Is it time to get smart with meal planning for your home? I have provided my system in hopes that it will get you that much closer to where you want to be in your journey to better home management.
Let us rewind a bit first. Three years ago my diet consisted of bagels, donuts, and sandwiches. Okay maybe an extreme example but not far off I promise. I had eaten this way my entire life. Don’t blame my mother. There was always a balanced meal on the table. I just made sure I only took the vegetables if I was told to and I would sneak Oreos every day after school. On top of that, I was an athlete in high school and was encouraged by coaches to “carb load.” My monthly visitor “Aunt Flow” was more like a distant relative you only see at funerals. I use the term funeral because when she did visit I literally wanted to die…Anyway, I had been married a year and we were ready to start a family. After four unsuccessful months I had the thought, “Maybe I’ll just go in and get checked out to make sure everything is alright.”
Everything was not alright. I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. Long definition short, my hormones are out of whack and there is no cure. It wreaks all kinds of havoc to your body, especially your reproductive system. This is a much longer story but in the interest of staying on topic I will just say my doctor’s advice for my first step was a zero gluten, sugar free, high protein diet. My first reaction was “ew to all of those things.” Have I mentioned that I love donuts? I knew nothing about healthier cooking alternatives or gluten free substituting. I will be honest. It was awful. I really wanted donuts, but I wanted a baby more so I hit the books. And by books I mean every blog and internet article I could find. One by one I made the changes that I needed to. With the help of very supportive family members I found stevia, I learned to make the dishes I loved gluten free, I cried a lot, and I eventually transitioned to a healthier lifestyle. It was the hardest. The withdrawals from gluten and sugar are no joke folks. If I hadn’t wanted to be a mother so badly I would have never had the will power.
Close to a year later, and with the help of ovulation drugs, I was pregnant. It was all completely worth it and I now had the knowledge and the ability to be a healthier me. Now I could create an entire post (maybe I will someday) on the benefits of healthy eating, but one of the most beneficial tools I found to aid in these efforts was a meal plan. It was ten times easier to stick to my diet if I had a plan to stick to. It was my shoulder to lean on when I wanted to give up. Fast forward to now. I confess to be a bit obsessed with meal planning, but this obsession blesses my family and it can bless yours too.
I know what you are thinking. I’m too busy! Why should I spend my free time meal planning when I could turn my brain off and binge watch Fixer Upper? (You’re not alone). Well I am so glad you asked because I cannot wait to tell you.
You will save money
There are a few ways this will happen. Example one, as you are making your shopping list you see that a recipe calls for sesame oil. Well good sesame oil can be a bit pricey. But guess what, you already bought sesame oil for your Asian dish LAST meal period so you can quickly scribble that off on your list. You just saved yourself a couple bucks.
Another way your wallet will thank you is that stuff just comes up. You don’t feel like cooking tonight so you bag it and go out. Maybe your husband surprises you and brings home a pizza. Or, fingers crossed, you get invited over somewhere for dinner. This means that the chicken pot pie soup you had scheduled does not get made. I cannot tell you how often this happens. I usually have at least one meal that I had planned/shopped for and didn’t end up making. Now you just transfer this over the NEXT time you meal plan, and you already have all the ingredients to boot! Winning.
This brings me to the third way you will save money by meal planning. It goes along with the “stuff comes up mentality.” Because you will sit down and look ahead in your calendar at what you have going on before you schedule meals you won’t over plan. Our church sometimes has potlucks. Sweet, that means I don’t have to plan anything but a side dish that night. Maybe your mother-in-law invited you over for Sunday dinner. Because this is in your calendar, you don’t waste time planning a meal or spending money on food you won’t use. However, this method DOES require that you keep an updated calendar. So hopefully you do already, or are planning to start.
It is easier to eat healthy
Okay go with me on this, you just got home from work and you are too hungry to figure out what to make for dinner. Your husband called to say he would be home late, your daughter ripped a hole in her new pants today that you waited in line for an hour to buy, and with the baby on your hip you dropped your keys twice before you even got to the front door. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese for everyone! Wrong. You meal planned! You have all the stuff for zucchini boats. You just have to throw it together. Pat yourself on the back. You just saved yourself more empty carbs than you want to know.
You make better choices when you already have a plan. Empty carbs are SO easy to throw together, not to mention delicious. It is hard work to shift to healthy meals when you first start out. Also once you make the decision to change it gets tempting to go back to old habits because if you are like me, you had to replace a LOT of family favorites. I have been there and I’m never going back. Once you make the shift your body will thank you I promise.
Side note: You don’t have to substitute delicious for healthy. They can be one and the same.
