After several discussions on twitter over the past couple of days, I thought I’d write a post about meal planning. I was never a big fan of it. In fact, it always seemed quite restricting especially since I’m more of the fly by the seat of my pants kind of girl. But there are quite a few benefits that I have come to rely on. So meal planning is essential in our house.
Meal Planning Saves Money
Both my husband and I are used to good food. My husband’s father is a chef. I had gotten used to eating organic since I had all the issues with pesticides. So between the two of us, we eat well. When my husband and I first moved in with each other, we would spend about $100-150 a week on groceries and about $50+ eating out. However, after my husband had his second pay cut, we really needed to buckle down and figure out how to make every dollar count. Neither one of us wanted to give up on having good food, so I started paying attention to how I could save money.
The obvious money saver is that when you know what you’re cooking, you don’t eat out as much. But more importantly, when I use a meal plan, I know what foods I need for the week. So after my plan is done, I make lists for the places I get my groceries (in my case Trader Joe’s, Farmer’s Market, Vons and Jons). I know who has better prices for what and I know which place to buy organic.
Also, I don’t buy extra food that I don’t need nor do I waste food. HUGE money saver!
Eating a More Balanced Diet
Having a toddler, I try my best to make sure that we eat a well rounded diet which includes lots of vegetables. Another concern is getting the proper nutrition. So my meal plan usually includes a daily source of vitamin C, vitamin A every couple of days and as much Folic Acid and DHA as I can fit in. Some weeks, I do a better job than others. But most weeks, I’m pretty happy with my meal planning as far as a balanced diet goes.
Having More Time
You would think that cooking (nearly) every day would take up a lot of time. But it doesn’t. One of the things I do when I meal plan is look at my calendar. If I have a few days that I know I’m going to be busy all day, then I plan a crock pot meal. Since I know what I’m making, I usually get everything ready the night before and just put it in the refrigerator. In the morning, all I have to do is put it in the base and turn it on.
Also, since I know what I’m making for the week, I try to fix as many things ahead of time as possible. Most of the time I have my vegetables chopped ahead of time and sitting in the freezer, but even if I don’t, I will chop everything I need for the week at once. For example, this Saturday, I didn’t have any frozen chopped onions, so I chopped the onions for my meat loaf, the BBQ beef, the turkey chili and chopped all the rest of the onions I had on hand and froze them. On Sunday, I grilled up all of the remaining vegetables that I used in the panini on Sunday, but will also use for lunch on Thursday.
Another time saver is that since I know exactly what I need for the week, I don’t waste my time driving back and forth to the grocery store. Although I prefer to break it up into two shopping trips a week, my shopping trips are quick and easy since I know exactly what I need.
You Get To Be More Adventurous
Sometimes I see food at the Farmer’s market or hear about a dish that I want to try. Thanks to the internet and wonderful recipe websites like CD Kitchen and All Recipes, I can look for recipes and then plan them into my week. The beef stroganoff I recently made was one of those little adventures. I had never made it before, but it turned out amazing. Who knows when I would’ve gotten around to it if I hadn’t put it in my meal plan.