Meal Planning 101

 Meal Planning 101

The first time I heard of meal-planning, I was confused by it. As the benefits were explained to me, I began to be excited by it. In case you don’t already know, here are some of the biggest reasons to plan your family’s meals ahead of time:
No more 5 o’clock rush! If you’re like me, you’re in no condition at 5 o’clock to be making major decisions like what super nutritious but also inexpensive meal to prep for you family. 5 o’clock dinner decisions are usually not only lacking nutritionally, but also rather pricey. (More or less, it’s usually something from a box or from the freezer – and you pay a pretty big premium for those items!)
No more making multiple trips to the grocery store. Did you know studies have shown that the more often you go to the store, the more money you’ll spend? Some of that is due to the ‘convenience’ items at the front of the store, but I think some of it is marketing, as well. The grocery stores set up – and frequently change – their displays to look appealing and draw you in. The less time you spend staring, the less likely you are to buy that item you probably don’t actually need. In my case, usually chocolate.
Your family’s health can be taken into account when planning each meal. Since you’ve eliminated the rush, you can now put real thought into building square meals, trying the whole gluten-free thing, or if you’re really ambitious, you can even plan breakfast, lunch and snacks in addition to dinner – meaning your kiddos are having grapes instead of cheez-its for snack, and you get that gushy ‘good-mom’ feeling.
– You can make your budget stretch more. If you’re writing down at the beginning of the week everything you’ll eat that week, it makes it easier to bulk-buy the things you normally couldn’t buy in bulk! Lasagna, Philly Cheesesteaks, and Salisbury steaks can all go on the same weekly menu, and now you just have to buy one big batch of mushrooms instead of three small ones! You just saved at least a buck and a half. Not a ton of money but trust me – it adds up!
– You can take your schedule into account. I know that Tuesdays and Thursdays are pretty busy for my family due to my bible study groups those mornings. Knowing that ahead of time, I can put a note in my meal plan to put lunches together while waiting for water to boil for Monday night’s spaghetti, or I can pick a crock pot meal to prep in my down time Wednesday that I can just toss in before I leave Thursday morning. It means I won’t be rushing to get dinner done, I can spend more time enjoying my family, and I won’t be tempted to run to the store for overpriced lunches first thing in the morning or pull a pizza out of the freezer because I’m too exhausted to worry about dinner that night.

Meal planning has the potential to save you lots of money AND stress – if you’re willing to do it. Here are some basics of how to get the most from your time spent planning meals for your family.

Find a favorite way to plan

For many, this is in an app. I loved Mealboard for planning my meals. I enter the recipes I like/would like to try into the app using the online form while browsing Pinterest, and save them for later. Then when I’m making my meal plan from my iPhone or iPad, I just choose the meals I want to try, and it makes the list for me. Super easy. But to be honest? Sometimes I just want to plan paper and pen.

If you’re a paper and pen type gal, there are several templates for meal plans available online. I’ve made my own simple one in Excel that I love. I spent a couple dollars having it laminated, and I use a wet erase marker (like Vis a Vis) to write my plan on it each week. This saves me the stress of printing it every week – but you can totally do that if you prefer.

Figure out what you want to eat

The next most important thing is to figure out what meals you want to have. I began by making a list of my husband’s and my favorite meals and listing them in a notepad. You could also do something super fancy like this. I like a little more flexibility than that – I could see myself making a new fancy label every time I found a recipe I liked and stressing until it was perfect. ACK. So I’ll stick to my laminated piece of paper and my notebook (or the app – I use both!) I also hop onto Pinterest and grab the most appetizing-looking meals. I’ll put those in Mealboard, usually, even if I’m not using it to plan that week – so if that blog is down when I’m trying to make dinner I have no stress! Finding recipes you want to eat is paramount to meal-planning success. When you begin getting excited about dinner, the stress of making it completely melts away.

Gather your recipes

The app is great for this. People also use notebooks. A note on your phone with a link to the blog is equally effective, depending on just how organized you like to be. But however you choose, you’ll want to gather the recipes together so you can figure out what to buy, how much of everything you’ll need, what time you’ll need to start dinner each night, etc.

-Write out what each recipe calls for and combine what is combine-able (1 ckn breast + 1.5 ckn breasts = I need at least 2.5 chicken breasts for meals this week).
-Compare what you need to what’s already in your kitchen, and make a grocery list for the rest.
-Make notes on your meal plan for what to set out of the freezer each day, and
-Decide what time you’ll want to start dinner each night. You might set an alarm (the app does this), make a mental note, or even write it down on your meal plan.

Don’t be legalistic

If it’s Tuesday and I’m supposed to be doing tacos that night, but I have a really busy day or tacos just aren’t ringing my bell, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with switching gears and doing a simple cheesy potato casserole that night instead — especially if it was on the plan for later in the week. Now all I do is switch, and Taco Tuesday becomes Taco Thursday. And since I’ve planned ahead for the week, I already have the ingredients on hand, and it’s a super simple switch. As with most things stewardship-related, the key is to allow it to make your life easier, not let it run your life for you!

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