Meal Planning doesn’t have to be a stressful proposition with these nine easy steps.
As often as the seasons change, a new season begets a whole new set of circumstances. Circumstances involving three of four sons participating in seemingly five different sports. Circumstances involving Bacon Slayer and I coaching different teams in different seasons–all of which seems very do-able on paper, until the part where sports seasons that historically did not overlap much, are now apparently overlaping quite a bit.
The best case scenario puts Bacon Slayer and I going different directions 5-6 days per week, assuming his work travel schedule doesn’t take him entirely out of the equation. When I’m forced to fly solo, you’ll find me here, blogging from my happy place while snarfing down molten chocolate cakes like it’s nobody’s business, and wishing that it would all just go away. Snarfing cake is a legitimate coping mechanism in my world.
Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that, because my hiney might not appreciate the extra jiggles. Fact: no amount of laps around the soccer field can make up for downing multiple molten chocolate cakes in on sitting–even if I am chasing a small herd of 9 and 9 year olds.
’tis the season.
Oh, and that self-imposed moratorium on caffeine that I have been toying with for the past few months? I’m so over it! That foolishness ends tomorrow morning with a colossal mug of fully leaded chai.
In addition to copious amounts of caffeine, the key to my sanity during busy seasons comes down to one other thing: menu planning.
While I realize that the whole idea of planning a written menu may seem a little over the top, doing so really helps to maintain a level of calm-within-the-storm. I like to think of the menu plan as one less thing to think about while trying to help with homework/getting respective kids into their respective sports gear/synchronizing Swatches with Bacon Slayer/cooking dinner within a 60 minute time frame.
That, and it keeps us from eating carry-out pizza six nights a week. Besides…we all know that restaurant and take-out meals are
always generally more expensive and less healthy than home cooked meals. With a little forethought, we can eat well for a lot less money than would be spent on a comparable restaurant meal.
For those that are a little intimated at the thought of planning a menu or fear the commitment of planning too far in the future–fear not! Menu planning is really quite simple and takes a lot less time than you’d think.
To get started on eating well without losing your mind, follow a few simple steps to creating a menu plan:
- Make a list of all of your “family favorite” meals. Think meals that everyone loves, or at the very least, meals that most of the family will eat. For years, our family favorites list was the sole basis for our menu plan. Sure, I’d deviate to try new things here and there, but for the most part, I stuck to “slam dunk” meals for the kids. I have a friend that has a two week meal cycle of family favorites, which she repeats each month. Same meal, same night of the week for two weeks. Repeat. That’s what works for them. Finding what works for you is the key.
- Write a complete list of ingredients required to prepare the family favorites. The ingredients list will serve as the basis for the shopping list for the menu plan.
- Take a peek in the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry to see what food is already on hand. Cross of any on-hand items from the base shopping list. I know this step seems a little obvious, but I can’t even tell you how many times I have shopped without doing a quick inventory, only to come home with an ingredient, and discover that I had three identical ingredients in the cupboard. It happens.
- Browse the sale circulars for the local grocery store(s) weekly, to see if anything on the list is on sale. If any ingredients on on sale, note it on the shopping list and consider stocking up.
- Plan the menu on the same night each week so that it becomes a habit. I plan and/or review our menu plan each Sunday night in order to mentally prepare for the week ahead.
- Get out the calender and plan meals based on what is scheduled for each day of the week. For example, if I know that I have a busy day scheduled and I won’t have time to cook before running out again in the evening, then I might plan a slow cooker meal for that night. That way, I can throw dinner in the crock pot in the morning and forget about it. If I have a more time on another night, then I may plan a meal that is more labor intensive to prepare on that night. On Bacon Slayer’s travel nights, I often designate a Kid’s Choice Night, and let the boys choose what we have for dinner that night.
- Start small. If the thought of sticking to a menu plan for an entire week seems daunting, try planning 2-3 days at a time. You can always work up to more days, and eventually you’ll find the number that works for you.
- Plan for a “buffer night.” I typically plan our meals for 10-14 days at a time. You don’t have to plan that far in advance! If the mere idea of menu planning makes you weak in the knees, then start small. Try planning a week at a time, or even as little as 3 days. In my menu plan, I schedule one or two “buffer nights” to maybe try a new recipe, or for “Leftover-Palooza,” in which dinner consists of any leftovers that might be piling up in the fridge. Heck, sometimes I just don’t feel like cooking so “buffer night” means that we eat cereal for dinner. Think of the “buffer night” as a free space on a Bingo card. Plan for a little flexibility, but not so much that the menu plan disintegrates.
- Shop for the menu plan, and then stick to the plan! I look at the menu plan each night before heading to bed. By doing so, I can make sure that if we are scheduled to have chicken for dinner the next night, that I actually moved the chicken from the freezer to the fridge to thaw.
That’s it! Menu planning is such an easy way to eat well and retain some sense of sanity in the process.
Oh! Another thing to note: there are veritable TRUCKLOADS of FREE menu planning spreadsheets online to suit all needs–planning printables for a week, two weeks, or a month at a time. I love using free menu planning printables because they make the whole process that much easier.
For those of you that plan your meals: what do you do differently than I do?
If you have never planned a menu: I’d love for you to try it, and let me know what works for you.