Meal Planning Mania
I have been meal planning regularly for just over eight years, and I remember exactly when I started. At the time I was a mama of very young boys and working outside of the home two days a week. I would commute almost two hours by car to get to my job, and the boys would come with me so a loving woman could care for them . I would finish work at five pm, drive to pick up the kids and if traffic was horrendous (as it usually was), I would likely stop somewhere on the road to pick up something for the boys to eat. I didn’t have a plan for dinner, nor did I want to try and come up with one at 7:30pm when I walked in the door.
It took almost a full year for us to realize that the way we were living was not a very good one. We ate more dinners out then in, and while I loved to cook, and knew how to cook, I just didn’t do it as often as I liked because it seemed like too much work. I wanted to spend my evenings with my boys and not slaving over the stove to make a meal they would be too tired to eat.
Around the same time, the Food Network was becoming increasingly popular and my husband, Rob, and I would often watch a show here and there, when time permitted. I honestly don’t recall what show mentioned the phrase “meal plan”, but as soon as I heard it, I knew it was for me. Rob wasn’t convinced, but he liked my home cooking enough to give it a shot.
Many years later, I can honestly say that meal planning is one of the greatest gifts we’ve given to our family. It saves time, money and energy and keeps home cooked meals on the table now that we juggle jobs, a dog, active tween boys, homework and extra-curricular activities that can see us travelling across the city during rush hour less than thirty minutes after we walk in the door from work. Not meal planning is not an option for us.
This isn’t just for families though. It’s a great way for single people and couples to ensure they also spend less time eating out. Planned meals save time at the grocery store and money in your wallet, and I think everyone can benefit from that.
So, how exactly do I meal plan? There isn’t a one-size fits all method, and I know people approach it different ways, but here is what works for me:
Meal Planning Tools:
Cookbooks, magazines, recipes printed from the Internet, notebook or piece of paper, pencil, and shopping list. A glass of wine, bottle of beer or cup of tea are all nice additions that will make the process much more enjoyable.
Meal Planning Method:
- Write the names of the days of the week across the top of your paper/notebook. I include all seven days even if I know that I won’t be cooking on one of those nights.
- Write down any pre-determined plans: business meeting, dinner with friends, birthday celebration, soccer game etc.
- Cross off the days that you know you won’t need to cook because of the plans you’ve written down. For example, if you’re going out with a friend on Tuesday, cross that day off. The soccer game on Thursday isn’t an indication that that day should be crossed off, but it lets you know this isn’t the night to make Julia Child’s Beef Bourguignon.
- Determine how many meat, fish and vegetable meals you would like to have that week. We aim for three meat and three veggie dinners and I always leave one night unplanned for spontaneous fun in the kitchen (usually Saturday). Visit your freezer to see if you have anything already prepared that you can use on a particularly busy night. Make a list of anything that needs to be used up in the coming days before it reaches its expiry.
- Now that you know how much time you have to cook each night, what types of meals you’d like to eat during the week, and what foods are on hand in your home, make a list of dinners.
- Be sure to have something written under each day of the week, unless you’ve crossed it out, of course.
- Once the meal plan is in place, compile a grocery list based on those dinners. Other than some pantry or fridge staples that you may have run out of, you won’t need to buy anything other than what’s on your list.
Meal Planning Tips:
- Always remember that a meal plan is not set-in stone. I’ve been known to deviate from it as long as I have the ingredients on hand to make something different. If I have to run to the store to make a pasta dish instead of the chicken dinner I was planning on, I’ve wasted time and money, which defeats the purpose of the plan.
- Keep a grocery list hanging on the wall at all times. Write the names of all the stores you shop at frequently, and dedicate a space to each store. Print off several lists and take the top copy with you when you go shopping.
- Weekends are a great time batch cook. Think of a dinner for Sunday night that you might be able to double (or quadruple!) and freeze portions for another day.
Meal Planning 101 was written and photographed by Jannise Scott, the author of the blog Family Bites and a contributing writer to savvymom.ca with eatsavvy She is an event planner, food writer, blogger, wife and mom to two young boys. Jan lives in Toronto, ON