Minutesaver Monday – Meal Planning

Minutesaver Monday – Meal Planning

When I worked outside of the home in the financial industry, I used to dream of a day when I’d have time to meal plan. I winged dinner for years. It was always so frustrating for me, running to pick up my son after work, rushing home, and then trying to throw dinner together while helping with homework, doing laundry, and all of those things a working mom has to cram in between 6PM and bedtime every night.

After I had my second son and was no longer working 45+ hours every week, I started to investigate the concept of meal planning. What a lifesaver it has been! If I knew it was such a wonderful thing before, it would have saved me so much hassle. I guess it was one of those “can’t see the forest for the trees” moments in my life <one of many!>.

Meal planning is a huge timesaver, sanity saver, and money saver. It can also be a way to make sure you are eating better so that you aren’t scrambling around, grabbing whatever is easy instead of whatever is nutritious.

I am sure there are dozens of ways to meal plan, but I typically stick with five or six days at a time. I plan meals for most of the days of the week and leave myself a day or two unplanned, where we can eat dinner out or have leftovers <or cereal> or whatnot.

Here are my top tips in setting up Meal Planning for your family. Next week I’ll share some of my favorite family meals that are always in our rotation.

  • Make it fun! Ask your kids and husband what their favorite things are, and make sure those are in your rotation at least once during the month.
  • Keep it simple. I try to add one new-to-me dish once every two weeks. Other than that, we stick to staple things we know we like.
  • Work from a master list. I started by creating a list of our family’s most commonly eaten meals. I then went through my cookbooks and started experimenting and added to my master list gradually. I’m still adding to it, but it’s up to about 30 meals now! I keep my list in Excel and add to it from time to time. I have it separated by beef-pork-chicken-turkey-fish-vegetarian meals.
  • Before you meal plan the first time, quickly inventory your pantry, fridge, and freezer(s). I usually just log whatever meat I have and wing the sides for the most part. I’ll sit down with a list that looks like the one below and plan out my five or six meals from that.

  • Once you have inventoried what you have and have your five or six meals chosen, make a grocery list of what you are missing. Of course you will also need to add in breakfasts and lunches, but I only meal plan for dinners. Breakfasts are pretty much always the same around here and lunch is either sandwich or salad for me. You could meal plan for these other meals the same way, if you are that adventurous…or bored 😉
  • Post your menu! There are dozens of crafty ideas out there for menu boards, but you could just write your meals on a piece of paper and stick it on the fridge. Make sure the family knows what’s up. This way if hubby knows you are making meatloaf for dinner, he can steer clear of a hamburger at lunchtime and make another choice. Have fun with this part; it’s my favorite piece of the whole thing!

These are the basics of any meal planning system. You can go much bigger with this, with pre-made grocery lists, lists of meals you want to try, themed days <Fiesta Friday!>, meal planning to match sales ads, and more. I do a little bit of this and I definitely stock up on whatever meats are on sale so I have them for my next week’s batch of recipes. My deep freeze is always stocked with meat I got for a steal! I just can’t eat steak that’s been frozen…that’s my one and only hangup. I know my Kroger marks down meats on certain days at a certain time and I plan my shopping around that. I do buy some things in bulk at Costco, but typically no red meats. I get bags of chicken at Costco (love love love their individually wrapped frozen chicken breasts).

So how do you meal plan? What meals are always in your rotation? Do you find meal planning to be a sanity/money/timesaver for you? I’d love to hear!

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