It is one less thing to worry about
Picture the previous scene that I laid out for you. In addition to all that you only have an hour before you have to get to your workout class, the one thing you do for yourself that you look forward to all week. Once again that Mac n Cheese is looking pretty good right now because you do not have the time to figure something out and then run to the store to pick up the items you don’t have. But no need. You have already done the thinking AND the shopping! All you have to do is look at your menu board and get started.
I have already done the work for you
Guys, I do not feel that I need to do a lot of explaining here. I’m passionate about meal planning so I am willingly sharing mine with you!
Now that I’ve convinced you that you cannot possibly go another minute without a meal plan, let’s get started!
Step 1. Organize It
Best advice alert: Get Free Printables. So many women much more skilled than I have already spent the time to provide us with tools to enhance our productivity. Not to mention, they do it beautifully!
These are some of my favorites:
I use two different printables for my system. One is a meal planning printable with a list option on the side. The other, I display on my kitchen counter in a cute frame.
I use the printable with the lists on the side to write down all the meals I plan on making as well as any additional info I need to keep in mind. When I have the number of meals I counted for then I date the days and assign the meals. Stay with me, I’ll explain this below. I suppose this would be considered my rough draft. I have two copies of this printable so I can assign two weeks worth of meals. These are placed inside plastic sleeves and written on with dry erase marker. Those reside in my home management binder.
Once I assign my meals to a day I also provide a visual copy that is framed on the kitchen counter (see photo above). For my convenience, I just write on the glass with a dry erase marker. Are you getting the hint that I try not to create more work for myself? This method also allows for less paper to keep track of.
Step 2. Pull Out Your Calendar
Now you have your beautifully designed printables and are ready for the next step. For this step to be useful it requires that you actually keep your calendar up to date…I know that I might be asking a lot here but we need calendars to keep our heads on straight. Pull up the family calendar and look for anything scheduled in the next two weeks that impacts dinner in any way. Examples: eating out with friends, parties to go to, having guests over, etc. This way you know what is best for that night or if you even need to cook anything at all! Score!
Next, count how many dinners you need to plan for and write that down on the top of the printable with the notes section (your rough draft version). If two weeks at a time is too often I have friends that meal plan for a month at a time. Do what works for you.
Step 3. Make Notes, You Will Thank Yourself Later
I make these notes right on my rough draft version. Going to be at soccer games all day? You are going to want something for the slow cooker-write crockpot above that day. Having friends over for dinner next weekend? Probably should plan a few extra sides. These events are on the page so you can keep them in mind when choosing and assigning meals.
I like knowing what to prepare for early in the day so I can thaw meat or chop veggies a head of time, but am flexible if it doesn’t work out how I had planned. I typically assign my meals to a day but the recipes I share are in no particular order, so feel free to add them to your calendars as you please.
Step 4. Look Up the Recipes and Create a Grocery List
Once I have my meals chosen and assigned I make the grocery list. I do this by reading EVERY single recipe I have chosen and writing down what I do not have. I stress the word every because I cannot tell you how many times I have thought I knew what was in a dish and didn’t bother to make sure only to attempt to make it the next week and realize it calls for some spice that I do not have. Been there?
Lastly, I will just put this out there because we have all done it. Do. Not. Forget. The. List. Unless you enjoy loading up three kids and three kids worth of snacks only to get to the store with no clue what you needed.
Step 5. The Lingo-How to effectively utilize my meal plans
Now because I am happy to help you skip the process of finding 10+ meals, the time it takes you to meal plan should be shortened quite a bit. I will post my meal plans every other week in time for weekend grocery shopping. Listed below are some short cut terms I use for convenience.
YoYo- it means you’re on your own, or leftover night, or make yourself a dang quesadilla night because I don’t believe that a person should have to cook every single day of the week.
GF- Gluten Free ( if a recipe is not wheat free you can bet that I substituted flour with a GF blend or cornstarch)
CP- Crockpot/Slow Cooker
*- Tried and true family favorite
Additional Tips & Tricks
- There is only three of us right now (the baby doesn’t eat enough to make a difference) but I always cook for four so that husband and I both have lunches the next day. Sometimes that means half-ing the recipe. So pay attention to ingredient amounts.
- Meat is expensive, and should be eaten sparingly anyway, so I try really hard to do Meatless Monday
- When I am doing a cleanse I plan out breakfast, snacks, lunches, AND dinner. I am less likely to cheat.
- I try about five new recipes every meal period. After the two week period is over, I always go back and add the meals we liked to our family favorites list and delete the ones on Pinterest or throw away the copies of the recipes that we did not love. If we don’t love it, I don’t bother making it again.