Okay, raise your hand if you’ve ever finished work, had no idea what to cook for supper, felt too tired to cook anyway, and ended up ordering a pizza instead. We’ve done this more times than I cared to count. I always looked for quick and easy solutions, but when I found a good recipe, I would always get home and realize that I didn’t have the ingredients to make it, so we would end up doing something else instead. Like ordering pizza.
Enter meal planning. Meal planning is great for a lot of reasons:
- It helps you eat healthy by allowing you to make sure that meals are balanced with all the food groups.
- It allows you to relax, knowing that you don’t have to scramble at the end of a long day to decide what to eat.
- It saves you money by ensuring that you only buy things you need at the grocery store.
- It saves you time in that it allows you to prep ahead if you wish by pre-chopping ingredients, readying non-perishable ingredients on the counter the night before, and even pre-cooking meals for later.
I’ve actually tried and failed a few times at meal planning. I used several programs online, coordinated with coupons, and exported everything to electronic grocery lists, then discovered that my family just didn’t really like the recipes I was cooking. After all those hours of planning, having the family not want to eat the food was really disheartening. I thought that meal planning was too complex and too time consuming to work for my family.
But this weekend, I had an epiphany. Thanks to an online healthy eating class, I decided to pare things down and involve the whole family in the meal planning.
I started by sitting down with everyone at the breakfast table and really finding out what they were all willing to eat. For my family, the hardest task is finding vegetables that everyone is willing to eat, so I went through a list of seasonal vegetables and fruits that I found on the website for the farmer’s market in San Francisco and put a letter beside each vegetable or fruit that the family was willing to eat: G for Gabi, J for Juan, and so forth.
Then, I started mapping out the meals. On a dry erase weekly planner that I had pasted inside the pantry door the week before, I jotted down main dishes for the week based on what was in the fridge/freezer and what I knew my family would like. Since they were sitting right there, I was able to say things like, “Hey Juan, do you have any late evening meetings? Tuesday? Okay, we can do quick pasta that night,” and “Hey, can you grill on Friday?”
Once I had the main dishes down, I filled in the sides, making sure we had a whole grain and a vegetable with each meal. “Hey Gabi, we are having pork chops on Wednesday. What vegetable sounds yummy with that? Green beans? Okay!”
Then I reviewed my recipes, glanced into the fridge to double-check ingredients, and whipped out a list. It was easiest for me to make the list on paper because I didn’t have to run back and forth, up and down the stairs, between the computer and the kitchen. Since I was hand-writing it I didn’t have to fiddle with it to get it in the right order for the grocery store. I simply mentally walked through the store and wrote down my ingredients to coincide with the flow of the store.
I was so proud of myself to discover, at the end of my shopping trip, that I had made it through the store with enough food to feed our family of two adults, a child, and a baby, for $87! Now, okay, granted we already had a few things in the freezer, so the only meat I needed to buy was pork chops, but still! $87 for a family of four is pretty good I thought.
Because I had planned ahead, I was even able to pre-cook a baked pasta dish on Sunday. I put half of it in a loaf pan in the fridge to cook for Tuesday night (remember that late night meeting?) and half in the freezer to save for another busy night! Because I was pre-cooking, I was also able to take the time to fiddle with it and add in some super-secret healthy veg: Grated butternut squash. Shhhh. Don’t tell Gabi.
This week, the family has been excited about the meals since they were involved in the planning process! Week 1 of meal planning has been a total success! I saved time and money, and lowered my stress. My family got balanced, home-cooked, semi-seasonal meals and more time to play and relax with Mama in the evening! It has been a total win. Sorry Pizza Man. I’m sure we will see you again, but not for a while!
For those of you who want to give this a try, here’s a quick recap of what I did:
- Reviewed likes/dislikes with each family member to tailor meals appropriately (you don’t have to do this every time).
- Review weekly schedule to account for nights that will be especially hectic and stressful.
- Jot down main dishes.
- Fill in side dishes.
- Sketch out grocery list.
That’s it! Have you tried meal planning before? Are you new to it like I am or are you an old pro? If you’re new to it, tell us why or why not meal planning is something that interests you? If you are a pro at meal planning, share your tips and tricks! What helps you work things out the best?