What’s for dinner……………………………
This is a phrase that used to make me cringe. Just typing it kind of annoys me. My husband and I would ask each other this several times daily up until 5pm when it became a rush to either quickly pull something together or pick up some food on the way home. And although I enjoyed cooking, I just found it so difficult to pull the meals together. I either lacked certain ingredients, lacked motivation or lacked time…and pulling all 3 of these things together seemed like a pipe dream. I made up plenty of excuses for not cooking on a regular basis: working part-time, busy with small babies at home, husband with a serious illness (will discuss in future), no time…. When I finally realized that all of these reasons for not cooking were actually a reason to cook nutritious meals for us at home. Now, just this realization wasn’t enough for me to get motivated. No, it took me a couple more months to actually do something about it. Sad, I know.
So, what is my magical secret to the answer to the above question? Meal Planning. Simple as that. I am sure so many of you are saying, duh, I already do this. Well, I didn’t up until about 9 months ago. It has been life changing for my family! We do not have to ask the dreaded question! Halleluiah! How does it work? What are the benefits? Will I still have enough time to sit on the couch and watch Keeping Up with the Kardashians? Well, let’s discuss. You meal planning experts can stop reading now as I am sure you are all over this one. But for you newbies, here are my thoughts…
Why meal plan: Well, for starters, it helps keep me sane. And that is the biggest reason. I also believe it helps us save money as I am only buying what I need for that week. And I tend to waste fewer fresh foods. It also helps us eat healthier and helps our kids be exposed to a healthy and diverse diet.
How to start: I sit down on the weekends and plan our weekly menu. I tailor that particular week’s meals to our week’s schedule. Baby 1 has dance rehearsal on Wed night = something quick and easy this night. I only plan one week ahead and I only plan dinners. These are some things that you may choose to do differently -plan out for a whole month and plan out all 3 meals per day (over-achievers). I plan each week night’s supper including main course and sides. I do not plan weekends -this is when we often have plans to go out to dinner or have friends over and I like to keep these open. After planning out the weekly menu, I then check my pantry and fridge for what I will need. I make my grocery list and send Aaron and the 2 older kids out to do my shopping for me -awesome, huh? Disclaimer, this doesn’t always happen. When we do not get this done, I often end up doing a grocery run late night after the kids go to bed. This is really, really hard. Like really hard. Especially when there is a new episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians on. But I force myself to do it…I remind myself of how great it is to have the meals made and healthy food in our house and that there will be 10 re-runs of the episode on tomorrow. Take home point is you MUST make the list and get the groceries EACH week.
Tools: There are lots of fancy planners out there to help organize your grocery list and menus. I tend to grab scratch paper for my grocery list and just hand write a menu out. I do prefer to write the menu out, that way I have it as a reminder in my kitchen. At one point, I did add the menu to our shared calendar on our phones, but found this to be a lot of work. I also think that the more work you create for yourself, the less likely you are to stick with it. Take home point: keep it easy and write the menu out each week.
Meal Inspiration: I find meal inspiration everywhere! I am always looking for new recipes. I am currently on the MSPI diet (details to follow on a future post) which restricts some of the things I can make, but I do love modifying recipes to make them MSP free. I use Pinterest for a lot of meals -who doesn’t?! I also do still subscribe to a couple magazines (Cooking Light, Martha Stewart, Real Simple) and clip out recipes and place in a folder to reference when I need some inspiration. I love discussing good recipes with friends and I am not above googling “easy good chicken recipe”.
Getting Kids Involved: I can’t prevent my kids from asking the dreaded question, but meal planning has definitely helped cut back on the number of times they ask since they are involved in both the planning and shopping. I will usually write out the menu during Saturday or Sunday breakfast while we are all sitting together. We have a “Kid’s Choice” night each week and this has been a huge hit. The kids pick a main course, 2 vegetables, fruit and a dessert. They are required to eat the other meals I make and Aaron and I are required to eat their meals. Last week we had PB&J, strawberries (in addition to the strawberry jelly on the sandwiches), spinach salad with ranch and corn. I kid you not. And I ate it. As weird of a combo as it was, this has been a huge hit at our house and really helped our kids with eating what I prepare. I have been surprised at times the healthy things they choose. And even though I do get semi-grossed out at some of their selections, I do enjoy a lot of them. Breakfast for dinner is one of their favorites to pick and I do love this one.
Misc Tips: My menus change seasonally to incorporate different vegetables and fruits from our garden (will discuss gardening in a future post). I also try to keep some frozen meals and soups on hand to pull out in a jam.
I hope you feel inspired to start meal planning! As I mentioned, it really has made a difference for me and my family. It has cut back on my stress at home and saved us money by cutting back on how much takeout we get. Feel free to share any additional meal planning tips you have!
Best of luck!!