The Magic of Meal Planning

I hate waste.

Regardless of the resource– food, money, time, energy– I look for the most efficient way to do things.

My obsession began when I was nine years old, and my family took a vacation to the still-being-built-new-Urbanist-town Seaside, Florida.  When we were there, Seaside consisted of a few houses here and there, a post office, and a town market that had a bookshop.  It was in that bookshop that I bought “Cheaper By The Dozen” by Frank B. Gilbreth.  In this classic story, I met the Gilbreth parents and their twelve kids.  I also met the concept of efficiency as it was applied in everyday life.

I often tell people that I run because I prize efficiency.  I don’t need any equipment, and I can run anywhere.  I can get in a great workout by varying tempo and terrain depending on how much time I have.

But the real place my efficiency obsession shows itself is in my commitment to meal planning.

You see, people wrongly assume that I love to cook.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.

I neither have an adventurous palate nor a desire to develop one.  I also find no real joy in the cooking process, although I’m certainly grateful to be able to prepare meals for my family with little thought as to how I’ll have the time or money to make it happen.

I love to eat healthy, nutritious, delicious food.  I will spend money on high-quality ingredients, but I’m too frugal to eat out often.  And I hate, HATE wasting food.

Meal Planning

So, I’m a meal planner.  For the last 15 years– my entire married life– I’ve made a weekly meal plan.  I try to make dishes that use similar ingredients so that I can buy in bulk and eliminate waste.  Having a plan also saves time, since I can have all the ingredients I need on hand and can even do some prep work on days I have more time.  Over the years I have learned to order meals in certain ways during the week to capitalize on lighter vs. busier evenings and allowing for meals that create leftovers– well, they did until I had a 12-year-old boy to feed– to give myself a night off.

This year for Lent, our family sacrifice was to eat more simply at dinner time.  I used my Pinterest board of soups and stews as the basis for our two-month meal plan.  I filled in days with different salads or sandwiches.   I only included meals for Monday-Friday so that we could have one night of leftovers and one night to either eat out or make other plans. By the end of my planning, here’s what I had:

February 2016

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
ASH WEDNESDAY- lentil soup Taco salads Bean & Cheese burritos/salad
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
Irish beef stew w/mashers Chicken noodle soup Quiche & biscuits Southwestern chicken salad Risotto
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
Chicken fried rice Baked potato soup Sausage spinach carrot lentils Greek salads w/grilled chix Broccoli cheese soup
28 29
Thai coconut chicken soup

March 2016

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
1 2 3 4 5
Sausage penne bake & salad Coconut ginger chicken w/rice Chef salads Tuna Noodle Casserole
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Shrimp & corn chowder Chicken enchilada crock pot soup Roasted Veg Salad Lemon chicken orzo soup Quiche & fruit salad
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
Chicken tortilla soup Pesto pasta primavera Tuscan chicken stew Taco salad French onion soup
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
Bolognese Breakfast For Dinner & Fruit Creamy chicken stew Slow cooker potato & corn chowder Penne rosa w/shrimp

 

I know how hard it is to please multiple people’s palates night after night.  In the past, I have asked each kid for a meal suggest every week, so that I can assure them that if Monday night isn’t your favorite meal, your choice is coming later in the week.  For the Lenten simple suppers calendars, I didn’t ask for anyone’s input.  And here’s the miracle: no one complained!  Granted, my kids love pretty much any kind of soup or pasta, so these meals played to their strengths.

By planning out meals for nearly two months, I freed myself up on a weekly basis.  I am fortunate not to need to sales shop so closely that I can only buy goods on sale, but I have been there.  Meal planning using the sales flyers as a starting point is another way to approach this habit.  I do stock up on good deals when I find them, and keeping a stocked pantry of staples is another way of saving time.  Rare is it that we have to come up with a Plan B for dinner because of a missing ingredient.

See? MAGIC!

If you have never tried meal planning before, I know it can be daunting.  With the development of Pinterest and it’s seemingly endless options for recipes– some good, some terrible– meal planning has become even easier.  Feel free to search my Super Yum and Soup’s On! boards for ideas, including some of the meals on the above calendars.   My favorite food blogs for healthy, easy recipes are Iowa Girl Eats  (gluten-free recipes) and Damn Delicious.  Give yourself a few weeks of trying to plan your meals, and reap the benefits of more home-cooked meals in less time.

Good health and great happiness to you.