If I could share one tip with other moms who are looking to make their days go more simply, it would be to make a meal plan!
Let me set a scene for you. Picture this in your mind. It’s 4pm, your patience is possibly waning after a busy day of homeschooling, parenting, and housework. Just when you think you might sit down, you hear, “Mama, what’s for supper?” This is the moment you realize all your meat is still in the freezer, your fridge is bare and the pantry isn’t looking much better either. You start thinking about ideas to make for supper and for everything you come up with, it’s either too late or you don’t have what you need. You end up ordering take-out instead, paying more money and eating less healthy than cooking at home would have been.
Perhaps you did end up having food you could prepare, but because it took you so long to decide what to make, supper is now an hour late, which makes bedtime an hour late.
Does this sound familiar? We’ve all been there at some point in time. For some of us, that is why we started meal planning!
What Is Meal Planning?
Meal planning and meal prepping seem to be buzzwords right now, but what is the difference? The second word in each, “planning” and “prepping,” is where we find the difference!
Meal planning is just what it sounds like: it is the planning out of meals in advance. Meal prepping is something totally different. It is where you do some amount of preparation for your meals in advance. Sometimes this is as simple as cutting veggies and/or meat during naptime, or sometimes it’s prepping lunches for the whole week on a Sunday afternoon. You can even let your kiddos help with this part!
While meal prepping can be very helpful as well, it is the planning that I have found really revolutionary in my home for a few reasons.
How Meal Planning Has Helped Our Family
The biggest, and most obvious, way meal planning has helped in our family is not having that stressful time every day trying to figure out what is for supper. It is written on our family calendar on the fridge so everyone can look and see what is for supper. No one needs to ask me, and no one needs to feel stress; it is already planned.
There are also some less obvious ways that this has been a benefit. One of those ways is financially. Whoever does the grocery shopping isn’t just wandering aimlessly through the store, grabbing whatever looks good. There is a list made that corresponds to the meals for the week, and this makes shopping pretty cut and dry.
While not as noticeable, I do find there to also be less food waste when meal planning. When I grocery shop with a purpose, everything I buy has a use. So I am not buying a bunch of meat or produce that will not be used and have to be thrown out. Sometimes I even will schedule in leftovers if our fridge is getting full and we need to use things up so they aren’t thrown out.
How to Meal Plan
There really isn’t a right or wrong way to meal plan. In our lives, it has been dictated by pay days, proximity to the grocery store, availability of produce, and budget.
There have been seasons when we planned two weeks at a time—so from paycheck to paycheck. We would make a plan for the two weeks and shop on payday. That would be enough groceries to last until the next payday.
We have also lived remotely where we had to think more about monthly shopping. We could get smaller things in between, but our proximity to a city center required that we do a large monthly shop instead.
Currently we plan about once a week. In our current location, produce isn’t overly fresh to begin with when it arrives, so we can’t go longer than a week between shopping trips.
While this planning took me longer at the beginning, it is a relatively fast process now. To begin, I look at my calendar and see what we have going on that week. Does one of the girls have basketball over suppertime and we need to eat a quick and easy meal? Do we have a church activity in the evening that requires us to eat early? Is my husband on day shift or night shift? These are some factors that help choose meals. I have certain meals that I make on the rushed nights and others I save for when I have more time.
After that, I look in the fridge. Do we have anything left in there in produce that needs to be used up? What is in the pantry that I can use for meals this week to cut down on needed groceries? What meat is in the freezer? I want to use what I can from home as much as possible.
Using that info, the schedule and what we already have available, I plan out our supper meals for the week and write them on the calendar. I don’t plan breakfast (everyone gets their own when they get up) or lunches. I just keep the normal foods on hand for those.
As I am writing the meals on the calendar, I am adding what we need for that meal to the grocery list. If I’m not sure if we have an ingredient, I check now while I am thinking of it. This helps me not be making supper and realize I am missing something.
Easy Peasy! Now I just need to make sure I check and have my meat thawed. That is part of my normal morning routine to check my calendar. Sometimes the day of meal planning can feel a little stressful, like a puzzle, figuring out meals, but I am always thankful I don’t have to figure it out every single night!
Adaptations to this Method
This is just the method that works well for us and our lifestyle. I have heard friends describe the different ways they meal plan and they all sound wonderful.
Some examples of other ways I have heard would be to have a set type of meal for each day of the week. An example of this would be Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Pasta Wednesday, BBQ Thursday, Pizza Friday, Seafood Saturday . . . you get the idea!
Some other friends just pick five or six meals per week and don’t designate them to a certain day, they just decide what sounds good on that day. That is a good idea too if you don’t like to feel locked in and would rather have some choice.
As you can see, there are many different ways to meal plan. The main thing is that you choose something that works for your family to simplify the suppertime part of the day.
This article has been written by Kristin Stewart, the Content Manager for The Canadian Schoolhouse and the Product Evaluation Team Manager for The Old Schoolhouse. She is a homeschooling mother of her two daughters and a former elementary teacher. Her passion is to see all children receive positive educational experience and to support parents in their desire to keep their children home. You can read more from her on her instagram account, @from_kristin_homeschool.