Getting Back in the Swing of Meal Planning (and My Two-Week Plan) 6

Getting Back in the Swing of Meal Planning (and My Two-Week Plan)

Getting Back in the Swing of Meal Planning (and My Two-Week Plan)

Do you ever wonder what the writers on Keeper of the Home really eat? Wonder no longer. This is the first of many posts to come, where one writer each month will take a turn to share an actual two-week menu plan. Natalie, a busy wife and mom of 9 is the first to share, and I love her honesty. And I want her rice cooker. Read on…

I snickered when Stephanie asked us to write up a two week menu plan. Ten years and five babies ago ago I was a menu-planner extraordinaire, and I could’ve written this post without feeling like such a hypocrite.

Today? Well, let’s just say that I promptly took advantage of Stephanie’s current eBook sale (her three awesome books bundled together for 50% off) in order to get a burst of inspiration. And a good kick in the pants.

It worked!  I’ve been motivated to get back to eating healthier…and planning plays a large role in making that possible.  While I have consistently planned out our weekly dinner menus, I’ve completely let breakfast and lunch go to pot. Breakfast has been cold cereal and toast, and lunch has been leftovers or sandwiches. Can anybody say PB and J?

So now you see why the pants needed kicking. I could just end it right there. I mean, that’s what the name of this series is all about, right? What we REALLY eat? Ah…but the winds of change are blowing, and this old girl has made up a serious menu plan–all three meals— for the next two weeks.

Getting Back in the Swing of Meal Planning (and My Two-Week Plan)
Crock Pot Roast and Roasted Root Vegetables

My Usual Menu Planning Method

  • I select menu options from a master list of our favorite meals.
  • I try to menu plan when I’m somewhat hungry.
  • I do a quick inventory of my freezer, fridge and pantry to see if there is anything I can use up…and select menu options that will utilize those items.
  • I make my grocery list.  On a small white board in my kitchen, I do keep a running list of other staples we need as we run out and then transfer those items to my grocery list as well.

We do have a few “set meals” that are the same every week. On Sundays I don’t cook. Joe makes breakfast…scrambled eggs, bacon, toast and OJ. For lunch we grab pizza on the way home from church. For dinner we clean out the fridge of leftovers from the week before and have a smorgasbord. In the event that there are no leftovers, we eat tortilla chips and cheese…or popcorn and chocolate malts. Or something else weird.

Saturday mornings I make one of four breakfasts: waffles, pancakes, crepes or french toast. I usually heat up some frozen berries and jam for a berry topping…and whip up some heavy cream. It makes for a special family breakfast before we begin our weekly house cleaning chores.

Getting Back in the Swing of Meal Planning (and My Two-Week Plan)
Perfect and Easy Rice Cooker Oatmeal

An Alternative Adventure

So that is what I USUALLY do when things are “normal” around here. But here’s something else I do once in a while, just for kicks. You know…when things get boring, and you want to spice life up a bit. And it just so happens that I did it about four hours ago…so it’s fresh in my memory, which tends to only go back about that far anyway.

I don’t take a grocery list with me. (GASP!)  I know! It’s like free falling! I grab my cart and make my way through the store looking for IDEAS, and then I throw the ideas in the cart. We’re talking total serendipity. Gets us out of our “rut” once in a while. 

When I get home, I write out the meals I can make with my “idea” food, and then fill in the blanks with regular menu items from my tried and true list. Once I have all my meals planned out…I make a REAL grocery list of anything that is missing, and my husband will take the little kids out on Saturday morning for another grocery adventure while the older kids clean the house.

Getting Back in the Swing of Meal Planning (and My Two-Week Plan)
Chicken Pot Pie

So without any further ado…here is my two week meal plan:

Week One


  • Breakfast: Eggs, bacon, toast and orange juice
  • Lunch: Pizza
  • Dinner: Leftovers


  • Breakfast: Overnight egg strata and smoothies.
  • Lunch: Easy chili…just beans and pre-browned hamburger from the freezer, tomatoes and tomato sauce. I will put this in my rice cooker that I adore after breakfast on the slow cook setting…and it will be hot and ready at lunch.
  • Pot Luck with our small group from church: Big salad with all the fixins and a cheesy potato casserole with ham.


