I’m NOT Cooking Tonight!

Some nights you just can't cook. That's ok. But it doesn't mean having to resort to pricey takeout. Here's how a flexible Meal Plan works for your schedule.
That’s it, I’m throwing in the towel.
It’s too hot to turn on the stove.
I’m tired of deciding what to make.
I don’t feel well.
There’s nothing to eat.
I just don’t have time.

Sound familiar? Yeah, me too.

Whether you are racing the clock every evening juggling work and family; exhausted trying to keep up with kid’s activities; or don’t feel like cooking a big meal just for yourself; the prospect cooking diner from scratch every night can be downright unappealing.

For those of us with certain chronic illnesses — such as Lupus, Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Chronic Fatigue — we have “good days” and “bad days.” We have to do extra on our “good days” to compensate for the days when pain and fatigue slow us down, or even stop us altogether.

My solution? The Flexible Meal Plan

A double batch of pizzas yields diner for tonight plus personal size pizzas to freeze for another night.

A double batch of pizzas yields diner for tonight plus personal size pizzas to freeze for another night.

By planning the meals on a monthly basis, I am able to prepare for both kinds of days. On good days I make a double batch, or extra portions, and freeze them. On a bad day, the extra is ready to thaw and eat. Sometimes it is an entire meal, other times just having some shredded cheese and chopped veggies ready helps when my joints hurt. By tossing a little extra in the freezer, I am ready for anything. If I could get better about labeling what they are, it would be even more helpful.

It makes me feel so much better when I can still give my family a healthy meal despite my illness. It also means I can continue to save a lot of money on food by making everything from scratch, buying in bulk, chopping, shredding and seasoning everything myself. (Of course, my guys are also great about helping with these tasks when I ask them.)

The Meal Plan as Guide

I love my Meal Plan, but I see it as a guide for the month, rather than a rigid schedule. I have seen people posting about how they don’t want to plan ahead because they might not feel like eating that meal when it gets to that night. That is me too. Or they have plans on a night where there is a more involved meal preparation, so they just pick up fast food.

The way I set up my Meal Plan, there are lots of repeats of meals or ingredients that help you work around most circumstances. Simply thaw an entire meal, or use ingredients that were for a different night and switch the days.

Pizza for dinner tonight and frozen pizza for another night.

Pizza for dinner tonight and frozen pizza for another night.

So, last night we had homemade pizza, without me having to cook. My hands were riddled with joint pain and I knew I wasn’t up for making the Mock Chicken Parmesan Pasta I had on the schedule. Since I had made a double batch of pizzas the last time we had pizza night, my husband was able to take a couple out of the freezer, and bake them for us.

I used to keep some store-bought frozen pizza on hand for him, but the long list of disgusting ingredients bothers me. I can’t have them due to food allergies, so I would still need something to eat, and the past few times my husband tried the store-bought pizzas he didn’t enjoy them at all. (I’m pretty sure he fed half to the dog.)

Another example is a day when I get caught up in writing, and suddenly notice 2 pairs of eyes staring at me, wondering if I am going to get around to making dinner. At that point, I realize I never got the venison chili in the crock pot and no one is going to want to wait hours to eat. Since the meat is already thawed, I could switch and use it in tacos. I can make tortillas while cooking a pot of brown rice, and have a hearty meal ready in 45 minutes. (Then freeze half the rice and chopped onions for very quick Fried Rice another night). By having the basics for a bunch of meals ready to go, and ingredients that can be used in a variety of recipes, I am able to be flexible.

Frozen Pizzas:

To make my own frozen pizzas, I prepared them according to my favorite pizza recipe — making the sauce and dough, cooking the dough once, and then sprinkling with shredded cheese and any toppings. Then, I let them cool completely before covering in foil and sealing them in a freezer bag. To reheat, simply bake at 350 degrees for around 20 minutes.

Please note: there are affiliate links contained in this post. If you should choose to purchase any products by clicking on a link, I may receive a small percentage of the purchase price.

Comments

  1. says

    I too find that even the smallest of preparation ahead of time pays huge rewards when I am pinched for time, or just having a tough time getting motivated to pull an entire meal together. Thanks for sharing your tips!

    • Rebecca says

      Thanks for taking the time to comment! Yeah, I love it when I have half the recipe already prepped from another day. I like to pretend there are little magical kitchen helpers at hand ;)

  2. balmtomysoul says

    Great ideas. I have many a night like that and pulling out those pots and pans takes a lot of effort. This is great to plan in advance!! Hope you feel better soon!

    • Rebecca says

      Thanks for the comments and kind words. A lot of time the idea of getting stuff out and cooking is far worse than actually doing it, but still it is nice to be ready for those times I just can’t get myself moving!

  3. says

    I’ve never thought of monthly meal planning. We do ours weekly and we have a pretty big list of meals to choose from. We just got a deep freeze, so I will be spending some time making frozen meals for nights when we don’t feel like cooking. These pizzas sound better than store bought ones.

    • Rebecca says

      The pizza is totally different — I can tell because the guys can only eat about half as much of the homemade than store bought. It isn’t full of fillers. Having a big freezer really opens up a lot of great cost saving options too, such as buying bulk meat.

    • Rebecca says

      Thanks Audrey! The combination of having a plan, but also being able to work around the reality of what life throws at me (or my mood, or my forgetfulness at thawing ahead of time), really works well for me :)

  4. says

    I just had to say that is one of my favorite lead pictures everywhere. I love the shot of the oven with “I’m NOT cooking tonight” Sums up how so many of us feel some weeknights. I plan on using the method of freezing duplicate dinners more but have never thought of freezing home made pizzas. Can’t wait to try! The frozen boxed kind can be so gross.

    • Rebecca says

      Thanks Ashley! I am very happy with how well they turn out. Now I don’t have to buy some ‘just in case’ nasty ones from to store to keep on hand :) It is definitely a relief on bad or busy days.

  5. says

    Thanks so much for joining the Say G’Day Saturday linky party. I just pinned your post. I didn’t cook tonight either!

    Have a great weekend!

    Best wishes,
    Natasha in Oz

    • Rebecca says

      Hi Natasha! I love being part of your linky party!! It is fun to get to take a day off and not have to cook, yet still have a great homemade meal for your family :)

    • Rebecca says

      I am sad when I look in the freezer and there isn’t something to just thaw when I am not in cooking mode. Being prepared for those nights really helps.

  6. says

    Thanks for sharing your tips over at Someday Crafts. I love having a flexible meal plan, but usually do it on a 2 week basis. I also need to be better about cooking ahead. This was the most viewed link at last week’s Whatever Goes Wednesday party, so we’ll be highlighting your post tomorrow. We hope you’ll come party with us again this week!

    • Rebecca says

      Oh that’s awesome!! Hopefully your readers will like my newest post “Have Fun Eating at Home” just as much. Thank you Miranda :)

  7. says

    These are great ideas. I’ve often thought about doing some freezer cooking meals. I guess my concern is that I don’t know what foods you can freeze and what foods you can’t. I froze a couple meals in the past and they wern’t in the freezer long, but didn’t taste good at ALL once I took them out. So, I just wasted food and money. How do you know what’s okay and what’s not?

    • Rebecca says

      Did you freeze meals you had already cooked, or were they more like kits that you thaw and put together and cook?

      Ours are extra portions from the meal, extra chopped inhredients, shredded cheese, produce and anything else that could spoil. I not never poisoned anyone. Some things, like cheese or rice may change texture, so then you may find they suit certain didhes better than others. I have wasted almost no food since starting this method.

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