When it comes to successfully pulling off delicious, healthy-ish meals during the busy week, it all begins with THE PLAN. It seems like a lot of work, but I promise it makes life so much easier during the week if you’re already planned, stocked, and ready to roll. I did the same thing when I worked because I knew I wouldn’t have the mental or physical strength to whip something up on-the-fly during the week.

I make a plan using our calendar first. I see what nights we’ll be home, what nights I’ll probably be too exhausted to cook, and what nights we want to possibly go out to eat. Then, from that, I decide how many dinners we’ll need.

menu planning

Before I keep going with the “how-to” of our menu planning, lemme tell ya about our kitchen situation.

There are a few things we always have in our pantry + fridge:

a ridiculous amount of spices (just keep the ones you use all the time – I cook A LOT, so I’ve got more than any human should frankly)

yellow onion (I use this for almost every recipe minus Mexican cooking)


canned, diced tomatoes + Rotel + green chiles

good spaghetti sauce

rice + pasta + egg noodles

EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil) + unsalted butter

soy sauce + Worcestershire + BBQ + Sambal Oelek + Dijon (basically – all the good condiments)

cream of mushroom/chicken + chicken/beef/vegetable broth

For us, it’s important that we have meals that are quick, able to be prepped in advance, and healthy-ish. I say healthy-ish because life is all about balance: a little veggie here + a little carb here ain’t never hurt nobody. I save the really elaborate meals for the weekend or a special occasion. I also use A LOT of freezer friendly meals. Like, A LOT. Our freezer is stocked for the apocalypse if I’m being honest.

Here are some things you can find in our freezer right now: 

homemade chicken stock (I label the tops – just forgot to before I took this pic)

homemade chicken stock

cooked, shredded chicken

cooked shredded chicken

Pioneer Woman’s meatballs

pioneer woman freezer meatballs

premade Mexican Tostada Casserole (recipe coming soon!)

mexican tostada casserole

easily-thawed + already cooked breakfasts

(Hash Brown Quiche)

hash brown quiche

frozen meat + seafood (chicken, ground beef, shrimp, pork chops, sausage, etc.)

frozen green peas + individual vegetable servings (the Green Giants Just-for-One Steamers are our fave)

I also have a lot of meals that are leftovers that I’ve frozen. These come in handy, too, because they’re something I can pull from the freezer, thaw for a couple of days, and then serve hot with some sides.

[ — Click here for some freezer friendly meals — ]

I save Crock Pot meals for Wednesdays because Hump Day seems so much happier when dinner’s done by 9 a.m. I usually do all the laundry and crazy errands during the day, too. I know I’ll be pooped in the evening (more than usual), but at least I don’t have to cook on top of it all.

[ — Click here for some of our favorite Crock Pot meals — ]

So, here’s the breakdown of how I menu plan: 

1 – Check the calendar for days we’ll be home for dinner and days that we’re very busy (and unlikely to cook).

menu planning

2 – Look at the recipes I’m wanting to cook that week. I always save recipes I really want to eat for the end of the week. That way, I know I’ll still have the desire to cook. If I try to save the healthiest, most difficult recipe for a Thursday, 9 times out of 10, I don’t make it.

menu planning

3 – Go through the recipes and write down ingredients I’ll need to purchase.

menu planning

4 – Re-order the grocery list so that it’s in the order of how I walk through the store. I usually start in the produce aisle, make my way to the deli + meat + cheese, and go from there. Re-ordering the list just makes my life so much easier, especially when Corey’s with me.

5 – I go to the store on Tuesday mornings when it’s super empty. That way I can browse and not feel like I’m bumping into 28 people down every aisle. I know that’s not possible for everyone because of work – I totally get that. I would also recommend ordering recipes based on the day you go to the store. What I mean by that is, for example, if you want to cook seafood, you should plan to cook it on the day you go to the store or the day after. Just think about the ingredients and how long they’ll last in the fridge.

6 – I prep what I can either days in advance or during nap time. For example, if I know I’ll need to chop a bunch of stuff, I’ll chop it during Corey’s nap. Or, if I have something that’s a little time consuming like making a sauce or meatballs, I’ll do that a day in advance.

7 – I also write down and set reminders to pull things that need to thaw from the freezer. I always forget to do this unless I make sure to intentionally remind myself!

And that’s it! Of course, there are days when my plan goes to the pooper, and we’re left with frozen pizza or Chinese delivery. Life happens, but we try to always stay a step ahead with this plan.

Just as an example, here’s our menu plan for this week:

Sunday: Michael Symon’s Skirt Steal Pinwheels with Garlic + Rosemary, Corrales Casserole, and Asparagus Caprese Salad (recipe also coming soon) — see: fancy for the weekend AND FOOTBALL!