  • Breakfast: Cold cereal and toast~we’ll be coming home late the night before…I’ll be up at night with a baby…and the kids will have to fend for themselves the next morning because I will be a zombie.
  • Lunch: Egg salad and lettuce on whole wheat, vegie plate with dip and fresh fruit.
  • Dinner: Chicken stir fry with broccoli, cauliflower and red/yellow/green peppers and onions on a bed of rice made in my rice cooker that I adore.


  • Breakfast: Oatmeal in my rice cooker that I adore…I use the “porridge” setting for perfect oatmeal. I love to add raisins and chopped nuts when it is finished. And thick cream.
  • Lunch: Leftover stir fry
  • Dinner: Beef, bean and rice burritos and salad with the fixins. Again, I can whip these up fast with beans and pre-browned beef from the freezer along with extra rice that I made the night before for our stir fry. My rice cooker that I adore is BIG.


  • Breakfast: Poached eggs on toast. I love a poached egg.
  • Lunch: Grilled Cheese on whole wheat and tomato soup.
  • Dinner: Chicken wild rice soup with crusty bread and fresh fruit.


  • Breakfast: Fruit and yogurt smoothies with almonds, coconut oil and flax seed.
  • Lunch: Leftover wild rice soup with whole grain crackers, fresh fruit, and sharp cheddar cheese wedges.
  • Dinner: Baked Almond Chicken and sauteed asparagus.


  • Breakfast: Waffles with strawberry sauce and cream. I will need to put the two roasts into the crock pot this morning as well.
  • Lunch: Turkey and cheese wraps with chips and pickles.
  • Dinner: Roast beast (as we call it) with roasted root vegetables.
Getting Back in the Swing of Meal Planning (and My Two-Week Plan)
Dutch Oven Pancake with Blueberries and Whipped Cream

Week Two


  • Breakfast: Scrambled eggs, bacon, toast and orange juice.
  • Lunch: Pizza
  • Dinner: Open faced roast beef sandwiches with gravy, salad, and fruit


  • Breakfast: Yogurt and granola
  • Lunch: Fajitas with bell peppers, onions, and the last of the beef.
  • Dinner: Spaghetti with meat sauce, salad, and french bread.


  • Breakfast: Hearty Oat Scones and fruit
  • Lunch: Leftover spaghetti sauce on french bread with melted cheese and salad.
  • Dinner: Chicken pot pie and fruit bowl.


  • Breakfast: Seven grain porridge made in my rice cooker. (Have I mentioned how much I LOVE this tool?) I put the ingredients in the night before and set the timer. Breakfast is ready when I roll out of bed.
  • Lunch: Tuna melts, vegie platter with dip and fresh fruit.
  • Dinner: Beef stroganoff on noodles and green beans.


  • Breakfast: Hard boiled eggs and raisin bran muffins.
  • Lunch: Leftover stroganoff. I like to make a fresh batch of noodles…and just heat up the leftover meat part.
  • Dinner: Wild cod, baked, with roasted potatoes, peppers and onions.

Friday (I’m gone all day today…have a hair appointment and will be spending a few hours writing, so things need to be simple.)

  • Breakfast: Cold cereal and toast.
  • Lunch: Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with carrot sticks and fruit
  • Dinner: Beef barley soup in the crock pot with crusty bread. (I will put this together in the a.m. before I leave.)


  • Breakfast: Dutch oven pancake with blueberry sauce and whipped cream.
  • Lunch: Hoagies with pickles and chips.
  • Dinner: Honey pecan chicken salad with fresh fruit and strawberry scones.

P.S. In case you are wondering about my rice cooker, with money I received for Christmas this past year, I bought a multi-purpose 10 cup Zojirushi with neuro fuzzy logic technology, a porridge setting for perfect hot cereals including steel cut oats, and a slow cooker setting.

This slow cooker works better than any crock pot I’ve owned…the only bad thing is that it isn’t as large as my HUGE crockpot…so I can’t use it for everything. But it is perfect for  crock pot style chili and vegetable beef soup etc.

