Meal planning can turn into an arduous task each week when life gets busy. Keeping the family happy is important, but falling into the same routine with food preparation can be much easier when you don’t have any more time and energy left. Making healthy meals can be even more difficult, when ordering a quick pizza for the family takes a just a minute phone call instead of a half hour of prep time in the kitchen.
Create A Game Plan
I certainly suffer from the same cycle. Without proper meal planning each week, I am more likely to grab a quick meal on the road for lunch instead of making a healthy and less expensive meal. My long hours also create a challenge for cooking a great meal every night. Those parents that spend most nights shuttling children to after-school activities, lessons and sporting events might find themselves in a similar situation. When you are walking in the door starving with no game plan, the quick meal out of a box might be the only alluring option. Allowing yourself the time to prepare a weekly menu can save a great amount of time and money in the long run. It is a lot easier than you think.
There are two things you must inventory first before any effective planning can take place: your food supplies and your calendar. I first suggest that you inventory what you currently have on your shelves and in your fridge before you even begin to think about planning meals. Before you spend time and money buying more food for your family, it is important to go shopping in your house first. More often than not you have enough food in the house to cobble together several meals. If it will only take a few extra ingredients to use up that half of bag of frozen shrimp you still have in your freezer you will save money and probably have a meal you haven’t tried out in a while. Also, you will prevent yourself from buying duplicate items that you can’t remember if you have when you are at the store. This simple step saves space and money in the long run.
Plan Around Your Activities
Inventorying your calendar is the next important step. While this doesn’t seem to have much to do with food, figuring out your family’s schedule for the week before you shop is a critical step in preventing food waste. If you know that you have plans to go out for dinner on Friday night and that you have a late hockey game scheduled during dinner time on Tuesday that the whole family is going to, you already know that there are two nights no one will even be home to eat dinner. Why plan for seven nights of meals instead of five? Also, if you know that everyone will be coming home late two nights this week, it might make sense to cook a meal earlier in the week that will provide healthy leftovers that can be heated up quickly.
Review the Circulars
Now that you know how many days you actually need to cook, and what food you already have on hand, consider taking a quick glance at the grocery store sales and plan your meals based on what the best deals are for the week. This will help you limit the menu choices, help you get inspired with new ideas each week and save you money in the long run. Make your shopping list according to the ingredients you will need to cook each meal you have planned and stick to it in the store. By avoiding the impulse purchases and planning for only what you need your family will waste a lot less food and money at the store.
Choose Some Recipes
Getting inspiration is important to keep meals fresh and fun. We tend to keep buying the same old standby ingredients for meals. I like to pick a cookbook each week and plan all of my recipes from that to keep the decision making easy. I am also an avid Pinterest recipe pinner. Currently, I am obsessed with the recipes in the book Milk Street: Cookish: Throw It Together, Christopher Kimball. Everything tastes great and requires very minimal ingredients, most of which you probably have sitting around your house. Get it here on Amazon.com.
Cook Ahead Of Time
Because I have very little time during the week to actually cook due to my late work days, I like to cook three big meals each week on Sunday. They could range from pots of soup, casseroles, or roasted chicken. Usually I double the recipes and use a Food Saver to vacuum seal half of the meals and freeze them. Doing this over time allows you to have easy to reheat leftovers during the week, and quick meals that can be defrosted two or three weeks later to keep meals always rotating.
Make it Fun
My friends and I have made a fun social event out of meal planning. We have a Crockpots, Casseroles and Cocktails party. Each couple makes one dish each. We each take a portion of the dishes home. Everyone gets three or four different meals for the time and price of preparing one.
For menu planning templates link on my shop Life’s Lists. Shop any and all of our meal planning related products with code MEALPLAN23 and you’ll receive 15% off at checkout!
Hopefully with a little planning and creativity your family will have more exciting meals and more money to spend on more fun things than groceries!