Monday: Leftover previously frozen pot roast + roasted green beans

Tuesday: The big man starts preschool, so Mama ain’t cookin’! We’ll probably get something to-go or just have leftovers again.

Wednesday: CROCK POT WEDNESDAY!!! Slow-Cooker Beef Tacos with Salsa Verde (recipe coming soon) + Mexican Vegetable Medley

Thursday: Cumin-Dusted Chicken Breasts with Guacamole Sauce + Cheesy Cauliflower Rice + some kind of veggie

Friday: “It’s the freakin’ weekend baby, and I’m ’bout ta have me some fun”

How do y’all menu plan? What’s important for your family when it comes to weeknight dinners (nutrition, time, ease of recipe, etc.)?

Happy Football Sunday, my friends! GO TEXANS!

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I definitely have a problem. I’m addicted to food, recipes, cookbooks, watching food shows, talking about food, menu planning, oh… and eating. There are a few cookbooks (okay, more than a few) that I’ve sat down and literally read cover-to-cover. I love reading how people describe the techniques they use, the stories behind the recipes, and also the pictures. Ohhhhh the pictures. Although somehow I feel like I still gain weight just looking at them.
Favorite Cookbooks
I thought I’d go ahead and share a “few” of my absolutely favorite cookbooks. They all have their merits – freezer food, quick meals, somewhat healthy meals, and other more “fancy” types, too. You’ll notice that my main man, Mario Batali, is listed twice. Both of his cookbooks are fantastic, but completely opposites. One is very “fancy” [really it’s just got fancy ingredients, but the techniques are extremely well-written] and the other is down-home. That’s why I love you, Mario. You cover both sides of the food coin in a deliciously tempting way.

Mario Batali’s Big American Cookbook

Fantastic for its honest, no-fuss recipes from around our great country. I love the stories he adds as well as the little tips he gives if he were to cook them at home. The perfect thing about this book is the simplicity given to the recipes. You’ll get exactly the recipe from the region of the country it’s from whether it’s the Deep South or New England.

My favorites: Memphis Dry-Rub Pork Ribs, Sazerac, Broiled Rock Shrimp Cocktail, Creole Stuffed Bell Peppers, Swedish Meatballs, Corn Fritters, Tortilla Soup, Prickly-Pear Margarita, and Chiles Rellenos Pie

Favorite Cookbooks

Mario Batali’s Molto Italiano

In my opinion, Mario’s quintessential cookbook. It’s a James Beard award winning publication, and just a few pages in, you understand why. Each recipe is a complete bit of culinary perfection. From the simple vegetables to the most intricate pastas, Mario offers you a beautiful window into authentic Italian cooking. Don’t be intimidated by the ingredients or techniques; my man breaks them down for you so you can understand step-by-step exactly what the tricks are to achieve a delicious meal.

My favorites: Broccoli Sautéed in Wine and Garlic, Fettuccine with Lemon, Hot Peppers, and Pecorino Romano, Saffron Risotto, The Devil’s Chicken, and Pork Chops with Peppers and Capers

 Favorite Cookbooks

Pioneer Woman’s Dinnertime

My girl – P-Dub. Her blog is probably some of the best reading I’ve ever done. Her pictures, stories, recipes, and humor can have me lost for hours. She feels like my best friend and we haven’t even met (yet… I’m still holding out hope). Her recipes are perfect for the cook who’s skeptical of the kitchen and also for the most seasoned home chef. She provides you (just like in her blog) step-by-step pictures and instructions to ensure your culinary success.

My favorites: Chicken with Mustard Cream Sauce, Buttered Parsley Noodles, Freezer Meatballs, Green and Red Stuffed Shells, and Mexican Tortilla Casserole

Favorite Cookbooks

Chrissy Teigen’s Cravings

I know you may be thinking, “Okay… a cookbook written by a supermodel.” And yes… I felt the same way at first. I love me some Chrissy, and her cookbook only made me love her more. I’ve cooked almost half the cookbook already, and I can’t wait to cook the rest! She is hilarious in the little anecdotes and ways she describes her recipes. You’ll be cooking and laughing at the same time, plus the pictures are unbelievably tempting!

My favorites: Chrissy’s Cheesy Cheeseless Eggs, Roasted Bacon, Cauliflower Mash with Roasted Garlic and Ricotta, Mexican Street Corn, Chrissy’s Mac and Cheese, and Chinese Chicken Salad with Crispy Wontons

Favorite Cookbooks

Jeanine Donofrio’s Love & Lemons Cookbook

This cookbook is pure genius – cook based on the ingredients you have on hand. Donofrio has a beautiful blog where she beautifully captures recipes that are based on produce that’s in season. Her recipes are healthy and full of flavor. It’s the perfect cookbook for the home chef hoping to find ways to get some healthy, easy, delicious recipes on the table on a weeknight.

