Twenty-four years ago, desperation was the motivation for me to begin meal planning. After two love-to-shop children, we were blessed with a hate-to-shop child. His protests were set a high volume and the shopping trips left me utterly exhausted. My husband and I discussed our options, and he proposed the perfect solution. He offered to stay with the children once a month on a Saturday morning while I went for groceries.
This approach forced me to think about at meal planning. I had heard of it before, but it seemed so rigid. What if we were hungry for pizza on the day it said meatloaf and mashed potatoes? What if I did not have time to make the planned meal?
Trial and error mixed with flexibility were the keys to discovering the benefits of meal planning. Prior to shopping, I sketched out a month of supper menus and made a grocery list at the same time. I learned to keep a running town list and pay attention to lunch and breakfast supplies. It was doable for me or my husband to pick up perishables throughout the month without much drama. It worked and I loved the arrangement.
Many aspects of my life have changed, but a persistent schedule including daily meals still is the same. What I love most is the absence of “what-should-I-make-for-supper” question swirling in my head. Other benefits include:
- Grocery shopping is easier.
- Meals are more balanced and include more variety.
- Money is saved.
- Added flexibility.
- More likely to try new recipes.
- Sale items taken advantage of.
- More prepared for impromptu guests.
As our children have grown, our mealtimes have changed. Our two youngest children are in high school. My husband and older boys have day jobs. Dinner is the only meal we eat together if everyone is home. In recent years I have dropped monthly meal planning during the summer months since our schedules are unpredictable and fresh produce and fruits are readily available.
I enjoy cooking and baking for my men who love to eat, but I also look for shortcuts and ways to give myself a break. I am not a five-star chef with artfully arranged spreads, but my family gives complimentary reviews, and they are appreciative. Using nice serving dishes and lighting a candle adds a little class. If one food item is above average, the rest of the meal can be amazingly simple. Fresh bread camouflages leftovers beautifully.
WAYS TO SIMPLIFY MEAL PLANNING
Follow a theme. We have a casserole on Monday, meat and potatoes on Tuesday, soup on Wednesday and so forth. Usually everyone is home on Tuesday and Thursday, so I put more forethought into those meals and try to create an atmosphere for relaxation and conversation.
Know the schedule. Before menu planning, it helps to have a good feel of what is on the agenda for the month. Birthdays, holidays, school functions, church events and youth activities all affect the blueprint. If the youth will not be home for supper, the rest of us might order subs. If a school function supplies a light snack, then we might have ham and cheese sandwiches. Birthdays are worth celebrating and usually that person chooses the menu. An overall view helps me to insert favorite recipes throughout the month and to see where there might be a slot for a time-consuming meal. It also shows where the time crunch will be and when a pizza from Wal-Mart is appropriate.
Try batch baking and cooking. This saves time in preparation and clean-up. Brownies and cookies take the same type of ingredients. Frying hamburger for taco soup and enchiladas does not require double the work. Making party mix for a youth social and school event takes care of two functions with only one mess.
Simplify the options. To make the planning process easier, I use one or two cookbooks and/or my own personal recipe collection at one planning session. With the four-week method, it is easy to incorporate everyone’s favorite foods throughout that period.
Choose practicality. Planning at least one simple, easy-to-assemble meal is helpful when the unexpected happens. This gives freedom to move menus around to give space in the schedule. Sometimes Subway sandwiches and ice cream sandwiches make the difference between calm and chaos. Occasionally I plan a store-bought meal just to get a break from cooking.
Ready to give meal planning a whirl? Download my Free Menu Planning Worksheets to help get you started! You will love the timesaving benefits!