Meal planning is a great resource to use for your family. It saves you time, money and cuts down on stress, a triple crown of benefits for your busy life. If you’ve heard of meal planning, and just haven’t followed through on it yet, this article will help you understand it a bit more. By the end, you should be able to start today or tomorrow depending on your schedule. So buckle up for a ride into the fun of meal planning.
What are the Benefits of Meal Planning
First off, meal planning saves you money, big time. It’s cost-effective compared to always ordering take-out or getting food delivered to your home. Think about it, most deliveries have a driver’s fee amongst other charges that add up to a costly meal. If you do your shopping right for meal planning, such as buying items on sale or in season, you’ll stretch your dollar much further.
Second, it saves you time. Time is just as valuable as money, especially when you’ve got a family to take care of, and life experiences to enjoy. When you’ve done your shopping and cooking all in one day, you will be able to enjoy the rest of your week. Plus, it eliminates the extra errand time and wandering because you have a definite list of what items you need while shopping.
Another bonus of meal planning is cutting down on food waste. Every American individual throws away on average 400 pounds of food a year. That’s a lot of unused resources going into the garbage. If you’re trying to be more green and planet-friendly, meal planning is the way to go.
A final positive of meal planning is that your family meals will have more variety and will be a well-balanced nutritious plate. Thinking ahead to what you’ll serve prevents falling into a rut of doing the same thing over and over again. Plus, you can think about what will go into the dish in terms of protein, fruits, and vegetables.
Where to Get Inspired for Meals
Alright, you’ve heard the positives of meal planning, now it’s time to get inspired to create dishes that everyone will eat. Everybody has some go-to recipes that they use all the time. Start by writing them down, and then add to that list as you discover more recipes that you enjoy.
Source your family for meals they want to try out or what dishes from their favorite restaurants you can attempt to duplicate. There are lots of recipes out there for you to choose from, and other people have already made a version of popular dishes so you don’t have to experiment yourself.
Aside from recipes, think about the week or month ahead for your family. What’s the weather going to be like? In summer you probably want to stay away from turning on the stove and might be outside grilling. Whereas in winter you’ll want a hearty stew to fill you up. Also add in days for special meals. Like a Friday night pizza party or Taco Tuesday. Look at what’s coming up in your children’s schedule and consider how that will impact when and what you and your family eat.
How to Start Meal Planning
Now that you’ve done a bit of homework about what you’re going to be making, it is time to start meal planning. Make sure you start small. Don’t try to do a month of meals right off the bat. If you can do that, good for you, but maybe aim for a smaller target by preparing two weeks of food. This goal will help you from being overwhelmed by all the cooking you need to do for your family.
A way to reduce feeling overwhelmed when you start off is mapping out your meals, and building a grocery list as you do it. Most families sit down to schedule out their month or week, so incorporating meal planning is another easy step to do. Use this time to see which day you can do all your cooking or when you’re going to be busy with other activities. You can figure out which day you’ll run to the store too.
Once you know what you’re making and when, it’s time to move into the meal prep side of things. Remember, cook one meal for your family. You’re not a short-order cook, and the goal is to save time and not make more work for yourself. If you’re not eating the meal you are cooking that week store it in a freezer safe container or store it somewhere for later. When you’re really strapped for time, try cooking just the components of your meal, and then you can just toss everything together the night you eat it.
If you are cooking ahead of time, don’t overstuff your freezer or refrigerator. Yes, the freezer is a big friend for stocking meals for later, but overfilling it will make it easy to lose track of what you actually have cooked. The same goes for your fridge organization, if you have too much in it, you’ll bury things in the back and then your hard work will be wasted. Look in your cold storage each week and do a clean-out before refilling it.
Why Including the Family is a Plus
It’s easy to get your family involved in the meal planning process, and it can be to their benefit too. First, for your kids that are old enough, you can involve them in the money management aspect of meal planning. They can learn to compare prices at different stores for the best deal or to check prices on items when shopping to see where more money can be saved.
You can also let your kids be involved in meal prep time. They can learn basic kitchen skills or depending on the recipes you are using, prepare the meal themselves! Cooking is a skill they will need as they grow up, and this is a great way to include and teach them.
Another way to involve your family is to let them plan out a week of meals. This job will assist with learning about responsibilities, how to provide for people around them, and how their actions have an impact on others. But it’s also fun for them to feel a little bit of the power when it comes to making their own meals.
How Meal Planning Saves Money
So how exactly does meal planning save your family money? Well, all the steps mentioned above contribute to overall savings. By planning out your family’s meals you can get a rough estimate of how much you’ll be spending on your food budget. In addition, you can also shop around for the best deal for your everyday products. Perhaps a different grocery store offers a better price than your current one.
Think about items that can be used for a variety of dishes too. Maybe one meal calls for only a cup of chicken. Consider other recipes that will be able to use the rest of it so nothing goes to waste. If you’re making more than one meal at a time, that can help save time down the road. Making more than one meal at once will also add to your overall savings.
By including your family in meal planning, you can also motivate them to help with the savings. Set a goal together: the next big family trip, a new piece of technology for everyone or another important matter for you and your kids. That way everyone understands why this task will be good for the collective rather than just saving some time for the parents.
Meal planning is a great practice for your family. It will save you time, money and reduce stress in your daily schedule. By working together with your kids and partner, you’ll be able to compile recipes and start off right. Once you know what you’re going to cook, it’s time to prepare your meals. Remember to take it slow to not overwhelm yourself or your cold storage areas. Finally, by involving your kids you can teach them valuable lessons that they need for life.
At the end of the day, all of this work will pay off in the long run. It will reduce your budget for food each month and put extra money in your pocket for other expenses. Or maybe you and your family can save it for the next big trip. But whatever you decide to do, just remember to start meal planning to see results!
Special thanks to Brian Thomas for writing this article for us!
Brian is a contributor at Enlightened Digital. When he’s not researching technology and business, you’ll find him cheering on Philadelphia sports teams at local brewpubs.