It’s also perfect for cooking big batches of beans and, you’ll never guess… rice (we love brown, organic, short grain “sticky” rice…good for you…and GOOD). It will cook up ANY kind of rice to tender perfection. Even brown, long grain rice.

It’s one of those big purchases that I will never regret since it aids me in feeding our large family healthy, delicious foods.

Do you have set meals that happen on certain days? And which kitchen tool would you find it hard to live without?

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  1. I love my crockpot and use it on average 4 times a week (for meals, applesauce, beans, etc). I’ve been debating about getting a second one because yogurt and chicken stock (from the carcus) take so long and use up the crockpot for quite awhile. And then I would love to make two big batches of applesauce at a time… We have lots of appts. and crockpots are just wonderful because you get home after a long day and supper is almost done!

    On Friday nights we have pizza and asparagus and have a movie night. On Tuesdays we usually have breakfast supper (because we usually have a playdate that day and breakfast suppers are fast and eaten without complaint… sausage gravy and biscuits, pancakes and smoothies, etc).

  2. I miss meal planning SO BAD. Being in the middle of a remodel makes it almost impossible. I am longing for the day when I can get back in the swing of things. Thanks for keeping me pumped up! 🙂

    1. Haha, Stacy. I think you have a double excuse. 😉 Did you see my excuse above? Pregnancy…not a good excuse when I’ve been pregnant so much the past few years! Haha! At least you have the remodel AND pregnancy!

  3. Natalie, I LOVE your honesty in this post! This will help make my July meal plan easier to write. 🙂 I have gotten off the meal planning “bandwagon” during my pregnancy. I am so prone to think: “Oh, well…it’s just for a season.” BUT, considering I’ve been pregnant nearly 2 1/2 of the past 4 1/2 years….it’s not the greatest excuse!

    We pretty much each the same rotation of meals every month, and I don’t really plan lunches except that my hubby takes leftovers to work, and the girls and I will eat a random combination of things–usually beans, hummus or canned salmon with a fruit and veggie.

    One kitchen appliance I can’t live without? My blender! I love smoothies!

  4. I need a plan every week because otherwise I eat inappropriately or overeat and gain weight. I usually have eggs toast or waffles or pancakes or something of the like with veggies on Saturday and Sunday mornings. On Monday and Friday I have a breakfast smoothie. Tuesdays I have cottage cheese, fruit, and nuts or yogurt w/ an egg, fruit, and nuts. Wednesdays I have cereal & eggs. Thursdays I have eggs, fruit, and nuts. For lunches I use something leftover from the night before’s dinner on a salad or in a vegetable soup and have a piece of fruit. For dinner I plan meals based on a cookbook called Saving Dinner that has the menus, grocery lists, and recipes. I sometimes switch the meals around to a different order than the author has or change something to a recipe I like better from somewhere else. I interchange vegetables based on what I have on hand, rather than following what the author says every time so that we use up the fresh vegetables we have on hand. Usually our dinners consist of a meat, a starch such as brown rice, pasta, or potatoes, a cooked vegetable if I feel like cooking it, and a vegetable salad.

    However, I am following the Maker’s Diet Phase one this week and next, in which I am abstaining from starches. So I am generally replacing my starches with vegetables that I have on hand.

  5. Wow – going to the store without a list . . . that would be hard for me, but maybe kinda fun – I may have to try it sometime!

  6. My crew has also named any hunk of meat in the crock pot “Roast Beast” so visitors won’t know if it is elk, venison, beefalo or pork until after they taste it and say, “MMMmm.”

    When I cook chicken someone always says, “Mom is making something fowl for dinner!” Funny guys.

    All my guys are teens or older and I have become the bread-winner of the family due to Hub’s extreme fibromyalgia. This has changed our menu planning greatly. I only plan dinners now but always try to make it in quantities to allow leftovers for breakfasts and lunches. We also keep sandwich and salad makings on hand.

