When you’re busy, meal planning is a helpful tool for minimizing the last minute “what’s for dinner” panic.  It also will cut-down on unplanned grocery runs, and reliance on frozen meals or take-out.  Being gluten-free, this is even more essential, as there’s limited takeout, and frozen gluten-free meals are little more than pizza or chicken nuggets.  As often as possible, double recipes and freeze an extra batch of meatballs, meatloaf, taco meat; but you can’t eat a frozen meatloaf, now can you?

Meatloaf

Try to maintain the habit of planning at least a week ahead.  A month is ideal, but takes a good deal of time.  Keep a meal-planning notebook and use scraps of downtime so that doing so isn’t a huge deal.  For example, plan out a week while sitting at an activity waiting for the kids, or if they’re doing their schoolwork and you’re sitting alongside them to help as needed.  Keep a list of favorite meals, recipes to try with corresponding cookbook page numbers, and ideas.  Look at your schedule.  If you have a few busy afternoons that will leave you getting home at dinnertime, plan on a crockpot dinner, or something that can be prepped in advance.  Aim for at least one meatless meal per week, and build in leftovers if you expect them.  Finally, go with a theme.  If it’s summer, choose some easy BBQ recipes so you’re not likely to bail on dinner because it’s too hot to turn on the oven.  If it’s chilly, go with soups, comfort foods, and dishes you’ll look forward to all week long. Before you plan your meals, check your freezer, the pantry, the sale circulars.  Look for something you’ve been waiting to use up, or take advantage of an ingredient on sale, and google recipes to use it creatively. This week, I was focusing on the five pounds of ground turkey that I’d just bought, and simpler, comfort foods. We’re dealing with pneumonia in our house, and evenings of single parenthood due to my husband’s work schedule.  Here’s what I came up with:

Meatloaf

Sunday: Chicken soup (I make this easier by using chicken breasts rather than a whole chicken.  We love it cooked with a ton of cut up carrots and celery, and either rice, noodles, or matzo balls)

Monday: Turkey chili with cornbread

Tuesday: Big salad with foccacia bread (A big bowl of lettuce and baby spinach, and little bowls of carrots, strips of pepper, cucumber, celery, hardboiled eggs, tomatoes, beans, chunks of apple, and everyone makes their own, salad-bar-style)

Wednesday: Turkey meatloaf with russet and sweet potatoes roasted alongside. (This was an opportunity to make two and freeze an extra- it was literally no extra work to double all of the ingredients, and put two meatloaves in the oven instead of one)

Thursday: Chicken pot pie.  This one is more labor intensive, but it was a special request from my daughter, the one who has been sick since last week.  (To make life easier, I planned on making extra chicken and setting half aside to use in chicken lo mein over the weekend)

Friday: Banana bread sandwiches with turkey bacon (This idea comes from Silvana, and we love it)

Saturday: Chicken lo mein (Using shredded chicken already made from Thursday)

Disclaimers.  I always accompany dinner with cooked vegetables and fruit.  Sometimes, there’s a night when I’m just too busy to get to dinner prep, in which case I will draw from our freezer supply.  Or, if we’ve accumulated a bunch of leftovers, we’ll do a smorgasbord of choices and I’ll save one of the dinner ideas for another night.  We’ll have a stretch of time when my husband wants to BBQ chicken or turkey burgers, so I submit, and make an easy side dish or salad while he’s outside grilling.  It’s not a system without glitches, but it helps to have some organization planned for when things get busy and we need to run on autopilot.  It’s always fun to find a new idea, so share your dinner recipes below with our readers.  To see what’s happening in our kitchen, or to share what’s going on in yours, stop by, or become a fan on Facebook.

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