How to Meal Plan in 5 steps

I was just hearing from some very intelligent folks that figuring out what to make for dinner is just so hard. I view meal planning like a puzzle. You need to have the pieces and see where they can go. If they aren’t in the right spot, you move it around until it clicks. It can seem daunting but you need to start somewhere.

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1) Know Your Audience:
Think about who likes what, who wants leftovers available, and who will be making what throughout the week. Also who would be likely to eat what. When feeding the little one, I go for something familiar with something new, or variety. Variety is key.

2) Look at Your Schedule/Weather and Write Out Your Plan for the Week:
I literally even schedule in leftovers or “anything goes” or breakfast. Not every day needs to be the. perfect. meal. or something totally new. Write it on a scrap of paper from the recycling, or onto a calendar, or on an app, or whatever works for you. I use a marker board calendar in the kitchen. I move the meals around depending what happens but seeing them in writing helps us.

3) Start with a Few Categories:
To keep some variety, I’ll usually use a few categories to get me going. Salad, Burritos, Pasta, Panini, Omelette, Burger, etc. Picking a few helps me figure out a bit of a starting point. You could do the same with ethnicities: Italian/Greek/Mexican/etc. It’d also be fun to give characteristics like baked/crunchy/raw/grilled/cheesy/etc.

4) Don’t feel like every part has to be the star:
If the main dish needs your attention, give yourself a break on the side dish(s). Couscous cooks in 5 minutes. Raw peppers or cukes to dip into salad dressing or hummus = an instant summer side.

5) Track your favs and keep a list somewhere.
Pintest can be helpful with boards by category or a board of pins to try versus tried & true. I keep a list on my phone of ideas from menus or magazines or cooking shows or whatever. If you pull recipes out of magazines then a binder might be helpful.

Do you plan your meals? What works for you? 

May 2016 Recap

I did NOT cook that much in May. Normally I have a few interesting items here and there but I thoroughly enjoyed slooooowly getting back to real life after my work event. I had some fun restaurant excursions to Stoked for wood-fired pizza and to Tres Gatos for tapas! I’m all about the fast-ish dinners now that it is nice out and it is more fun to take walks through the neighborhood, or play in driveway with T & his yard-sale bubble mower, or whatever. Mr. J has a new train schedule and gets home earlier -woohoo! I love whenever we can all eat at the same time!

Let’s pause for the sous-chefs who have not had a blog appearance until just lately:
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I was really proud of the ramen burgers! I kind of can’t believe the ramen buns stayed together! It was such a fun one to try! I loved the teryiaki & green onions on a burger.
The Three Bite Rule - Ramen Burger
I loved a quickie flatbread pizza with turkey kielbasa, sweet potato, red onion, and a mustard sauce. It was so perfectly fast and some variety to my typical dinner flavors. The babe loooves sweet potato so having some leftover was great.
The Three Bite Rule - Kielbasa & Sweet Potato Pizza
Puff pastry has such an important place in my heart. I always love it. This eggplant parm pockets were so fun and cooking the eggplant the night before made them even easier. This meat-less meal was spot on and perfectly portioned!
The Three Bite Rule - Eggplant Parmesan in Puff Pastry

The Little One: 
He’s so funny right now. I mean, we always think he’s funny. That’s rule 1 of being a parent. He seems like such a little kid rather than a baby now! We just got him crocs and they’re just the cutest. He loves playing outside and his current favorite toys are books (especially this strawberry one & this truck one), mega blocks, and cardboard boxes. He’s not so into the talking & words but I can’t get over how much he knows. He will go retrieve a specific toy or book when we ask for it, he correctly identifies which dog is which, he knows some body parts, and will mimic some words when we say them like go, milk, choo-choo, beep, etc. T is still a rockstar-sleeper and still eating well. Fingers crossed he keeps both up!

