A friend of mine came over the other day and said, “you actually meal plan?” She was referring to the notebook page paper on my refrigerator that lists out all of our meals for two weeks. Until this moment, I had not thought that was weird. But, I think (maybe my initial feeling was right) that it must be unusual because she had never seen one before. While I like to be organized, being a stay at home mom with four young kids three of them being under 1, most organization has gone out the window. But, the meal planning has not.
Some of my reasons for meal planning:
It saves money. I cannot begin to tell you the amount of times we’ve had to run to the grocery store for milk and walked out with an endless bounty of items. Guess what? Those items cost oodles of extra money, and it’s the conspiracy of grocery stores everywhere to get you to do this. Generally, at least for us those items aren’t included in the budget. Additionally, my son has a lot of allergies (when I say a lot I really just about everything), so we have to primarily eat meat, veggies and fruits. As most of you know, fruits and veggies actually get gross when they get overripe, meal planning helps me to ensure that we use the items we buy instead of literally throwing them in the garbage.
It cuts calories. As a woman with junk in the trunk, I’m determined never to crash diet again. For me, it’s about lifestyle change, but I’ll go back to junk food every time over and over again if I don’t have a plan. Meal planning helps me to plan out what snacks we actually keep in the house and what food we eat and when.
It saves time. Remember that part about stopping in at the grocery store and having three kids under one? Well, try to grocery shop with them. It is a drain on time. A quick trip to the store for milk should take a normal person about 10 minutes. With my little entourage we’d take about 40 minutes because someone would poop in their diaper, one would be throwing fits as we walk down the aisle, my youngest would probably puke all over himself or be screaming, and my four year old would most likely be begging for everything under the sun. It’s not fun! I try to plan out two weeks, so I can minimize my time spent in the grocery store.
It saves sanity. Thus, its in this section. But, dinnertime is our hardest time of the day because my husband is just getting home or is working late and isn’t home at all. I don’t have time to look in the fridge for something last minute because there are no minutes left and my kids are hungry and cranky. By having a meal plan, I don’t have to stress. I can make parts of it throughout the day or throw it in the crockpot. Even better, I can pull it from the freezer, heat, and eat.
Although my meal planning is not foul proof here’s some steps I’ve learned for making the most of it:
1. Plan from your pantry and fridge/freezer first. Get the most out of your grocery bill. That jar of spaghetti sauce that’s been sitting there for awhile–use it this week! Additionally, whenever, I go to the grocery store I shop the “clearance” meat section first. Although, I already have my 2 week meal plan based on the meats in my freezer, I’ll put these new clearanced meats in my freezer and plan my following next two weeks around them.
2. Use similar items. If I buy broccoli, to maximize it’s freshness, I’ll have it day 1 as a side to chicken. The following night I’ll chop and put it in a broccoli potato soup, and we may have it again in a stir fry. 3 completely different uses is my goal.
3. Shop sales advertisements. Try to build your menu around what is in season and sale, you’ll save more money.
4. Buy bulk. Chickens on sale this week for $1.88/lb if you buy 10 lbs. Buy 10 lbs and freeze into smaller portions. There’s hundreds of things you can do with it.
5. Eat leftovers. I know, most people don’t like them, but just think that little bit just saved you more money and more time. My plan is to always have a few portions left over so we can eat them for lunch the next day. Dinner is always a fresh plan, lunch is yesterdays meal. You can also repurpose your leftovers. That spaghetti sauce you made today and have a little leftover can also be used for lasagna tomorrow or freeze it for lasagna next week. We use carne asada one night for tacos and the next morning we have it with eggs. Get creative.
6. Remember to plan meals around events. For example, if my son has swimming on thursday nights or my husband works closing I’m more likely to choose something easy to make OR I make a crockpot meal.
7. Plan snacks. Remember that part about wanting to have lifestyle change? Portion control and planning out snack foods is a part of it. When I have the time, I take the bag of chips I rarely buy, and seperate into portions and put into small ziploc bags. This not only saves me from overeating, but also makes snacks on the go easier for my kids. The packages are kept in baskets in my pantry.I also will do this with fruit and veggies and keep in baskets in my fridge. This also saves money because you aren’t running out and purchasing food when you go places.
8. Try to make one new recipe. I always have a collection of cookbooks or recipes I want to make, but never have the ingredients. Meal planning guarantees you will have it.
9. If you plan for two weeks you can always cook double the amount and freeze half for the following week. (see Sanity Saving Tip #1)
10. Sometimes I cheat and use a meal planner as a guide. Join Sparkpeople for free meal plans, weight loss goals, exercise/fitness tracker remember to say chamberschaos referred you when you signed up. They seriously are amazing and you know it’s good for you.
What are some things you do to make meal planning and meals more effective?