When I was a kid it always seemed like food was just there. We always had breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Sometimes we even had snacks. Sure I knew that my mom had to go to the grocery store to get the food that we ate but I never really gave it much consideration.
When I got to college and was more or less fending for myself I realized I needed to come up with some type of system to make sure I was getting food. Granted, while in college I had a meal plan that I paid for so most of that was decided for me but I still had some times when I didn’t really want to eat there along with a boyfriend (eventually fiance) who wanted home cooked meals every now and again. Once we got married it became even more evident that I needed to really know what foods were coming into my house. For a long time I would make a grocery list that consisted of foods that I knew we liked to eat and that sorta knew how to cook. Then each day when dinner time rolled around I would dive into my fridge, freezer, and pantry to put things together in the hopes that I had what it took to make a healthy hearty meal.
I quickly realized that the way I was doing it was very backwards. Over time I have developed my system of meal planning that keeps me on track in several ways.
1.) I stay on or under my budged EVERY time.
When I take the time out of my week or month to sit down I am able to go into the grocery store with a plan. This eliminates the temptation to impulse by. This is especially true when I have the kids with me when I am shopping. As we walk down the isles I am able to say “no, it’s not on the list” when I begin to the the constant “can we buy” questions.
Another way that I am able to stay on budget is that I know exactly how much of each ingredient I need. This means I don’t end up not buying enough of something and having to make a “quick” trip to the store that is generally anything but.
And a big thing is when I have my plan and my list I avoid shopping for the brand. When I go into the store and my list says that I need barbecue sauce then when I go down that isle I am looking for the barbecue sauce. Since I have planned ahead of time I am not frazzled so I can take the time to scan the shelves for the best price for what I need rather than just grabbing the brand name item that is often at eye level.
2) I can ensure my family is heating healthy fresh ingredients at (almost) every meal.
My family’s health and well-being is one of my top priorities. When I take the time to meal plan and prep I can ensure that I am limiting the amount of pre-processed foods that are not exactly the best to be putting in our bodies. When I have a plan then I am prepared for the days ahead and I don’t resort to fast food, processed foods in packages, or delivery. Fresh vegetables are easy to purchase, cut, and freeze to have at hand as well as meats. Then the only thing that has to be done is heating them through.
3) I eliminate decision fatigue.
Studies have shown that each day we make thousands of decisions. Some of these decisions are small and seem insignificant. Others are incredibly vital to our existence. When I stop and take just a few hours every other week or even once a month then I expend all the energy I need on making decisions about the food my family will eat. Then when 5 PM rolls around each day and it’s time for me to cook dinner I don’t have to make another decision. I just look at the list, take the meal out of the freezer or fridge, cook, serve, and eat. Simple as that. No headache. No anxiety. No stress.
So now that the “Why” of it all has been laid out, how do I go about getting this process done?
1) Gather a writing utensil and a place to write things down.
Some people use fancy meal planning work sheets that can be found all over the internet. Others use just a simple pen and paper. And again still, some people find that using some form of technology to keep track of the meals for the given time period.
I tend to drift toward just a simple pen/pencil and a spiral note book. I also make sure I have my calendar with me that has all of the appointments, activities, and events that will be taking place laid out in front of me.
2) Gather cook books and recipes.
This step is vit
al! When I first started meal planning this way I would try to just meal plan off the top of my head. Usually this resulted in us eating the same 3 or 4 meals over and over again because all I had in my head were the last few meals we had eaten. It was becoming a boring cycle and that often led to us calling for pizza or popping down to
the nearest Chinese food restaurant. When I sit down for meal planning now I have one single cookbook that has all our family favorites written down in it. I also have one of the cook books that I don’t use as often as well as Pinterest opened up with the ability to search through for anything new and exciting.
3) Write out your menu and grocery list.
This is where the rubber meets the road. I will look at my calendar and determine how many slow cooker meals I need, how many dump meals I need, and how often I can actually cook a meal using my plain old pots and pans. I flip through my cookbooks and one at a time I pencil in meals doing my best to match the complexity of the meal with the activity of the day. For example, my husband and I host a weekly Bible study/home group meeting at our home every Monday night. This generally means that our best bet is for me to start a slow cooker meal since I will need to focus my attentions of the day on getting the house ready for company. Slowly but surly I am able to pencil in meals with the side dish options into the calendar for the designated time frame. As I write out the meals I also write down all the ingredient needed for each meal. I keep track of how much of each ingredient I need so I can ensure I have the proper amount when I am done with the whole process.
4) Shop the fridge, freezer, and pantry.
Once I have my menu and grocery list done I start with shopping my own home first. More often than not I will find that I have a lot of the ingredients I will already need before I even step foot in a grocery store. This is things like excess items in the fridge from previous made meals, spices, and other staples like eggs, butter, cheese, and the like. I mark out the items on my original shopping list that I already have in my pantry or fridge. Once I am done with that I take what is left and organize it into a working shopping list. I organize it by sections of the grocery store so that I am not running around the store like a chicken with my head cut off.
5) Head off to the grocery store (or stores)
Once that is done I am ready to head to the grocery store. I have a plan in place and I am armed with my budget, my meal plan, and a well thought out list full of good healthy foods for myself and my family. Sometimes this means I get all my shopping done at one place and sometimes I hit multiple stores to get the best deals. To be honest, that generally depends on how much energy I have to get the shopping done and how well the kids are behaving.
Once all the groceries are bought and home I take another day and I prepare all of my meals so that the next thing I need to do is just check the menu before I go to bed, pull out the meal for the next day, and place it in the fridge. All ready.
Come back next week as I will share how I do my meal preparation.
Do you do any meal planning? If so, what is your system like?