Sunday, July 17, 2016

Teachers Who Cook: Menu, Meal, and Grocery Planning!

Hellooooo, fellow chefs!

Yes, you. You are a chef. You just don't know it yet. 

"But Haleyyyyy, I can't cook! I burn toast! I'm doomed!"

Riddle me this: 1) Can you read? and 2) Are you patient?

You are a teacher, so therefore the answer to both should be a resounding YES.

If you answered yes (which you did), then you have the qualifications of being a great cook.

Also, I like to point out the following.

Source: A Couple Cooks' Instagram (Psssst! An awesome cooking blog for you vegetarians!)

Now that we got that out of the way, it's story time. Wayyyy back during my last semester of student teaching, I ate out up to twice a day, everyday of the week. Because, you know, "I had noooooo time!" (*eye roll* Ohhh, to be in college again.)

Two things happened as a result of this habit: I gained a LOT of weight and I was even broker than I should've been as a college student. 

I'd always had an interest in cooking, but that summer I decided was the perfect time to really practice cooking, because things could not go on as they were. And I've been practicing ever since!

So, since we're currently smack dab in those blissful months of summer, what better time than for you to start practicing? Read on, fellow chefs! In today's blogpost of our three-part #teacherswhocook series, we're talking about the planning

This is the part that's most exciting for us teachers. The planning. One more aspect of our lives to potentially plan out and stick in our precious planner. Oooh the chills.

On a serious note though, if you're not willing to meal plan, you're setting yourself up to hate cooking. I'll be honest, I cook 6-7 nights a week, but I would despise cooking if I had to come up with a dinner plan every day after I got out of teaching. Like, I would burn out reallyyyy fast and probably be on Chickfila's VIP list. 

Luckily, meal planning is very personal. It works differently for everybody. Some of us have after school gigs, some of us have kids, some of us are only cooking for one, some of us are dedicated gym-goers, some of us only have spare time on for meal prep on the weekends. If you'd really like to spend this last chunk of our summer really wanting to eat at home more this coming school year, you have a few questions to ask yourself to find out what kind of a meal plan would realistically and most efficiently work for you.

Pssssst! Even though our "Go-To Recipes" post isn't for another two weeks, I'm sprinkling in pictures from my Instagram of things I've made after teaching and linking the original recipe. Maybe you'll find a few recipes or new blogs you like!

1) How often do you want to meal plan?
This is probably one of the most crucial questions. I know people that meal plan once a week, some that meal plan twice a week, and some that do it for the whole month. You have to find what works for your schedule.

When I first started doing this, I meal planned righttttt before I went to the grocery store once a week. Like, woohoo that I was actually menu planning, but the problem was I was continuously doing the same recipes each week because I couldn't think on the spot about what to make for the following week. 

Slow Cooker Chicken and Gravy over mashed potatoes

Now I menu plan for the month. Before you freak out on me, hear me out.

It can take me anywhere from one to two hours to plan out a month's worth of menu plans. And, I guarantee that sometimeeee during a whole month, I'll find myself with an awkward pocket of time that I could easily dedicate to menu planning the following month.

For example, in June, I found myself sitting in my parent's kitchen with nothing to do before lunch so I decided to do the menu planning for July. And, in May, I was at a coffee shop and finished my task early, so I tackled June's menu plan. I encourage you to try this method. In such a crazy-busy profession, knowing this important part of my life is taken care of is such a stress relief!

And that way, before I grocery shop each week, I can look over and create the list, while making sure if any night needs to be tweaked. AKA, "I need to switch Tuesday and Thursday's recipes around because I have _______ on Tuesday," or, "Let me change Monday's recipe because pork chops are on sale/ in my freezer/ what I'm craving right now." You get the gist. Planning for the month acts as a starting point for me, so it's flexible enough that I can keep it as it is (no same recipes over and over! yay!) or tweak as needed when the time comes.

2) How do you want to document your meal plan?

Think about where you want to write down your recipes for the week. Is it on a cute chalkboard in your kitchen? Is it in your precious planner? Is it on an app on your phone? Decide where would work best for you to keep track.

I created a separate blog for this. Last summer, I realized that I was making the same things over and over, but was unable to think about what I liked in the past that I'd like to make instead. On Burnt Orange Butter, I'm able to make a post with the week's menu plan AND link directly the recipe I'll need - thus making it easy to make a grocery list, make future menu plans, pass over cooking responsibilities to other household members, and pull up that night's recipe both easily and quickly. Plus, my family and friends have asked me to share with them for some new recipes.

If you ever need recipe ideas, I'd be honored if you peeked at my menu plan blog!

3) How do you want to choose recipes for your meal plan?
Obviously you can use cookbooks, Pinterest, cooking blogs, Yummly, AllRecipes, magazines, etc to find new recipes (more on our favorites in the other two posts!), but I mean do you want to have a theme to your evenings? I've found it makes it much easier to menu plan if I have a general guideline for what I want to eat each evening.

For example, right now my "map" is as follows:
Saturday: Fish or New Recipe
Sunday: Slow Cooker
Monday: Fish or Meatless
Tuesday: Mexican
Wednesday: Breakfast for Dinner or Brett Cooks (he picks a recipe)
Thursday: Italian, Indian, or Asian
Friday: Slow Cooker, Budget Meal, or Freezer Meal

Having a starting point for each night makes it so much easier for me! Think about what you'd like to work in each week. This menu guide changes every so often based on the season (yeah, soup is evey Monday in the winter #noshame) and my kitchen goals, but we'll talk about that more later.