    If someone is in the mood for fried eggs, they usually make them for themselves and whoever happens want some (while that whoever chips in and makes the toast or whatever to go with). When I get enough leftover bread accumulated in the freezer, I make a HUGE (20″x15″x3″) barely sweetened bread pudding/strata; the guys will then use this for breakfasts, snacks and desserts (sometimes with home-canned fruit syrups, maple syrup, turkey or bacon or whatever their moods dictate) until it’s all gone.

    I use menu planning as a framework to facilitate good eating, smart shopping, family life. If the menu gets in the way, I simply go off-plan and do whatever I choose. But, and this is the main point, with a menu I can easily see what meals need to be eaten to avoid waste, others can chip in and get things started when I’m late and the guys know that we are still a family that joins together in the evening and shares (dare I say “communes”?) over a meal — in short, menu planning makes our family life better.

    1. April, for the 7 grain porridge recipe, I use a mix of steel cut grains from Country Life Natural Foods and follow this recipe here:
      My scone recipe: toast 2 cups of oats for 5 mn. at 450. Combine 1 C. milk, 1 egg, and 2 C. flour of choice that has been mixed with 2 t. baking powder. (I add some extra milk here or it gets too dry.) Add oats, 1/2 C. raisins and honey to taste. Spoon onto baking sheet and bake 12 min. at 450.
      Egg strata that feeds 4 (I triple this recipe): cover bottom of a buttered 8 X 8 baking dish with thick slices of sour dough bread. Scatter cubed ham or bacon if desired and a cup of sharp cheddar cheese over the top. Mix 1 1/8 cup of cream or half and half…or milk, for that matter…and 5 eggs, and pour over the top. Fridge overnight. Bake at 350 for 45 mn the next morning. None of these recipes are real unique. : ) I’m kind of a plain Jane cooker, I guess. : )

  7. We have the same Zojirushi rice cooker you mention and LOVE it. We have 8 kids and it gets used twice a day… in the morning for oatmeal, set up the night before with the timed feature so it’s ready when we wake up in the morning, and again later in the day for rice, lentils, or beans. I love that I no longer have to set the timer to make sure I cook the rice correctly. It’s a perfect bowl of rice every time.

  8. I love your blog and just downloaded your 3 books. I’ve enjoyed your post about meal planning and have decided to give it a go. I want to eat better and save money. Please tell me you have the recipe for the Crock Pot Roast and Roasted Root Vegetables. It looks delicious. Yum. I need some comfort food right now.

    1. Sheree, those are two SUPER easy throw-togethers! I just put a roast in the crock pot (anything will do…I pick the cheaper cuts because the crock pot will still make them fall apart) and pour a can of beer or coke over the top (this breaks down the meat). Then I sprinkle the top with seasonings/salt/pepper of choice. I never measure…just throw stuff in. I sometimes add chopped onion/garlic/celery for extra flavor and let the whole thing cook all day. The longer, the better. When I’m ready to serve, I mix up some flour or corn starch with water and add that to the juices to make a gravy. I also add some beef bullion. For the roasted vegies, just cut carrots and potatoes or any other root vegies you have on hand into 1 inch chunks and toss them with a quarter cup of olive oil seasoned with things like salt, pepper, onion powder, minced garlic, basil, etc….any seasonings you really like. (A dash of chili powder adds a nice zip.) Spread out on baking sheet and bake at 450 for 30 minutes. Red potatoes are really nice for this, but russets are what we usually use. Cheers!

      1. Natalie, thank you for your quick response and sharing these recipes. I’ve never roasted my vegetables in the oven, usually cook them on the stove. But, not anymore. Roasting them sounds scrumptious. Thank you for the great tips. Cheers back at you!

  9. Do you use Plan to Eat? Just wondered b/c if so I would like to friend you or whatever it is called and use your recipes! If that isn’t a rude thing to ask that is. . .

    1. Theresa, I actually just joined a couple months ago. I’m still new…and don’t have it all set up the way I want it yet, but yes, I’m happy to have a friend over there! : ) (I don’t quite know how that works either!) Anyway, I love swapping recipes…

  10. Hi Natalie,
    I am wondering about your rice cooker. We use our crock pot for overnight oatmeal a lot but it ALWAYS burns and sticks something fierce. Do you have this problem with your rice cooker? If not– I am getting one! THANKS!

