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Meal Planning Means More Family Time

on March 2, 2012

This is the meal planner that hangs on our fridge. I picked it up in the dollar bin at Target. Instead of groceries on the one side, I list all of the meals planned. As you can see changes are made. After a yucky Friday, we opted for pizza. Sometimes the meals move around in the week, but I know I have everything I need for each one on hand.

When I first started doing my own grocery shopping and after I first was married, I had a very haphazard style of shopping.  I loathed the grocery store—mostly I think because I would wander around without much of a plan picking things that were easy or on sale which usually meant me spending way more time there than necessary.  We ate out more than we do now and meals could be thrown together on the fly pretty easily.  My recipe arsenal was not very big, and we frequently had the same dishes on a pretty regular basis.

When our daughter came along, I still didn’t make any major changes to our eating lifestyle.  But, when she started eating what we ate, I became much more conscious of what we were putting into our bodies and what would be healthiest for all of us.  But, that meant pre-planning menus was essential.  Like with most new tactics in my life, I started out making a somewhat big change.  I started planning meals prior to going grocery shopping.  Not a new concept for most people, but it was new for me.  Knowing what I needed at the store made it so much easier.  I just wanted to smack my former self for not figuring this out sooner.  No more stressful, hours long trips to the grocery store—and I had everything I needed at home to make the meals.

A few months later I added another level to my pre-planning.  I started watching the ads for what was on sale and clipping coupons for what we used on a regular basis.  My meal planning is not based solely on what is on sale in the ads, but I do add a few meals here and there based on what I find.  I also realized that planning for an entire month is not possible for us.  We like to use a lot of fresh produce in our meals, and buying that far in advance is a waste of money.  So, now I plan two weeks at a time.  That means only two major grocery shopping trips a month—with the occasional quick trip thrown in every once in a while.  Yeah!

I made my newest step at the start of the year.  I used to post a list of the 14 or so possible meals on the fridge, and we would just pick one when I got home.  This method worked, but it was not the best use of my at home time.  As a working mom, I find my time at home with my little one to be very valuable, and I don’t want to spend all of it making dinner.  So, the next logical step—and one that many organization and mommy experts suggest—is to plan out the week in advance.  Decide what you want to have every night of the week.  Then, be prepared prior to the night you are going to cook the meal.  Set out items to thaw, pre-cook or pre-chop what you can, select meals based on your schedule for the evening…

I have found this to be an amazing time saver on weeknights.  My protein is already prepared or thawed, and usually it only takes about 15-20 minutes to whip everything else together.  The downside is that I spend a few hours on Sunday being a prep-cook getting ready for the week.  I really don’t mind getting things done ahead as the reward during the week of spending time with my daughter is completely worth it.  Plus, she is usually able to keep me company by hanging out in our kitchen and playing while I did it.  A total win-win.

The steps in my meal prep:

1)      Come up with 10 or so ideas for meals—some fast and easy and a few more involved.  I recycle our favorites every few weeks, but I always try to add one or two new ones to the mix to try out.  I find I get bored cooking the same thing too often.  Plus, it is a good thing to model to our daughter that we like trying new things.

2)      Look for ingredients for my recipes.  First, see what I already have on hand.  Then, check through the weekly ads to see what is on sale and what I have coupons for.  Write down what items I need to buy in my planner including store sales and coupons.  Add a few meals to the list based on sales for the week.  (Buy ahead any items that are on sale, but I know I use frequently for a variety of recipes—like boneless skinless chicken breasts or frozen vegetables)

3)      Go to the store (usually a Saturday morning phenomenon).

4)      Prep for the week (usually a Sunday phenomenon).  Cook meat needed for the week, freezing some if needed.  Chop any items for recipes.  Also, wash and bag any produce for snacks for easy retrieval from the fridge.  I have found that if I wash and individually bag produce and other items soon after I buy them that we are much more likely to reach for the healthy snack.  I also bag ahead so that it is easier to pack lunches for the week.  It is much easier to get my lunch packed every day if they are ready to get stuffed in my bag the night before.

5)      Relax and enjoy the extra time with my family.


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