a whole lot more mozzarella cheese than the recipe suggested, but I’m just a huge fan of cheesy foods.
Back to the meat sauce. It’s super easy and (in my opinion) quite tasty. You’ll need:
- 3 lbs ground beef – ground turkey or Italian sausage will work just as well. I cook this with the onion and garlic until the meat is fully cooked, then add the rest of the ingredients.
- 1 onion, diced – I love red onion for everything
- 3-4 cloves of garlic – honestly, I just rely on my taste buds here, and I’m completely guessing the measurement as I type this
- salt and pepper
- 2.5 large jars of marinara sauce – I know I could go the super inexpensive route and make my own tomato sauce, but this was way easier. I just threw in a little extra chopped fresh basil for some added flavor.
- pesto – again, do this to taste. I’m a huge pesto fan, so I probably used more than the average person (read: an entire small jar)
- cayenne pepper – this is optional, but I like a little bit of heat in most of my foods (and especially in sauces!). I sprinkle it in, taste, and repeat until I’m happy.
See? SO easy and super inexpensive. Check out the link I referenced above to see how to use this sauce in the lasagna.
This is a recipe I made semi-regularly for the family I lived with/worked for in Germany, and it was always a big hit. I’m a huge fan of burgers, and now that I’m thinking about it, the burger base and meat sauce base starts out almost the same way. At least this helps me buy ingredients in bulk (and save money)! I try to make each burger patty about a quarter pound, so I got eight burgers from this recipe.
- 2lb ground beef – turkey would be a great substitute!
- half an onion, diced
- 1-2 cloves of garlic
- a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce – this is probably even more important when making burger patties to freeze and use later since it really helps the burgers stay juicy
- Red Robin seasoning – I love this stuff. If I could, I’d put it on all of my proteins and over half of my veggies. If you’ve never heard of Red Robin, you can use any kind of seasoned salt.
This is one of those recipes where you just throw everything in a large bowl and mix it together with your hands. Before mixing everything up and getting your hands covered in that mess, set up a cookie sheet with two large pieces of parchment or wax paper. I then split the mixture up into equal parts, then start forming the patties. I read somewhere that when forming burger patties, putting a thumbprint size dent in the center helps retain the shape of the burger when cooking it. After the patties are formed, I place each one on the cookie sheet (normally in two layers separated by paper), then stick the whole thing in the freezer for a couple of hours. This flash freezes the burgers and makes it easier for storing in the freezer. I fill up quart sized plastic bags with two patties apiece, and those meals are ready to go!
Some ideas for different flavor combos with your burgers if you’re stuck in a rut and want to try something new: mozzarella and pesto, a fried egg and cheddar cheese, bacon/turkey bacon with cheddar or colby jack, goat cheese and arugula, and I could go on and on….let me know in the comments what your favorite burger flavor combination is!
I put a little more chicken in each pan than for two meals, then use the leftovers to make quesadillas the next night!
- 2lbs chicken, cut into bite sized pieces
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 3 lemons, juiced
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- salt and pepper
- dashes of rosemary, thyme, and oregano – to taste
Chicken crock pot meals are SO simple. Seriously, all you do is thaw the gallon plastic bag in the fridge overnight, then throw the contents of the bag into a crock pot for a few hours on low. It typically takes about 3 hours for everything to cook all the way through, but different crock pots have different temps, so find what works for you.
I really like this served as a salad. Fill a plate up with spinach and a little arugula (arugula is my favorite leafy green), put some chicken on there, and throw some thinly sliced red onion and crumbled feta cheese on top. You can finish it with a greek style vinaigrette if you want that extra flavor, but when we don’t have dressing at home, it’s not too bad without anything. You can also put all of those ingredients in a wrap or pita if you’re like me and love all the carbs you can get.
*I tend to cut up (have my husband-assistant cut up) all of our chicken for the entire meal prep into bite sized chunks, and then we portion it out into all of the gallon-sized freezer plastic bags. This means I try to estimate 1.5-2 pounds of chicken per meal, but it’s never completely accurate. Bite sized pieces cook up a little faster in the crock pot, and I can’t count how many times I’ve lost track of time but still had dinner cooked on time thanks to the quicker cook time.
Lemon Ginger Chicken
This is a recipe I ate all the time while in Germany. The mom of the family I worked for loved it, and it’s hard for me to ever say no when lemon and ginger are combined.
- 2lbs chicken
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
- 2tbsp grated fresh ginger
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1-2 small red chilis, finely chopped
- 1-2 tbsp cilantro, chopped
- 2tbsp soy sauce
- 1-2 bell peppers, cut into large slices
- handful of snow peas – optional, but snow peas are one of my favorite veggies to put in an Asian inspired meal
Put it in a gallon plastic bag and toss in the freezer. Thaw overnight, cook in a crock pot on low for 3-4 hours, and serve it with rice and noodles.
Red Pepper Chicken
I can’t find the original source for this recipe to save my life, but I’ve added to it a bit to increase the flavor and make it a little spicier
- 1.5 lbs chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces
- 2 red bell peppers
- half of a white onion
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
- half a bottle of Szechuan sauce – I try to make an even amount of these meals for each meal prep so I don’t end up with half-used bottles
All of this goes into one gallon plastic bag. I let it thaw overnight in the fridge, then drop it in the crock pot to cook for 2-3 hours on low. It’s perfect served over rice.
This is one of those recipes I came up with when I had less than $10 in my bank account and some cans in my cabinet. I think I alter it a little each time I make it, but it’s SUPER cheap and really filling. The seasonings have no measurements because I just sprinkle stuff in the pot until it smells like chili should smell. Really descriptive, I know.
- 2 cans of black beans
- 2 small cans of tomato paste
- 1 can of crushed tomatoes
- 1 can of corn
- half an onion, diced
- 1-2 bell peppers, diced
- 2 cans of veggie broth – or 2 cans worth of water, or a combo of the two. Just do what feels right!
- 2 cups of quinoa, uncooked – this is a really rough guess as I just pour some out of the box until it looks like an amount I’m okay with eating. This is my substitute for the ground meat used in traditional chili. It will cook in the crock pot and soak up lots of flavor.
- chili powder
- cayenne pepper
- garlic powder
This is one of the meals I cook all day on low in the crock pot, then freeze up cooked portions later. If you love cheese like I’ve mentioned I do, you can top it with cheese when you serve it (at least it stays vegetarian!). I often make up a side of cornbread with this meal.
This is one of the few recipes I’ve gotten from my mom. I’m not sure what recipe book she got it from, but she’s been making it for decades. It’s simple and filling- everything I want in a stew.
- 2 lbs beef chuck, cubed into bite-sized pieces – I cut this up and brown it in my cast iron to keep the meat juicy before putting it in the crock pot
- 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1-2 cloves garlic
- 1-2 bay leaves
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- dash of cloves or allspice
- 1 white onion, sliced into large bite-sized pieces
- handful or two of carrots, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 4-6 red potatoes, quartered
Put it in a crockpot, pour broth/water into the pot to just cover all the ingredients, give it a few good stirs, and cook on low all day. Freeze up leftovers, and you’ve got yourself at least 6 meals.
The first time I made this was with turkey leftovers after Thanksgiving last year. I think I actually prefer it over using chicken, but use whatever you have on hand!
So that’s the roundup of the first meal prep I ever put together. It took two days, but wasn’t too overwhelming. The second month went well too, and hopefully it won’t take me another 3 weeks to get those recipes posted!
As always, hit me up with questions or ideas of what else you want to read about meal planning and prepping. I’ve yet to dive into all of the pre-made baking mixes I’ve found and used, so expect to see some of those in the near future.