Friday, April 16, 2010

The Benefits of Meal Planning

A week or so ago on twitter some of us were having a discussion about how much we spend on groceries in a month. This conversation somehow morphed into meal planning and @somekindofmom gave me the idea to do a blog post on meal planning. (thank you by the way!)

I am an avid meal planner. If I didn't plan out our weekly meals I would never have the complete ingredients for anything and every night at 5pm I'd be standing in the kitchen like a deer caught in the headlights wondering what to make. And I'm a stay-at-home mom, I can't even imagine what it's like for working moms to get home exhausted from a long day's work, with kids that are hungry and cranky. Not having a plan must make that time very stressful.

I thought I'd share with you all some tricks and tips I've come up with on meal planning and how it can help you become more organized and less stressed out about what to for dinner every night!

The Benefits
Having your week's meals planned out makes shopping a lot easier, and cheaper. If you have a list you're less tempted to buy stuff you don't need. It also keeps you from forgetting items and buying duplicates of things you might already have in your pantry. I display our meal plan on the fridge, which also cuts out the usual "what's for dinner?" question I would otherwise hear 50 times in a week.

Pick a shopping day
I plan my week on Friday mornings cause that's the day the weekly sales start at my grocery store. It's also one of the mornings my 3 year old is in preschool so I only have one kid to drag through the store. I try to get 90% of the items I'll need for the week, but I usually have to make one pit stop at the store later in the week to get items we've run out of, like bananas as I don't like to buy 20 at a time cause they'll be brown before they'd all be eaten (but our family does eat about 20/week!). I'll also pick up items I want to be as fresh as possible when we eat it, like kaisers for our Wednesday night burgers.

Get organized
First, I made a list of all the meals we enjoy, including breakfast foods (more on that to come), that I refer to when making my weekly meal plan. I have them organized by categories like Poultry, Beef, Pasta, Pork, Fish and Miscellaneous. I also roughly assigned food categories to the days of the week, like every Tuesday I plan a pasta dish, and every Friday is "fun meal" (pizza, tacos, etc...) night. Doing this helps me make sure we don't have too much overlap from the different categories. It also helps me ensure that we make a rotation through all our favourites and we're not eating the same 10 dishes over and over.

The next thing I do is take a quick inventory of the pantry, fridge and freezer to see what I have on hand that I can use for that week's meals.

Plan your week
A lot of people just plan their dinners, and if that's all that you need help with, then by all means do that. I plan breakfast, lunch and dinner. Why? I can't tell you how many times we've woken up on the weekend with a hankering for pancakes, or bacon and eggs only to discover we're out of maple syrup or bread. Planning out breakfast also helps to keep my kids from having toast with Nutella 7 days a week (which they would have NO problem with, but I do!). When I wake up I'm already in gear with my plan and get right to work, even if it's just toast and cereal there's no standing around trying to guess what they want. I just make it and they eat it and everyone is happy... usually (more on THAT later too).

I plan lunches for the same reason. Being prepared cuts down on the repetition. My husband takes leftovers in his lunch so I like to make sure I make a dish or two a week that reheats well and is easy for him to eat at work (ie doesn't involve a steak knife or he won't make too big a mess with).

Do your shopping, but be flexible

This week's meal plan included Pulled Pork on Sunday night. However, when I got to the store they were out of the cut of pork I use. BUT, they did have pork back ribs on sale so I did a quick switch in my head from Pulled Pork to Slow Roasted Ribs for Sunday night. Being flexible like that will help you with your shopping.

Another way you need to be flexible: "Aww, I don't want spaghetti tonight!". I sometimes find myself switching nights if we're busy and need a less complicated dish, someone is against that night's meal selection, or even on account of weather (who wants to BBQ in the pouring rain?).

When I shop I keep an eye out for deals on items that are not needed for the current week's meal plan and will pick them up to use the following week. But I try to avoid the pitfalls of the snack aisle and the cereal aisle whenever possible. I will blow my budget on cereal if I don't watch myself! Stick to your list for your core items though, no need to buy 4 bags of cookies just cause they're on sale.

If you're a working parent
Back in the days when I had a paying job, I used to prep some meals on the weekend. Things that could keep in the fridge for a few days like casseroles and lasagnas. I'd also marinate meats and wash and prep veggies. Doing this on the weekend saves time mid-week and makes it less likely you'll abandon your meal plan for fast food if you had a crazy day.

Here's this week's meal plan at our house, some of the recipes can be found on this blog, but as you can see, we keep it simple, we have a lot of little palates in our house, simple is best for now!

you can click on the image to see it larger

* "pb dinosaurs" are peanut butter sandwiches cut into dinosaur shapes with a cool sandwich cutter I have. "at party" refers to the fact we were going to be at a baby shower over lunch.

Recipes in this week's plan:

Taco Bake
Mediterranean Risotto


  1. i love your ideas. and that chart is great! I'm i need of more lunch ideas for my 3 yr old to take to preschool.

  2. i love your ideas and that chart! I need more lunch ideas for preschool for my 3 y/o.

  3. I'm inspired... I'm a very busy mommy and have been needing to get organized and plan my meals! Just made my meal plan and got an iphone app to help me with it! Thanks for the post!

  4. That's great! Which app did you download?