4) How often do you want to go to the grocery store?
This definitely differs for everyone. I really enjoy going to the grocery store, but that's because I go once a week, and earlyyyyy Saturday morning so that the store is blissfully empty and quiet. Armed with a Doctor Pepper and maybe a kolache, it's now my happy place ritual. Trust me, if I had to go more than once a week and when it seems the whole universe is shopping, I would, again, be the ChickFilA VIP. 

But again, whatever works for you. My mom goes several times a week and almost seems to thrive when the place is busy. I had a coworker that loved to go almost daily after her daughter's practice. 

Anyway, your menu plan will obviously reflect how often you'd ideally like to go to the store. I bet you'll find that the longer you've menu plan (because be forewarned, there is such a learning curve to getting to a point where you love doing it), the less you mayyy need to go to the store for groceries.

5) How often do you want to eat out?
This will be taken in consideration when menu planning as well. One of my current cooking goals (again, more on that later), is to cook 6-7 nights a week. Before you roll your eyes and say, "Well, it's just because she doesn't have kids!" know that it's a goal of mine to cook that often. Usually I hit it, while other nights, the grilled cheese maker comes out.

I just like to cook that often because it really calms me after a day of teaching where, as we all know, the majority of my day is out of my control. Cooking really grounds me after that and, after working with little ones all day, it's nice to do something adultish. Also, I'm currently working Dave Ramsey's Baby Steps, so minimizing eating out is important to me! Plus, it makes packing lunches much easier.

But I do have friends that eat out every Friday because that's when the kitchen is closed, dinner is at their weekly Thursday happy hour, or pizza is delivered once a week because that's what works for their household. 

Whatever your eating out quotient is, stick it in the meal plan!

6) How are you going to plan for breakfasts and lunches?

Again, this totally depends on the week. Sometimes I make a big breakfast on Sunday, and use the leftovers for breakfast all week. I also know that nine times out of ten, a weekend lunch is eaten with my parents.

Oven Omelette (AKA How to use up leftover veggies)

Sometimes I take leftovers for lunch, and sometimes prepack a week of lunches on Sunday.

Just make sure you account for these meals when menu planning! Nothing's worse than the Thursday night realization that Friday's lunch looks grim and bare.

7) How are you going to prep?
Do you want to prep a few hours on the weekend for the week, or for a short amount of time each night? 

I like to spend a few hours on Sunday prepping for the week, which is why I always do an easy slow cooker meal that day. Once dinner is in the slow cooker, I may spend some time cutting produce, making a side or two for upcoming dinners (maybe cooking some rice?), prepping something for breakfast/lunch, and just getting any prep out of the way so that the rest of the week is easier. I find that I'm less likely to cook later in the week when I'm more tired, so doing some prep on Sunday makes cooking those nights much more feasible.

I worked with a teacher whose husband grilled every Sunday, and they used that meat all week as the base for other meals. Totally genius.

Additionally, this is where you figure out any shortcuts in recipes. For example, whenever a pizza recipe provides a homemade crust, I totally bust out the store bought crust. If a recipe calls for cooked chicken, I'm very likely to grab one of those handy rotisserie ones. Or, if I'm making homemade carnitas, I'll swing by a Mexican Restaurant and grab some sauces. #noshame Little things like that turn an intricate recipe into a weeknight one.

8) Right now, what are your top two cooking goals?
This is one of the top influences for when I'm meal planning. Cooking is totally a thing you can do - if you take it one step at a time. By choosing two specific kitchen goals and thinking of some recipe ideas that give me practice, I become more confident in cooking.

For example, right now I'm wanting to gain confidence in cooking fish, dinner salads with homemade dressing, and more ethnic foods, so you'll see several of those recipes currently on my menu planning blog to give myself more practice. That's also why "Fish" is listed twice under my menu plan map right now. 

Determine your current cooking goals, and have your menu plan reflect that! Do you want to become more confident in sauteeing vegetables? Using a cast iron? Making pasta sauce? Cutting up different fruit? Find recipes then for your menu plan to help you practice.

I hope you found something to help you get excited about menu planning and cooking! Can't wait to return next week with our favorite kitchen gadgets and cookbooks. Until then, Martina made THE most precious meal planners and grocery lists for you guys! 

Seriously, SWOON! #allthehearteyes

Also, check out Martina's blog for her thoughts and wisdom on meal planning. And, if you cook or meal plan this week, tag us on Instagram with #teacherswhocook. I've loved going through there and looking at all the deliciousness!


  1. Eeeek! You've brought together two things that make me ME! Teaching and cooking!! I this post! I couldn't agree more...if you can read and you have patience, you can cook. I get so annoyed when people say they "can't cook." Growth mindset people! I'm looking forward to next week's post!

  2. Eeeek! You've brought together two things that make me ME! Teaching and cooking!! I this post! I couldn't agree more...if you can read and you have patience, you can cook. I get so annoyed when people say they "can't cook." Growth mindset people! I'm looking forward to next week's post!

  3. This was an awesome post and looked at many of the meals you linked. I cannot wait to read your next posts to get more ideas. Don't worry already downloaded and saved the templates to my drive acct so I can always find them!

  4. I just discovered this post because Foodie Crush tweeted it. I am so inspired and can hardly wait to try so many of your recipes! Pickup Lines Google Gravity Tricks I love you quotes Good Night Quotes