why bother with meal planning?
Planning your family’s meals for the week (or month, in our case) is important because it allows you to shop diligently and reduces food waste. If you know exactly what you will be cooking, you can purchase only the needed ingredients which helps reduce excess spending. It also means you will be less likely to purchase an impulse ingredient since you know you won’t be making a meal with it this week/month.
Meal planning can seem overwhelming at times, but I’ve figured out some tricks to make it easier. Firstly, you need to accept that you can do this! When people find out I plan all our meals one month in advance they say something like “Wow, I could never do that! I don’t even know what I’m having for dinner tonight!”, but meal planning is not that complicated. It might take several tries to get it down pat, but once you’ve mastered this skill, your life will be a little easier and less stressful!
finding meal inspiration
When we decided to shop once a month I knew I needed to decide what meals we’d be eating so I took to Pinterest and began looking for ideas. Once I found several I liked I created a secret Pinterest board to save the pins I wanted to use. I repeated this same process for dinner, snacks, and desserts until I had a decent sized collection of pins. If you are unsure how to even begin searching for meal ideas, think about what your family likes to eat and search for variations. For example, David enjoys pasta but also wants to eat more veggies so I searched for pasta and veggie dishes. If you have cookbooks, it’s also a good idea to browse through them since each section is usually fairly small. Don’t be afraid to list “cereal” as a meal, too! We usually eat the same few foods for breakfast all month and that’s fine with us.
making a list
Once you have decided what meals to make, it’s time to write a list of what ingredients are needed. I prefer to use a pen and paper, and write down the different meal headings across it, but you can use a spreadsheet or word processing program if you wish. Under each heading I write down the meals I have planned, and then beside that I write any special ingredients needed. Doing this take a few extra minutes but then you can do a walkthrough of what ingredients you already have, and what you need to purchase. Check your pantry and kitchen for what is needed, and cross off those you already have. Then make your grocery list accordingly.
I find it helpful to write out my grocery list in the order that the store is arranged. Almost every one I’ve shopped at has produce near the entrance, then bread, deli, meat, dairy, and frozen items. The centre aisles vary, but we pretty much stick to the tuna and pasta section. Writing my list starting with produce helps make my trip efficient since I don’t have to wander across the store looking for what I need.
You know how people say not to shop when you’re hungry? I can verify that shopping when hungry means you might be more tempted to buy snacks from the impulse section or extras you don’t need. I try to plan our shopping trip for the month right after church one Sunday and bring some snacks for us to eat before we head into the store. Although, since we are used to this routine we can usually get in and out in under an hour. When you pack your groceries, aim to have all the produce together, all the freezer items together, and all the pantry items together to make unpacking easier and more efficient.
making the meals
Each week I decide what meals we are going to have, and prepare accordingly. While I know the “freezer cooking” method is very popular, I just can’t get into it. I enjoy cooking each day but I will do some prep in advance, such as making stock for a soup (more on that in another post!). Sometimes I’ll have a menu set, then partway through the week we decide we’d rather eat a different meal, so I simply choose another one from the list. Nothing is set in stone, but we always have a variety of options.
Hopefully the steps I’ve outlined help you see that meal planning can be done and it is not that hard! It is actually pretty fun (does that make me sound like a nerd? A big, homemaking nerd?) and surprisingly rewarding. Not only is the stress of wondering what to make for dinner gone, but meal planning helps reduce food waste since you know exactly what food you need.
Do you currently meal plan? Are there any homemaking skills you’d like me to talk about in this series? Let me know in the comments.