Monday, October 20, 2008

Efficiency Week Day One: Meal Planning and More

My unpredictable health has prompted me to learn new tricks to manage my household in a way that I can sustain when my mobility is impaired. While I doubt anything I do is groundbreaking or original, I came to most of it the hard way, through personal experience, and I'm happy to share.

In our neighborhood the trash comes on Monday morning around seven AM. So on Sundays I clean out the fridge so that no foodstuffs end up languishing in the trash and stinking up our garage for seven days straight. I can usually clean the fridge while making a big breakfast so the net time expense of a clean fridge is basically nil. This has been a wonderful addition to my routine because it ensures a clean fridge and we don't "lose" things anymore.

I had defrosted a large bag of frozen chicken breasts from Costco on Friday. Since they should be cooked within three days, I only had two days left and the benefit to cooking on Sunday meant the bag of icky chicken juice would be whisked away by the trash man before it could turn. I devised a meal plan for the next two weeks taking all that chicken into account. Also, our bag of lemons were looking sad. The chicken specific meals were:

Chicken pizza
Lemon chicken
Whiskey River Chicken Wraps
Arroz Con Pollo or Thai Peanut Pasta

Since I prefer to cook my chicken for pizza in bacon grease, I chopped and seasoned the breasts and then cooked the chicken cubes in the leftover drippings from our breakfast while the bacon drained on paper towels. I also scooped out some of the bacon and put it in a baggie allocated for the pizza toppings.

Small pieces cook fast and soon it was cooling in the fridge like this:
I set the pan aside to cool a little before scrambling the eggs ( three dishes, one frying pan to clean; my idea of heaven!)

Meanwhile Chris turned on the barbecue while he cleaned our spa. He was able to grill half of the chicken while he was already outside and within arms reach of the grill. The net time expense for grilling chicken was also zero.

I cut the remaining chicken in chunks, floured it and started browning the meat for Lemon Chicken. At this point breakfast was almost ready to go on the table. Just as the last toast was being buttered I slipped the lemon chicken from the pan and set it aside to cool before going into the fridge.

After breakfast I started a huge pot of rice that would see us through the week and cut the grilled chicken into slices that will work for Thai Peanut Pasta, Arroz Con Pollo or BBQ Whiskey River Chicken Wraps. Remembering we had an appointment Monday night over dinner helped me decide to put enough sliced chicken aside in a bowl to make wraps to eat in the car and the rest in a freezer bag.

In the end, I had messed up a knife, cutting board and two frying pans which was only one frying pan more than I would have to make breakfast alone. We ended the morning with four dinners well on their way to done. At fourteen dollars for a bag of chicken, that amounts to $3.50 per meal. Now all I need to add is rice (cooked, bagged and in the fridge) pizza crust & cheese, tortillas/BBQ sauce/ranch/cheddar, and either veggies & peanut butter for thai peanut pasta or canned tomatoes, veggies & sausage for arroz con pollo. No matter how you slice it, the worst part is behind me.

I try to do one kind of meat per week at a time when I'm well enough to manage it. Last week I bought ground turkey and made two turkey and stuffing meat loaves, and two generous meals of turkey florentine meatballs so we could have them in b├ęchamel sauce on baked potatoes and in spaghetti. If you do this often enough you'll always have a nice variety of dishes in the freezer.

Check back tomorrow for another efficiency post.


MaryC said...

Nicole, this is awesome. I am forwarding the link for this to my dd.
I am certain she will be inspired.
Hope you are feeling okay.

Eve said...

Thank you for all this great info!
I need to give it a try.

Angela said...

This is a great idea. I need to take this and work it into my own routine.

outdoorgriller said...

That sounds good I like a lot of those same ingredients on my chicken.If you want more recipes or if you want to take a look at the collection of tips I have for grilling you can visit

The Richmond's said...

Wow Nicole that is awesome the way you managed all of that. I really need to start "mass cooking" on my days off so that way when I come home from work I can just pull something out and have dinner quick in a few minutes. Great ideas and inspiration!

Emilyt said...

Good ideas! I am good at making ground beef and freezing. Why can't I be as good with chicken? Thanks

Anonymous said...

I love this series. I'm hooked already at the first post!

Barbara said...

I need to do more pre-planning and pre-cooking meals! I think you have given some great ideas and I just might have to try this out tomorrow, my day off! =)