December 17, 2017

Meal Planning: Why It’s Worth It

meal planningBy Julie Samrick

Very recently I’ve begun meal planning because until now I’ve always had the same annoying thing happen.  I’d go to the store, stock up, look at my full shelves and refrigerator and then, undoubtedly, I’d still think by the next day, What should I make for dinner?  Or worse, there’d still be a reason I’d have to go back to the store the very next day.  And most of us know it’s virtually impossible to walk out of a store only buying the one or two items on the list.


It drove me crazy!


A few months ago I took my first baby steps to meal planning by making a list of essentials food items- ones we should have in the house at all times to cut down on trips to the store. If my family at least has milk, bread, eggs, peanut butter, and fresh produce we can make do. 


It’s been a good tip, but I was still not being efficient. I was still spending like I’d bought a week’s worth of groceries, but by the 4th day was scavenging to find something to make for dinner.


My introduction to meal planning has gone like this so far:


I spend about 45 minutes at the start of each week meal planning for at least the week. Sometimes the ingredients can stretch beyond one week. 


First I ask the kids and my husband if there’s something for dinner they’re craving. 


Then, I do some research. I might just flip through cookbooks to freshen up my standard rotation of recipes.  Some very experienced meal planning moms already have multiple recipes they rotate through each month.


I also look through our local grocery store’s coupon app to see sales for the week.  What’s on sale gives great meal planning ideas and it doesn’t have to just be for dinner.  When things are on sale, buy in bulk. Freeze the second half of the value pack of salmon, for instance, for next week’s dinner. That container of oatmeal could be for breakfast, but also to make cookies for the bake sale coming up.


In the past where I failed in meal planning was I only thought of the main course- “tacos” isn’t enough information.  Now I think about what sides will go with it. If it’s a fresh side dish, like spinach salad or melon, I plan to have those meals earlier in the week. If it’s a can of refried beans to go with tacos, I bump that meal out and put the ground turkey or beef in the freezer in the meantime.  My husband thinks it’s funny I’m so into freezing, but it’s a great time saver and it keeps food fresh.


I also didn’t take our family’s schedule into consideration before, which threw me off.  I also thought meal planning was too rigid.  Instead, I think about the week ahead- like the one night my husband gets dinner on the table. This could be a good night to have the grilled chicken because he likes to grill. Or, this could also be a good night to prep something in the crockpot that he can just put on the table. The night the boys had flag football games would be a picnic night so the homemade pizza might be good for then.


This is part of the 45 minutes, looking ahead at our week.  I’ve learned it doesn’t have to be rigid. If something surprise comes up, no big deal. You’ll still have the ingredients for another night. I found myself switching a couple of nights when things came up and it still worked great.


The best surprise has been the kids’ reactions.  They love checking to see what’s for dinner and there hasn’t been the complaining I thought there’d be- No, “But I don’t like xyz!”  They’ve been excited to see “what’s on the menu” instead.


And the biggest payoff? I go on average six days without one visit to the store.  A little bit of planning has definitely saved me time, aggravation, and money. Plus, our dinners have been more interesting because of the full thought put into them.


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