It’s a term many moms have heard, but what is it? Why do so many do it?
To put it very simply…
Meal planning = Not asking “what should we do for dinner?” every single night. (Although to be completely honest, my husband still asks me almost every day, but then I just point to the chart on the fridge)
When you meal plan, you decide [a week, 2 weeks, a month] in advance what you’ll be eating that week. You also purchase, and sometimes prepare, the required ingredients in advance as well.
Here are some reasons Rachel and Jo are HUGE fans of meal planning:
(1) Reduces Cooking and Prep Time
This is by far the biggest reason that I meal plan! I work full time (which I LOVE, read why here) so I don’t always have a lot of time to shop and prepare food. Planning out my meals a week in advance means that I only have to go to the grocery store once a week.
Meal planning also forces me to look at that week’s calendar in advance. I can make a note of which days I need to plan for a “quick meal” (one that can be prepared in less than 15 minutes, like my Korean Bulgogi) and which days I’ll have some extra time for food prep and baking. On the days I have some extra time, I usually do the prep work for the busier days (like marinating meat or chopping veggies). Depending on the recipe, there are days that I don’t have to cook at all!
(2) Saves Money
Meal planning is a great way to cut your grocery bill. Before, we started meal planning, we were spending nearly twice as much on groceries. We would buy our usual stuff, random sale items, and whatever seemed to look good for dinner that night. We had to shop more frequently and ultimately bought way more food.
By planning meals, you can be sure to use what you already own and only buy what you truly need. By looking up sale items and coupons while you plan, you can lower your bill even further.
(3) Healthier Eating
If healthy eating is important to you, meal planning is a must. When I plan a week in advance, I can make sure I’m hitting every major food group (including plenty of veggies!) in each meal.
Planning out food ahead of time also reduces the number of times you’re eating out (generally not a healthy option) and how often you resort to prepared foods. Come on, let’s be honest… how easy it it to reach for that box of mac n’ cheese if you don’t have anything planned for dinner?
(4) Reduces Waste (and therefore saves even more money)
I hate wasting food. Perhaps it is the guilt I was instilled with over starving children or just the fact that throwing away food is basically throwing away money.
I must admit that before we began meal planning, we would buy some unusual ingredient for one specific recipe only to let the rest go bad in the fridge. Since we started meal planning, we are so much better about using what we have because I will intentionally plan multiple meals to ensure we use up whatever item would have otherwise been forgotten in the crisper.
Also, meal planning makes us eat the leftovers. I get that leftovers aren’t the most exciting, and when we didn’t plan our meals they were often neglected. Now we don’t worry about last week’s dinner going bad in the back of the fridge because I plan for when we will eat it. This also means that if I plan my leftovers right, I usually only have to actually cook meals about half of the week – a major plus for moms that don’t love to cook!
(5) Rotates the Freezer Meals
At least one of my meals each week comes from the freezer (from a prior week where I doubled a recipe for the purpose of leftovers). However, before I “meal planned” my freezer meals would build up because I never used them and I didn’t keep track of what was in there. Now that I force myself to use the meals, it further cuts down on required prep time and frees up freezer space.
(6) Makes Dinner Time So Much Easier
It used to drive me nuts every single night trying to scrounge around the kitchen and figure out to make. Inevitably we wouldn’t have all of the necessary ingredients for anything. The time would tick by and all too often we’d end up eating some random assortment of odds and ends way later than intended. While this “method” had worked OK for my husband and I, it was disaster with a baby.
Meal planning takes out the guesswork. You know what to make, how long it will take and that you have everything you need. As a stay-at-home mom I already have enough on my plate, I don’t need dinner time as an added stress! (read about my journey to becoming a SAHM here)
Added Bonus – whoever is home first in the evening can start dinner because everyone knows what to make.
(7) Increases Food Variety
I personally like to eat and cook a wide range of foods – from Southern comfort foods to southeast Asian cuisine. Planning in advance let’s me make sure I’m hitting variety of different meals (rather than spaghetti, lasagna, and meatballs back to back). This way my husband and I don’t get bored with the meals and my kids are exposed to different flavor combinations.
Also when I plan the week in advance, I like to make sure that every day there will be at least one item my kids will definitely eat. Meaning if I’m trying out a new recipe for a Shrimp Thai Curry soup that I’m not sure how my kids will respond to, I can make sure with my meal planning that the veggie is something they are familiar with. This is important because I never make separate meals for my children – they eat what’s for the family and that’s it. Most times they’ll eat whatever is for dinner, but there has been the occasion where they’ve only eaten peas.