Ah, Meal Planning
It can leave you feeling totally prepared and in control…or totally overwhelmed and inadequate.
It can have you learning new recipes with great success…or totally bombing and ordering pizza.
It can help you grocery shop more efficiently…or leave you buying in excess, wasting both food and money.
It can be your best friend…or your worst enemy.
This might surprise some of you, but meal planning has always been a huge challenge for me. I always hated having to commit on a Monday morning to what I was going to serve for dinner come Thursday night. It just felt too planned, and left little room for spontaneity. When Nate started law school and I was pregnant with John Robert, I meticulously shopped in a way to help us save money. We didn’t have children so I could easily hit a few different stores and quickly run out to grab something if need be. I LOVE to cook, so spending lots of time in the kitchen creating our dinner never bothered me. It was my therapy. My “me time.”
Now, two little people later and with a third on the way, “times…they are a changing.” We do have a little more wiggle room in the budget (thank you, salary) but now I have less TIME to spend going to multiple stores, nor do I want to. It also leaves less time to spend cooking a totally different, new, homemade meal every night.
If I am totally honest, I scoffed at the meal planners. “All those sad people who have to plan their meals…I don’t need that! I can cook on the fly! I’m so free and creative!” Well…let me tell you what’s on the menu for tonight: crow.
In the last few months, I have started to see a need in my life for some form of meal plan. I have found myself countless times with zero plan, dwindling energy, and nothing in the freezer. I have found myself with everything I need to make such and such recipe except that one key ingredient. I have found myself, dare I say it…uninspired to cook but also tired of takeout.
So…here I am. Just a girl, standing in front of her pantry…wondering what in the hell is for dinner.
I was looking online and it seems there are about 137,483 printable meal plans out there for you to download. Pretty fonts and boxes to help you plan everything from breakfast to dinner, and all the snacks in between. Many even come with a handy grocery list section!
So, I have opted out (at least for the time being) at giving you a printable. I promise you can find one on the google machine. Instead, I am giving you some of my top questions I have started asking in order to shop smarter, cook more efficiently, and plan better for hectic days. Also, in order to not feel too “boxed in,” I plan the meals we will eat that week, but not necessarily the exact day. That allows me some freedom while also having a good plan.
I know some of you will read these and think, “Kate, come on. I have been doing this for years!” And if that’s you, I applaud you! You are ahead of the curve. So, let’s consider this post more for those still trying to get into the swing of things. For the new mom, the new wife, those #ballinonabudget, the ever hungry ever busy grad student, or the slow learners like me (who 5 years into marriage and 2 babies in is just now realizing I need to plan better!)
Without further ado…here are 5 questions to help you plan and execute both your meals and grocery shopping. This might seem like an extra step in your already busy life, but I promise it will pay off in the end.
- What meals/ingredients do we already have? Is there anything in the freezer we should/could use?
- This is KEY!! It’s the best place to start in order to shop smarter and use things before their expiration date. Also, if you do this well you might even realize you don’t need to make a trip to the store just yet; you might have everything on hand for something delicious!
- I like to take stock of what is in our freezer 1-2 times a month. If there is a frozen casserole you wish to use that week, go ahead and move it to the fridge. It will take a good 1-2 days to defrost and will be ready to bake the day you need it instead of having to fret over a frozen casserole needing an extra 2 hours in the oven.
- What dish have I been wanting to try?
- I love this question because I think it can really help you get out of your comfort zone or reignite a love for trying new things. Is there a recipe in a magazine you ripped out but have yet to try? What about a new cookbook you’ve been reading?
- What other meals could I build around this dish using ingredients I will have to buy? Does this week have a theme?
- This is where you can really focus on saving money and making sure not to waste ingredients. Are you already making homemade tzatziki? Make it a Greek themed week! Buying basil for pesto? Make a fresh pasta dish with it as well.
- Are there any meals I am making that are easily doubled in order to make one for the freezer?
- This one is fairly self explanatory, but you would be amazed how many recipes you make are freezer friendly. Most casseroles freeze beautifully and if you’re putting in all that work you might as well get two meals out of it!
- Do any of the meals call for a grain or meat I could easily double to use for another meal?
- Defrosting beef for spaghetti sauce? Why not cook double and use half for tacos. Steaming rice for a veggie bowl? Double it and use half with my mango soyaki chicken.
OK, that’s all I’ve got for you. Hope this helps you plan a little better and save some moolah (and sanity!)