    1. NO! That was one of my issues with the crock pot too. I loved the IDEA of overnight oatmeal…but hated the results. In this machine, the oatmeal comes out like pudding…it is the most amazing texture. I’ve never had oatmeal like this before anywhere. NO sticking at all…just perfect oatmeal from the top to the underneath. If you set the timer, it will be ready when you want it in the morning with no work on your part. Just dip in and enjoy. It’s great when you want your grains to soak a bit too. You can put a dash of lemon juice in with the mess overnight to release those enzymes for optimal nourishment. I really love it for chili too. Again, I didn’t like the inconsistency of the cooking in my crockpot. Burnt tomato stuff on the bottom…and sort of dry on top. But this machine has a slow cooker setting that cooks everything evenly and perfectly. I could not be happier with it.

  11. I have the 5-cup Zojirushi Rice cooker, and I LOVE AND ADORE IT, too! We also do the oatmeal in the morning thing – love waking up and smelling cinnamon and vanilla from the rice cooker, knowing I have oatmeal ready for me and my family for breakfast. I’ve done delicious soups in it, too – throw in some chicken legs, cubed up daikon radish, goji berries, salt and water and it is such a delicious Chinese-inspired chicken soup (just shred the chicken once it’s done cooking, and add freshly chopped green onions when you’re about to serve).

  12. I love to see what you plan to cook for such a large family! My favorite kitchen tool is my crockpot. Curious what sort of cold cereal your family eats? My husband loves cold cereal and it’s something he can make fast for himself when I don’t have time to make breakfast, so I have been looking for the best options when it comes to cold cereal. So far we’ve settled on the Kashi Cinnamon Harvest cereal. It’s somewhat pricey, so I try to stock up when it’s on sale.

    1. Oh deary me. I guess I’ll tell you, since this IS supposed to be “What we REALLY eat”, but you’ll never want to read another post from me again. Here’s our list: Cheerios (and my husband likes to buy the Honey Nut kind…please don’t hate me), Raisin Bran, FROSTED shredded wheat (crawling under a rock here…), Rice Chex, and I do make homemade granola too (that’s good, isn’t it?) My only bone to pick there is that I make tons of it…and it goes so fast. Jeepers, you go to all the trouble to make something, and then everyone has to go and eat it all…

      1. I’m glad you’re real! I make granola, too. It’s better than Lucky Charms! 🙂

  13. Okay, since we’re being real here, I’ll admit that we still eat cold cereal too! Breakfast is rough since hubby has to leave for work by 6:30. I do try to go with a “better” cereal option since I try to avoid genetically modified grains when I can but the better (organic) cereals are so expensive! So here’s a tip to save you lots of money……..if you have a Big Lots store near you, go there! They almost always have decent cereal for really, really cheap, like $1.80-$2.50 a box. You still usually have at least 5-6 months before it expires and there’s nothing wrong with it as far as I can see, so why pay full price? I’ve seen Nature’s Path, Cascadian Farm, Kashi – all organic – and some others. It’s saved me a lot of money by going there. Hope this helps someone!

  14. What is the exact name/model/size of your rice cooker? Cooking for 3 boys (big eaters) – brown rice, barley, oatmeal (I’m so tired of stirring for an hour!), and lots of other things I use in our crockpot but would love to move into the rice cooker! Blessings, Jane

  15. Oh how I appreciate honesty! I cannot imagine being able to shop for a large family without a list. If I go to the store without a list for my little family of 6 I wander around like a lost puppy! I am looking forward to this series of posts!

  16. Hey there, I just wanted to say how much I like your porridge recipe that you soak overnight with yoghurt. I have never done this before until I linked up with your challenge which incidently has helped me put $50 away so far for our holiday. The porridge is so much more soothing on the stomach and also nice with honey rather than brown sugar. Anyhow Im a fan!

  17. Hi
    Really enjoyed your post and your blog. Very encouraging and unapologetic but you love life and your family! Keep up the good work!

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