This guy rockin’ the bed-head, pre-haircut last week:
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2016 Goals:

The Year of the: Seasonal Decor I’m counting it, I got this watercolor flower print on wood and love it.
do something a different way: I’ve been focused on putting things where they belong, in the moment. Otherwise I find myself straightening up later which seems like more work.
drink more water: yup, going strong especially with no coffee until 10oz of water…at least on weekdays
make more interesting side dishes: nope
cook more soups & sauces: nah
watch more movies: we just laughed our way through Sisters
make working out a higher priority: Mr. J’s train is earlier so I’m been pretty good about getting up and moving before waking the little one. Plus, work is starting a walking challenge going so I’m psyched to see that.

April 2016 Recap

April whizzed past me. I didn’t cook a ton nor did I get to blog much. I kind of spent the month either super busy at work, trying to keep up with everything, plus a sweet little vacay to Florida.

I was sooo into the cherry “cheesecake” yogurt breakfast I made. It was really good and prepping in advance, made for a more lovely breakfast on a weekday!
The Three Bite Rule - Cheery "Cheesecake" Greek Yogurt Parfait
These Baked Monte Cristo pockets felt like the best-fast-dinner-ever. I was so happy with them. They added some fun-ness, variety, and an insta-dinner that I know I needed to get back into the groove. Weeknight dinners with minimal prep are the best!
The Three Bite Rule - Baked Monte Cristo

Next month I’ll totally get back to normal and back into the kitchen once I come up for air at work!
2016 Goals:
The Year of the: Seasonal Decor ehh. nothing in April.
do something a different way: hmm. I’m not sure I did this.
drink more water: yup, I’m on it.
make more interesting side dishes: nope, nothing right now
cook more soups & sauces: I made lasagna soup!
watch more movies: you know, I don’t think we watched any!
make working out a higher priority: yup! I did an kick-boxing on demand & fit in a few morning walks before the alarm!

March 2016 Recap

March was awesome. My birthday was great. Work has been so busy but I also know April is only going to get crazier. The little one is busy, active, and loving the toddler class at daycare. I am not loving that they make glitter crafts almost weekly. What. The. Heck. Who gives toddlers glitter? I thought I had years before that would happen.

I’m glad it feels like spring is coming though we’ve had a random mix of temperatures. I’ve been mixing the “have to eat the last wintery foods” with “bring on lighter and fresher flavors!” I have probably never been so ready for an April getaway we have planned to take the little one to Florida. I’m sad Downton Abby is over but we’ve really gotten into The People V. OJ Simpson show. The last week we’ve been super sick so I think now all of us are on the mend. So-over the runny noses x3.

One of my favorite things I made this whole month was a Nutella Cafe Au Lait that I didn’t really plan on, but was SO fun. I totally have to froth milk at home more often. Try it, 30 seconds of shaking in a jar and 30 seconds in the microwave.
Nutella Cafe Au Lait - The Three Bite Rule
Another fav was, hands down, this caesar asparagus. So good. I’d eat just this and be so happy.
The Three Bite Rule - Caesar Asparagus

2016 Goals:
The Year of the: Seasonal Decor My sis stocked me up with some Easter decor for my bday! I don’t even know what April should be.
do something a different way: I’m making sure not to apologize for things I’m asking for. At work I found I often started emails apologizing for things I am following up on because the other person never responded. Have you seen the commercials?
drink more water: I’m doing OK drinking more, I could always improve.
make more interesting side dishes: yes! This Caesar Asparagus was the best side. I tried a fried mashed potato cake that failed miserably.
cook more soups & sauces: I made chimichurri on shrimp for a salad.
watch more movies: we watched The Martian, Zero Dark Thirty, The Big Short, and Steve Jobs.
make working out a higher priority: ehh, not really but now that it is light out later, I’ve fit in a few more walks.

Current Favorite Foodie Things

Today is my birthday!!! Yay! In my own honor, here are 5 of my current food favs.

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1) I’m all about the pressure cooker at the moment. Hands down, my fav kitchen appliance. (sorry coffee maker, you’ll always have a place in my heart). Goodbye slow cooker!

2) Birthday freebies & bday wishes! So far, I’ve received bday wishes with gifts of free burritos, free sundae, $5 off, or clothes discounts! Always include your bday on store info (or if your bday falls around major gift giving time maybe choose a random one when you’d need to treat yourself)!

