What’s for dinner? What’s going in the lunch bag tomorrow? It’s the daily question for most moms who stare at a refrigerator full of food waiting for it to talk back and say, “pick me! Pick me!” It’s a struggle for many of us; but not to worry, this, like anything else, can be tackled and simplified.
Menu planning doesn’t have to be complicated. Planning meals ahead requires a small investment of time, but can reap great rewards. You can plan meals yourself by looking at the sale items at your local grocery store, having your own binder of family favorite recipes, browsing through cookbooks, looking at in-season produce – just to name a few. Lunch planning? Not as complicated since it’s a great opportunity to re-use leftovers and the ingredient list isn’t nearly as long. And, that’s where our MOMables™ weekly menus come in. If the kitchen isn’t your forté, why not use a meal plan solution? Here are three quick reasons:
- A meal plan will save you money. Yes, the plan might cost between $5-$6 per month but you are spending a lot more on that on last minute ingredients and unplanned prepared foods. Most meal plans combine ingredients and use leftovers strategically; further saving you money on wasted food. The meal plan pays for itself within a couple of days by reducing last minute trips to the supermarket, splurging on prepared meals and eliminating mid-week impulse buying and wasted food. Using left overs efficiently cuts food waste, while planned buying in bulk makes it easy to stockpile your freezer.
- A meal plan will save you time. The minimal cost of the plan is paying for someone else to sit down and plan healthy meals for your family while you continue to tackle your mile long to-do list. I might be slightly biased here… but it’s worth it in my opinion. With a written plan and a meal specific shopping list ready you won’t have to go to the neighbors or for a missing ingredient. You can also prep and cook ahead a few meals for nights you might be busy.
- A meal plan improves nutrition. Without the last minute drive-through, frozen convenience foods or prepared meals counter at the supermarket you are able to use that time to prepare side dishes and salads to compliment your main dish. This increases your family’s consumption of fruits and vegetables. You also have time to prep lunches while the food is cooking! Having a meal plan is like eating out at a different restaurant each night, the menus are varied and you never get stuck in the same 10-dish rut.
So now you know that you should plan your meals but are a bit confused on where to start. Ask yourself what your goal is for meal planning; is it saving time, money, eat more varied foods or all the above? Here are some of the things you can do:
- Set a dollar amount for your weekly grocery budget and then stock up on bulk items that will yield a variety of menu options (think a whole chicken vs chicken breasts alone).
- Go meatless once a week like breakfast for dinner and utilize your slow cooker.
- Use simple recipes that use fewer ingredients.
- Stock up in sale items you actually use and pull them out to cook when you are short on your budget that week.
- Visit your farmer’s market during the last 30 minutes of it being open. Often times, they will reduce the price of produce by as much as 50% or give you a larger quantity simply to not let it spoil.
If you are a busy parent like me, working full time and constantly juggling the kids, activities and household demands… consider using a meal planning service. The one I use utilizes fresh ingredients and has simple instructions for me to follow. I subscribe, log in weekly, print, and shop. For lunch, I use the MOMables™ menu plans to provide a variety of foods for my kids that are made fresh in my kitchen. Considering I now have nearly a zero-wasted food, the cost pays for itself every day.
What are some of your best menu planning tips?