For many years I did not meal plan. We would decide each day, typically about meal time what we wanted. Occasionally, I would be on the ball and plan that morning and therefore be able to go ahead and thaw meat for dinner. I wanted the flexibility to change my mind and honestly it felt overwhelming to plan. However, in the years since I started meal planning I have found that it actually saves us time, money, and stress and I still have flexibility.
By planning out our meals, I know what needs to be done ahead of time. I can bake muffins the night before, take out meat to thaw, put things in the crock pot, etc. This means that there is less rushing around and adding stress to busy days. It also means I know if I need to add anything to my grocery list for the week.
Earlier I mentioned still having flexibility. I know that is one of the biggest reasons why people say they don’t meal plan. However, like most of my plans in life our meal plan is subject to change. If my husband wakes up that morning and decides he would really rather have lasagna tonight I can simply change the plan. If something comes up and we don’t get home in time to cook the pot roast I had on the menu, I can substitute something fast and easy. The plan isn’t’ written in stone but it gives us a good guideline. Planning keeps me from getting to 5pm and not knowing what we are going to have and having to try to wing it while the managing the children and being tired from a long day.
Another common complaint is that meal planning costs too much money. I think this is a misconception about meal planning . If you buy a pre-done meal plan that involves lots of ingredients you don’t normally use and then go buy them all at full price it could cost you more money. However, I make our menu plans based off of the foods and meals we already like (or recipes that I want to try) and what we have in our house. I grocery shop based on sales and seasons. When non-perishable items like noodles, rice, beans, etc are on sale I stock up on them so that I have enough to last until they are on sale again. We either buy in our meat in bulk or stock up when it is on sale as well and store it in our freezer. We purchase most of our produce locally and in season. We also, can that local seasonal produce for the winter months. I do supplement our produce with sales at the grocery store. Using this method I get most of our groceries at a very reduced price but have a wide range to choose from when I plan our menus. I do occasionally need a specific ingredient or two to finish out our menus, for instance I added ricotta cheese to the list this week because I wanted lasagna and we were out of ricotta. By using this method I am able to utilize the sales and actually save money on groceries through meal planning.
In addition to saving money at the grocery store, we save money by not going out to eat as often. If you are very busy and have no plan it can be easy to feel like you have to eat out. Whether it is a lunch out on a field trip day because you didn’t have anything to pack or a quick dinner because you are going to get home at dinner time and nothing is prepared, it can add up quick. By planning out our meals and consulting our calendar I make sure that on afternoons we will be out I have something in the crock pot or ready for the instant pot when we get home. For days we are out at field trips I plan a lunch that is easy to pack and bring. Busy mornings are often muffins or sausage balls prepared the night before. A little bit of planning and preparation can go a long way towards saving time and money in these situations.
I often use the crock pot or instant pot (and sometimes both) in conjunction with my meal plan. On days that are busy or where we may not be in the house I can let them do the work of cooking for me and still serve my family a hot fresh meal. Those tools allow me to better spend my time focusing on other aspects of our home or family. I can throw lunch in the crock pot, spend the morning teaching the children and sit down to a meal ready to eat.
We use the crock pot for many things but a few favorites are baked potatoes for loaded baked potatoes at lunch, soups of all kinds during the cooler months, For a tasty and easy dinner I put a fresh ham steak and a jar of green salsa in the crock pot in the morning. Just before we are ready to eat I cook a bit of rice in the instant pot. I serve the carnitas from the crock pot over the rice and top with corn salsa and sour cream. It is an easy, nutritious meal that our whole family enjoys.
So many different things can be cooked in the instant pot but a few family favorites are grits (so easy in the instant pot and I don’t have to stir them the whole time), beans (dry beans to ready to eat in under an hour), rice, and meat loaf with mashed potatoes. I can put the potatoes on the bottom, the meat loaf on top in a foil boat and basically have dinner ready with no mess in very little time just add a salad or some steamed veggies.
There are many different ways to meal plan. As a homeschooling family we are home for most meals during the week and I found it was important that I planned all three meals each day. I sit down with the calendar (so I know if we have things going on that might effect the menu) each week and plan out Sunday through Friday. Our Saturdays tend to vary so I don’t plan those ahead of time. I make a plan based on the food we have, our plans for the week, and what everybody wants that week. When I need ideas I have a list for each of the three meals that I can draw ideas from. This helps keep us from getting into the rut of eating the same thing each week. In doing our meal planning like this each week our stress is reduced, our food budget is reduced, and we eat healthy balanced meals.
Each family is different and each plan will look different but I think having a meal plan will help most families. If you have meal planning ideas or plan to try this I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
I have added a simple meal planning template to our resource library to help you get started. Though I only plan six days a week I have included all seven days for those that would prefer that method. It includes spots for all three meals each day as well as a spot for things you need to do to prep for the next days meals.
In addition to all of the other benefits to meal planning, I find that having a plan and a well stocked pantry help make it easier for me to meet our goals of having a ‘Life Giving Home’ and a ‘Life Giving Table’. I am so excited about the upcoming release of Sally Clarkson’s new book “The Life Giving Table“. I will be offering an online study of this book in October after the release. It can help us to bless our families and others through the simple act of gathering together around the table.
When you sign up for our free resource library you will get a link and password to the library, we are adding to the library each month with new items. You will also get a bi-weekly newsletter email to keep you up to date on what we have going on.
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3 thoughts on “Meal Planning: A Step Towards Sanity”
hmm… food for thought this is. 🙂