3) Mr. J making really awesome dinners. He’s been perfecting the frittata the last two weeks. Both have been awesome, in my opinion. The babe loves them too.

4) Bottled sangria. I got this sangria as a hostess gift and we LOVED it. I found a tasty white one at Whole Foods and just purchased one from Trader Joe’s…that one is up next!

5) This salsa. Winner winner, taco dinner! It is much closer to pico de gallo than anything else I’ve found. I was on a quest trying lots of different salsas and this one wins.

See ya after the famous chocolate ring of coconut fudge cake with the fam this weekend!

February 2016 Recap

February coming to an end means my birthday is just around the corner!! I’m so excited for my birthday this year. Last year my bday was kinda crappy. I was by myself during the day and Baby T screamed all. day. long. I ate a frozen burrito by myself while Mr. J took the babe off my hands at night. That wasn’t our easiest time and everything got better a few weeks later. I did have a fun & festive fam bday last year that was graciously brought to my house. Anywho, I’m living the dream now so bring it on!

Mr. J and I went to fancy-pants brunch for Valentine’s Day at Aquitaine which was so lovely and I also surprised him with a date night to Pastoral this month.

I was quite into the pressure cooker this month! #obsessed I made lentils with carrots and spinach that was a really ideal base to get topped with a quickly seared chicken sausage. That is a perfect weeknight dinner! Then I made a show-stopping Pork Tenderloin with Balsamic & Cherries.
The Three Bite Rule - Pork Tenderloin with Balsamic & Cherries
With a few little snow-storms and then random warm (aka 50-degree days in February) there was quite the mix. One warm day we made some burgers that I still wanted to seem like winter burgers. I topped them with dried cranberries and topped with brie and lemon aioli. Ooo la la!
The Three Bite Rule - Burger with Brie & Cranberries
I fell off the savory-breakfast bandwagon but made little puff pastry egg cups that were addicting!
The Three Bite Rule - Puff Pastry Cups with Eggs and Spinach

2016 Goals:
The Year of the: Seasonal Decor I was treated by an awesome Etsy shop Urban Fringe Living to a Valentine’s Day sign! I am so in LOVE.
do something a different way: I’ve tried alternative routes from work to see what is fastest to get to daycare. I didn’t find a better one, but you never know until you try! Another “different” was picking up Mr. J at work to surprise him for a date-night! We had amazing pizzas at Pastoral and I loved every second.
drink more water: I’m doing well. I never seem to get above 50 oz, but that’s OK with me.
make more interesting side dishes: Ohh yeah. Caesar brussels sprouts for the win! These lentils with veggies were good too!
cook more soups & sauces: ehh. I missed this one this month.
watch more movies: This month Mr. J and I watched Tammy, Good Will Hunting, and Trainwreck
make working out a higher priority: I’m back into some classes at the gym. I went to a zumba class with a different instructor who was AH-mazing. I also joined some Fitbit challenges which got me moving more.

January 2016 Recap

It is official. I have a 1-year old. I think it went by sooo fast. Mr. J feels like since the little one has changed so much that it seems about right. T is so funny right now. He LOVED the cake…mashing it, eating it, and having frosting hands. The Little Man Party was fun and he’s one lucky guy. WE are a lucky family.

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January is off to a good start. I’ve used the pasta attachment 2x and the pressure cooker at least 2x…maybe 3? I love that thing. Dinner has to be super fast, or prepped in advance. That’s the only way it can happen after getting home from work, the little one wanting to eat ASAP, tub time, and bedtime. For now, the babe eats with me and then sits with us while we eat for a few minutes….that point of his patience is low. He’s onto drinking whole milk and pretty soon we’ll be off bottles. Woohoo!

