Having a meal plan helped me stop wasting time, food, and money.
There was a time in which I just simply walked through the grocery store and bought what looked good right then. I sort of pieced together a rough idea of a few meals in my head. It worked all right for our tiny family of three. We didn’t mind stopping back into the store to grab a few things for dinner, and we weren’t totally disappointed to realize that the bagged salad had gone bad before we got a chance to eat it.
Fast-forward a few years and I was knee-deep in babies and never-ending responsibilities. Money was tight, and I felt awful about every dollar that went bad sitting in the back of the fridge. I couldn’t get to the store in the middle of the week if my life depended on it. Dinnertime became frustrating and guilt-inducing. Trying to find a way to combine my impulsive purchases into a desirable meal for my family took a lot of time.
Meal planning reduces wasted time and money because you prepare and use everything you buy.
Make It Work for You
While I didn’t invent the meal plan, the idea greatly improved the efficiency of my home management. I was, however, worried about how well I would be able to stick with it. I like a little flexibility and don’t want to be limited by a piece of paper.
A meal plan is really just that. You make a list of meals that you will have for the week and you buy exactly what you need. I hear your hesitations. Plans change and appointments run late. Meal planning is still possible and manageable. Above all, meal planning should be a tool to serve you, not something you feel you are to serve. I have a larger than average family. For us, it’s absolutely necessary to have plans in place. Even if you don’t have an army to feed, meal planning can save you money and time.
I use a spiral notebook for my menu. Over on the far right edge of a piece of paper, I make a list of all of the dinners for that week. Then, I make my shopping list on the same paper. I stick this paper on the fridge to use throughout the week and cross off the meals as we use them.
It’s a good idea to divide your list into categories so that you can save time in the grocery store too. My list is divided into produce, dairy, meat, and other.
I don’t often plan breakfast or lunch, I just make sure to buy lots of fruit and eggs and other stuff that we usually use during the day.
Look at your calendar for the week. How many dinners do you need to prepare? That’s how many meals you’re going to plan. I try to have no more than 3 meals that take a lot of time to prepare. Having a few simple meals that come together in no time helps me keep my meal plan intact. So, if you were going to make a complicated yellow curry for dinner but your toddler has been a cranky mess and the laundry is overflowing, let’s go with the tacos tonight instead.
The Recipe Binder
Be organized. I bought a three-ring binder at Target and filled it with page protectors. I learned my lesson after spilling chicken stock on my paper copies. All of our recipes go into this binder with correct portions and adjustments I’ve made.
Stay consistent. I’m not the only cook in my house. In fact, my husband probably cooks 50 percent of the time and my kids will take over sometimes, too. But this could’ve never happened without some serious planning. And if I won’t let them cook because they don’t know how I’ve got things organized in my head then we’re all missing out. So, if the menu says chicken philly cheesesteak and someone else needs to jump in and make dinner, they don’t need to communicate with me at all. Just turn to that recipe in the binder and you’re good to go.
Organize the binder any way you like. I organize mine by meat, mostly. I have a chicken section, beef, pork, and other. In addition, I have a breakfast section as well as a section for sides. I have a friend who realized she likes to organize her meals by season. She doesn’t want to have to dig through all of her fall and winter recipes in the middle of the summer when she doesn’t want to turn on the oven.
Keep recipes up to date. Throw out the ones your family doesn’t enjoy anymore and update the portion sizes. For too long we were having to calculate measurements to make our old recipes fit our new family size. I finally went in and updated them all.
Using the Binder
I like to do my grocery shopping on the same day each week. So, the night before I get out my spiral notebook and my binder and set to work. Flipping through the pages of recipes, I choose my meals and write them down along with the necessary ingredients.
At this time I’m cross checking what I need with what I already have in my kitchen to make sure I’m not out of soy sauce when it’s time to make beef and broccoli later in the week. I keep a list of staple foods in my binder as well to make sure we have those on hand. Things like milk, eggs, cream, and sugar. And if I’m being honest, some dark chocolate. Also, if I’m being honest, I’m not the one checking. I’m usually having one of my kids dig through the spice cabinet to see if we have enough oregano.
When I first started meal planning I decided that we were going to change our eating style as well and use meal planning as a way to do that. There’s certainly an element there that lends itself to sticking with your plans and not finding yourself eating potato chips and bacon for dinner one night. But, you want to be realistic with your meal plan if you want it to work for you. Create a meal plan you and your family actually want to eat. Include some desserts and snacks. Happy planning!