It's 5:30pm. Your husband is on his way home from work. You spent the day running errands and watching your three kids. Ballet class for your daughter starts at 6:30. No one has eaten and there is still homework in the backpacks, waiting to be done. You peer into the fridge. Nothing is defrosted. Your pantry has a million snacks but no one thing that is suitable for a nice sit down meal with your family. Looks like it's going to be another fast food night, right?
IF you had planned ahead, you wouldn't be in this predicament. You'd have your meal in the oven and ready for your husband's arrival. If you work during the day, you could have put your dinner in the crockpot before you left for work and arrived home to the enticing smell of a home cooked meal. Life doesn't have to be as chaotic as we all make it out to be.
I started meal planning about 2 years ago and though it seemed like a daunting task at first, once I "got into my groove" it got easier and easier. Now, I am not sure how I managed to muddle through life without it. Meal planning has helped my family to eat healthier, cheaper, and with less stress than before.
For the purpose of this blog post, I am going to focus on the three main reasons why meal planning has worked for my family. After reading this, I hope that you will try it out and see if it works for yours as well.
We eat healthier when we plan our meals ahead of time.
Heading to McDonald's or ordering a pizza used to be a fairly regular thing in our house. When you look at the nutritional information for eating out vs eating at home, the difference is staggering. Most restaurant meals are loaded with fat, sugar, and calories. Butter is the cook’s best friend. When you make your own meal, YOU control what goes into it.
Meal planning saves us money.
A typical month of groceries for my family a couple of years ago was a little less than $1000. And so much of that food was wasted. I would stick raw chicken in the fridge, intending to eat it in the next couple of days but I'd forget about it and end up having to throw it away. Fruits and veggies would go bad. We were such a wasteful family. Now, with the use of pre-planning and coupons, we are down to about $500 a month. No wonder I never want to go back to our old ways, huh?
We are less stressed.
Knowing what is on the meal plan for each day creates a more organized atmosphere in the home. Because the meal is planned ahead of time, we can make sure that each person who is eating that night enjoys that particular food. For example, my oldest doesn't care for beans so we put chili on the schedule for nights when he is with his Dad. This avoids the "I don't want to eat that:" fight.
There are so many ways to meal plan and there are even sites like E-mealz that do all the work for you. The idea is to figure out BEFORE you go to the grocery store what meals you will be serving over the next few weeks. A lot of that depends on how much storage space you have in your home. I do my plans 2 weeks ahead of time and that works well for me. Then, when you have your meal list made, you shop for all the items you will need.
A great money saving idea is to look at your coupons and weekly specials as you are planning. For instance, last week when I was doing my planning, I saw that my favorite kind of pasta was on sale for 10 for $10 and I had a coupon for $1 off 2 boxes. I was sure to throw a couple of pasta nights into my mix and took advantage of that sale.
I write my meal plan on my fridge calendar and then I list reminders to myself for things like "prep lasagna" or "defrost ground turkey" on the appropriate days. If I know we are going to have a busy day, I will do all my prep work the night before and pop it in the crock pot in the morning,
My meal plan, for this 2 week time period, is as follows:
Monday - Pork chops, no salt added canned corn
Tuesday - Whole wheat penne with marinara sauce, mixed veggies
Wednesday - Whole wheat Lasagna with ground beef, salad, applesauce (wrote down lasagna as Thursday's lunch as well)
Thursday - On own (I have a meeting that night so we are "on our own". My hubby and kiddos will probably have Subway and I will eat at the meeting)
Friday - Grilled chicken breast, brown rice, mixed veggies
Saturday - Breakfast for Dinner (Egg white omelets and 3 pancakes each)
Sunday - Homemade Mac and Cheese (will also be lunch on Monday)
Monday - Roasted Chicken with red potatoes, no salt added canned peas
Tuesday - Ground turkey tacos, no salt added canned corn
Wednesday - Whole wheat rotini with marinara sauce, mixed veggies
Thursday - Grilled chicken, brown rice, mixed veggies
Friday - Turkey burgers, green beans, applesauce
Saturday - Chicken Parmesan, mixed veggies
Sunday - ????? (Super Bowl so it will depend on where we go to watch it)
***I just realized how much we LOVE mixed veggies. During the winter, I buy the Giant Eagle frozen ones and use my Pampered Chef micro cooker to steam them. Ohhhhhhh, so yummy! When fresh produce is in season here, I am a little more creative, purchasing items at the Farmer's Market or getting them from friends with gardens.
I have also written out my breakfast and lunch plans for each day but those are always in pencil and subject to change, depending on whether we have leftovers from the night before or if a friend invites us to go out or to their house for a lunch play date.
Since I also have my workout plans on the same calendar, I can figure out which days I can "splurge" on higher calorie foods and which days I need to be a bit more conservative with my intake. It's a win/win!
Here are some more great resources for you as you learn more about how to meal plan:
Menus for Moms
5 Dollar Dinners
365 Days of Crockpotting
Make ahead/Freezer Recipes
Good luck and be sure to check in and let me know how meal planning is working for you and your family. And I'd love to hear any ideas or tips you have as well.