This super quick Greek Flatbread with hummus, chicken sausage, feta, and arugula was one of my favorite things this month. It would work well as a wrap too, depending on your preference!
The Three Bite Rule - Greek Hummus Flatbreads
I’ve been on this bfast quest for weekday savory breakfasts. I had hoped to sneak one more in this week, but alas, I had a cold this weekend and didn’t cook a ton. These breakfast bowls have cracked wheat, bacon, egg, and everything-bagel seasoning. So fun! You could use rice, beans, lentils, barley, oatmeal? or whatever strikes your fancy.
The Three Bite Rule - Breakfast Bowls
My other fav this month was a Mexican-inspired BLT with a smear of refried beans and taco-spiced aioli. Sooo good. I served these guys with Mexican Street Corn that I made in the morning before work. Then I used the leftover beans to make bean & cheese quesadillas for the little one. He loved them!
The Three Bite Rule - Mexican BLTs

I’ll keep the savory breakfast going…I have a few more ideas I didn’t get to yet! 

2016 Goals:
The Year of the: Seasonal Decor I got the birthday string, thank you Target Dollar Section! and this awesome tree…so perfect for some “winter” decor versus Christmas.
do something a different way: ehh. I’m not sure where I was going with this, but switching the little one to a big-guy carseat and to milk means we definitely aren’t stuck in old ways of doing things!
drink more water: I’m tracking it, which at least makes me aware, and I’m making sure to get 10 oz in before coffee. #winning
make more interesting side dishes: yes! This risotto was so great!
cook more soups & sauces: I made broccoli & cheddar soup while it was snowing…that seemed appropriate.
watch more movies: we went to the movies 200% more than the last few months! I saw Mocking Jay and Spotlight in the theatres. We watched Foxcatcher, Inside Out, and 22 Jump Street, at home too.
make working out a higher priority: ehh. Not succeeding here but I got all into some fitbit daily challenges which got me moving a bit more.

Ringing in the New Year

Or moreso lounging in the new year. I’m not so into New Years, and never really have been. I was happy to earn $100-bucks babysitting back in the day for NYE. #highschoolfortune This year I’ll be enjoying sliders & shakes at home in my yoga pants. That worked out so well last year we decided it must become tradition! Though, last year I was about to pop myself and this year it can be a boozy shake! I cannot fathom why people stand out in Times Square alllll day to keep their spot. Or those who will be spending $400 for Olive Garden (no bottomless breadsticks). Both options are beyond me.

What do you do? Party? Get fancy? Go away?

An Apps & Zerts party is fun, a la Tom Haverford
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A PJs & Pearls Party a la Carrie Bradshaw?
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2015 was so wonderful and though I’m excited for what’s to come, it’ll hold a special place in my heart and I’ll be sad to see it end. The little is asleep by 8 so it’ll just be another day to him, maybe it should be to us all. I love to set goals for the year. I think there’s always room for improvement and I definitely need the reminder of the goals so it isn’t suddenly July before I remembered things I wanted to do.

2015′s goals:
The Year of the Earring: always a favorite yearly item.
make more salad dressings: this was my best goal of the year.
factor more time into how long every-day tasks/trips will take: this is an on-going quality for me to improve on
recreate restaurant menu items: ehh. I didn’t do this every month, but it’s a fun one when you’re needing a whats-to-make moment
be more adventurous with my reading selections: I read more than I thought I would. I learned I need a book or too much time passes before I seek one out.
use the crockpot more: This didn’t make me love the crockpot more, but I made a few things.
seafood once a month: I should be eating more fish.

So, what’s up for 2016? The little one turns 1 in a few weeks! Hello, theme party! He’s walking all around the house, from room to room. He feeds himself and eats pretty much everything. I love to see his little personality more and more. He’s a curious, determined, and giggly guy.

2016 Goals: 
The Year of the: Seasonal Decor
do something a different way
drink more water
make more interesting side dishes
cook more soups & sauces
watch more movies
make working out a higher priority

Catch ya in 2016! I got a pressure cooker and the pasta attachment for my stand mixer…watch out world!

November 2015 Round Up

November is which a whirlwind for work. Our Thanksgiving fundraiser makes my October & November a bit nutty. By the end of the month I was really exhausted physically, I got a bit sick, I was tired of going to bed thinking about work and waking up thinking about work. I made a few quick dinners but I was glad to not add too much to my plate and just try to focus/enjoy the ride.

