This is part 1 of a 4 part series. Read part 2 (the where), part 3 (the how), and part 4 (the conclusion) to get the full picture of how to integrate this meal planning guide into your normal routine!
This month our theme here is time. How can we better use our time to serve others?
This is part one of a three part series on meal planning that will help start your year off right and save you lots of time and stress!
At the bottom of this post, I link to a few online recipes. Would you pick your one favorite online recipe and link to it in the comments? I’d so appreciate it!
It was ten years ago and I was standing in the middle of my kitchen at 5pm with four hungry kids pawing at my legs and a hungry husband who would soon return home from work.
I had just graduated from residency and was working part time at the ER on the weekends but most of my days came to a climax in this very spot, at this very hour, in my kitchen. This particular day something shifted inside me and I decided that 5pm, when everyone’s tired and hungry and whiny, is not a good time to think about what’s for dinner. I also decided that it was high time I started taking this job, that I was apparently going to have to think about every day, seriously.
At first I was angry and thought, “How dare them get hungry at this very time every. single. day.” (Doesn’t it seem like they’re always hungry?)
And then I began to realize that of all the things I could spend my time and effort doing, learning to cook well and plan meals is probably among the most important for a busy mom.
So, I made myself a student of the Food Network and of cooking magazines and the more I learned about cooking and practiced it myself, the more I began to love it.
We tend to dislike things we’re not good at and many of us have a disdain for cooking and meal planning because we haven’t yet tackled that area of our lives.
I’m here to convince you that it’s so worth it! I’m still figuring it out but I want to bring you along with me so you and your family can start reaping the benefits of this.
Rome wasn’t built in a day so be patient with yourself. Take baby steps but take steps!
There are so many benefits to cooking at home and having some semblance of an idea of what you’re gonna cook.
1. It reduces stress.
I had come to hate the bewitching 5 o’clock hour back then. It was like a daily reminder to me that I didn’t have it all together. The guilt would ensue and then I’d start making all kinds of excuses for myself. “I have four kids, for crying out loud. Do you expect me to keep them alive and cook TOO?” or “That’s just not one of my spiritual gifts. Some people cook every day. I don’t.”
And don’t get me wrong, there are some seasons in life where it feels impossible to put meals on the table. I know. But all the more reason to have a plan. Any plan. I promise you that when you put some effort and thought into this daily, recurring stressor, it will pay dividends. You won’t be nearly as stressed and you’ll have a sense of control over your life that is very empowering.
2. It’s healthier.
Cooking at home with a plan has so many advantages, healthwise. You know what you’re eating and you can control how much salt, sugar, and fat there is. You can also be in control of buying more local produce and eating seasonally. (Better yet, start a small vegetable garden this spring and eat as local as possible!) When we eat out, we almost always eat more calories and we often eat on the run, losing the benefits of the ‘family around the table’ and also impairing digestion.
3. It costs less.
Eating out is terribly expensive. Learning to cook at home with some sort of purpose of plan will save you lots of money. I’ll give you examples tomorrow of how it works but you probably already sense that it’s true. And just think of all that you could do with that money you spend on mediocre food.
4. It’s a great way to serve your family.
I know, I’ve said it before but hospitality begins at home. And what better way to serve the ones we love than to feed them well. Meal planning is a great way to keep you accountable. You’re not tempted to eat out all the time if you have a plan for what you’re eating. These beautiful people? They like to eat. Regularly.
Things to consider–
Now you’ll have a different list but here’s what I take into account when making my meal plan:
1. Schedule—-I usually make something easy-ish on Mondays. Mondays are frought with enough resistance. Often, we have soup because I can cook it in the morning and let it’s flavors meld together. On Tuesdays, my girls have an early ballet class so I try to make something that can be made ahead of time and reheated easily. On Wednesdays, there’s no dance and I have more time to cook so I’ll do more gourmet-ish things. You get the picture. You have to figure it out for your family’s schedule.
2. Variety—- I don’t always succeed but I try to vary the meats, the textures, the flavors, etc. I try to vary the method of cooking and use seasonal items as much as possible. I wish I could say that I shop only the sales and then make my meals based on that but I don’t always do that either. I think finding a system that works for you, no matter it’s limitations, is better than the ‘winging it’ that most of us have always done.
3. Flexibility—–One of the reasons I’ve resisted long range meal planning is because I’m SO fickle. How can I decide today that I want to have cheese tortellini soup two weeks from Monday? I might totally change my mind. I might die at the thought of cheese tortellini soup on that particular Monday.
Side note: I had the same trouble as a child. I could NEVER agree to picking out my clothes the night before. These decisions change moment by moment. Who could possibly know the night before which outfit might be ‘right’ for this given day???
I get around this by giving myself room to change my mind whenever my little heart desires. But in three months, I could have a wonderful year-long meal plan.
And that? Gets me very excited.
Don’t worry, tomorrow, I’m bringing the nitty gritty.
Today, think about how you might start to implement a plan. I recently started using Google Calendar and will tell you step by step how I do it but that might not be a good fit for you.
Give it some thought and come back tomorrow for details!
I wanted to leave you with some tried and true recipes that you can scan and see if they’ll be a good fit for your family. You can add these to your Calendar and I’ll show you exactly how I’ve been implementing mine tomorrow. If you don’t have any ideas for this week, this will get you started.
Skillet pork and peppers
Cheese Tortellini Soup
Lemon and Garlic Roast Chicken
Chicken and egg soup with Pastina
Ruth’s freezer meals
Don’t forget to link up at the end of the month with your post on time management. How are you finding strategies to make the most of your time? What is your favorite ‘time hack’? We’ll meet here January 30th!