Favorites: Poblano Quesadillas, Corn and Tomato Salad, Carrot and Tomato Tagliatelle, Brussels Sprout Breakfast Tostadas, Avocado Breakfast Tacos, Shiitake and Spinach Miso Soup, and Heirloom Tomato Panzanella with Fresh Oregano

favorite cookbooks

Barefoot Contessa’s Back to Basics

An oldie but a goodie. I have to be honest that Barefoot Contessa’s show isn’t always my favorite [I like noise and laughing and crazy things going on – I wasn’t built for the Hamptons]. But… I do love her recipes and this cookbook is stuffed with fantastic, simple dishes that aim to please. They’re perfect for entertaining and are fail-proof. Her description of the techniques in the recipes are perfect for a seasoned chef or the beginning home cook.

Favorites: Roasted Potato Leek Soup, Coq au Vin, Tuscan Lemon Chicken, Mustard-Roasted Fish, Creamy Cheddar Grits, and Oven-Roasted Vegetables

favorite cookbooks

The Blue Bloods Cookbook

I loooooove the show Blue Bloods for so many reasons, but I have to admit my favorite part of every show is when they sit down for Sunday dinner with the whole family. It’s something I crave and really hope to start within our family. It’s a fantastic way to end your Sunday and begin your week: with loved ones around a delicious meal. This cookbook has those perfect, simple family meals that you can use to impress your family without stressing and sweating it out. They even dole out some ideas for meal plans based on holidays.

My favorites: Simple Three-Lettuce Dinner Salad, Standing Rib Roast with Cipollini Onion Sauce, Irish Stew, Minty Peas, and Stuffed Tomatoes

favorite cookbooks

Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Easy

I gotta admit — I haven’t been able to read this little puppy yet. BUT I’ve seen a few recipes from it, and I just cannot WAIT to get into it. As you can see from the cover, it’s all about easy, weeknight recipes for the home chef. I’m pumped to jump on it.

favorite cookbooks

Happy cooking, my friends!

Simple syrup is used in tons and tons of cocktails. It might be daunting to think about making it, but trust me…
Easiest thing ever. Don’t be afraid. You got this.

 Seriously Simple Syrup
1 cup white, granulated sugar
1 cup water
Bring both to a boil over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Immediately stir to dissolve, then remove from heat. Allow to cool and store in a closed container in the fridge for up to 1 week.

I don’t know about you, but Pinterest hasn’t always been kind to me. Case in point was a Cranberry & White Chocolate Christmas Pound Cake. The picture looked amazing! The ingredients and directions were simple enough! I thought I’d be the baking queen after I got this little number down. Nope.
Epic. Fail.
It didn’t even rise in the oven. It ended up being more like a loaf pan full of white chocolate-flavored flour with some random cranberries tossed in for good measure. Disgusting. I’m really not the best baker to begin with, and this really did a number on my ego.
Enough about my need for baker’s therapy…
This however, was a redeeming moment for Pinterest. I saw this trick on my pinboard and gave it a go a few years ago. Now, this is the only way I get rid of bacon fat (unless I’m using it to cook up something delish that is).
First, you line a coffee cup (or any heat-proof dish you’ve got lying around) with foil so that it hangs over the edges.
bacon fat trick
Then, fry your piggie.
bacon fat trick
Pour the drippings into the foil-lined mug.
Set it aside for a few hours until it cools; then, you can just wad that ball of foil up and toss ‘er in the trash! Voila! Bacon fat magic.

It might seem a little OCD, but I just wasn’t happy with how sharp our knives were. My husband tried everything. We used the sharpener that came with our knife set, and the hubs even tried his own “home” method (insert scared face emoji here).
Then, I heard of a company that does the sharpening for you! I debated it for a while because really, how first-world-problem is that? I couldn’t settle myself down enough to really spend the money to get my knives professionally sharpened.
Oh, how I regret the wait!
We went ahead and bit the bullet. The company offers three different ways to get your knives sharpened: they come to you, you go to them, or you mail them in. We went with the latter (insert lazy face emoji here). It ended up costing about $30 total per knife. Their cost was cheap – only about $9 for the actual sharpening per knife. It was the shipping that added to the cost.
I would do it all over again! The owner even emailed me to tell me to NEVER use one of the pull through sharpeners again. He said they’re basically rubbish. As long as you hone  your knife after each use, you only need to sharpen it once every two years or so depending on how much you cook.
Here’s a link to the company’s website:
(Insert relieved face emoji here). Our knives have never been sharper, and this cooking mama has never been happier!