This month, sis’ bday was a fiesta! I made Mexican Street Corn and Mr. J made margaritas. Other than that, Mom made everything else. I looooved the corn. It was creamy, salty from the cheese, sweet from the corn, and had just a hint of zest from lime. It was so great as a side. I’d also definitely be willing to put it on a taco. This one will be a quickie repeat.
The Three Bite Rule - Mexican Street Corn
The Three Bite Rule. Turned. Five. Yes, 5 year old. Craziness!

I wanted something really good in the crockpot. This crockpot cassoulet wasn’t the best I’ve ever made, but I liked it annnnd I used dried beans, so that was a first.
The Three Bite Rule - Crockpot Cassoulet

Queso Smothered Chicken over a bed of black beans and peppers was the perfect tweak on taco-night.
The Three Bite Rule - Queso Smothered Chicken

The Little One:
He is so funny. He’s movin’! He took his first steps just before turning 10 months. I love Mr. J’s monthly photos. He always looks like: splat! Like he’s stuck! There are about 5 seconds before he wiggles off. He has no interest in staying still. The poor babe. He had hand, foot, and mouth. It felt like forever. This photo was delyaed while he was cov-ered in it. Ugg. It’s a total yuck one. Let’s not do that again….ummk?
10 month 2

Progress on this year’s goals:

The Year of the Earring:  I missed it this go-round. 

make more salad dressings: I made a dressing for the Mexican Street Corn…counts, right?

factor more time into how long every-day tasks/trips will take:
I’d say I did OK during my busiest time of the year. 

recreate restaurant menu items:
Nope, I missed this one too.

be more adventurous with my reading selections: 
I haven’t read much. 

use the crockpot more: 
Yup! I made Crockpot Cassoulet

seafood once a month: 
Nope, I’m behind on that.

Happy FIVE Years!

I cannot believe The Three Bite Rule is FIVE years old. Five. That’s bananas. This is a crazy time of year at work for the next few weeks so I didn’t quite have time to plan something extravagant. Then again, I’m not going anywhere so it isn’t like I need to go out with a bang. Should I want this to be bigger? I don’t know. I’m pretty content for The Three Bite Rule to just be what it is.

I like doing this. I like making time for it. I like that it is just mine to share with others. It makes me think, try, be a little creative, and remember not everything comes out perfectly. I know not to force my joy into it providing my livelihood. I want to do good work and make a difference in the world. I absolutely adore my job and was happy to return to it after my maternity leave. I learned being home with the little man meant I was lucky and a positive time for both of us but my best self has to work with other people, providing some good into the world. I think work has to be something you enjoy but I also think people make the mistake of trying to have all their wants and needs met by their life’s work. That’s where your hobby can come into play.

This year, woah. I live in such a different world than when I started blogging years ago. The little one is such a joy and my favorite part of this year, of course. Mr. J and I have adapted our meals to fit our busy times of year at work. It is definitely wayyy quicker to make dinner when not blogging it so I slowed to 2x a week and it seems like a good fit. I learned to snap a few more photos to have some more choices. I unfortunately don’t get to snap the photos in daylight very often but that’s just how it is.

So, what’s ahead for the year? I’m not sure.

My Fav Photo of the year:
Salmon with Creamy Dill & Cucumber Dressing
The Three Bite Rule - Salmon with Creamy Dill & Cucumber Dressing
Fav Food of the Year: Chicken Thighs
Tuscan Herbed Chicken Thighs over White Beans
The Three Bite Rule - Tuscan Herbed Chicken & White Beans
Fav Restaurant Re-Creation of the year:
Chicken Meatballs with Kale, Cranberries, and Fresh Pasta
The Three Bite Rule - Chicken Alfredo Meatballs
Fav Burger
Picnic Burger with Potato Sticks & Slaw
Picnic Burger - The Three Bite Rule

This year’s goals:
The Year of the Earring
make more salad dressings
factor more time into how long every-day tasks/trips will take
recreate restaurant menu items
be more adventurous with my reading selections
use the crockpot more
seafood once a month

I don’t know what’s ahead and that’s OK with me! I’m so grateful for everyone who reads my blog. I appreciate you!