I am starting this in the hopes that I keep it up, but I am realistic in that I know my own strengths and weaknesses.
Let me be perfectly clear – I am no Martha Stewart. I’m not a health guru, I’m not a fantastic chef, I’m not a coupon & savings maven. I’m not even that great at keeping the house clean.
What I have been pretty successful at in the past is meal planning week by week. Not every week, but most weeks. I’ll spend two or three hours a week doing some prep and then I have minimal work every day to serve my family what I consider to be a relatively healthy, relatively filling, and reasonably tasting dinner.
It’s a system I have figured out by necessity. I learned that I could either cook dinner every night, or keep the laundry going & the house (relatively) clean, OR spend time with my kids – but I couldn’t do all three, so I started doing this & my life got a lot easier. We started spending less because I no longer had to pick up (or frantically text my husband asking him to pick up) take out on the way home. We had leftovers to take for lunches, so we didn’t have to dash out on lunch breaks for food. And I was happier. I had time to take my kids for a walk so we could talk about trees and what color car is this before dinner. I wasn’t a frantic stressed out mess when my husband got home every day, only like once or twice a week.
My sister came to visit and she was impressed – I mean, to be fair, my sister is 20 and in college and spent last year eating the college meal plan, so take her opinion with a grain of MSG. But then my mom heard about it, and she was impressed. My mom has 8 kids – 3 of them still living in the house with her, one at college, and the rest of us at various stages of adult-ish-ness in different places. She does cross fit, she works two jobs, and the three kids still at home with her are involved in different sports & activities, so if something made my mom impressed then I felt like I had to dust my shoulders off a little. Maybe I had stumbled onto something useful.
“You have to start a blog” says my mom. I rolled my eyes. I can’t compete with the stunning pictures and perfect flatlays and all that. It’s just not who I am. I do not own a fancy camera, I have an iphone. I just don’t know what I have that’s worth adding to all the great blogs that already exist out there in teh interwebz.
“When are you starting that blog?” says my mom, over boxes and bags of all our belongings after my husband & I packed up our two kids and moved across the country back to the region I grew up in. I huffed and didn’t answer.
“Katie,” Said my mom the other day, as I sat nursing the baby on her couch, “Let’s make a meal plan. Help me with this week.”
So, I told her:
- The first thing you have to do is make a list of meals you know your family will like and eat.
They don’t have to be any particular kind of meal, simple or complex, healthy or horrible for you. The goal is make a list of meals that if you put it on the table, most of the time most of your family will eat. I realize that with some kids, with certain age groups that’s impossible, but do the best you can.
- Once you have your list, have an idea of how complicated each meal is.
You know how some meals you can put everything in the crock pot in the morning & dinner is ready in the evening? You put those meals in a different category from things like roast chicken, where you have to put it in at a certain time and lower the temp so many minutes in, etc. The idea is this: Some days you’ll have time to bust out your skillz with a Z, and some days you’ll dash in the door at 6:45 when the kids need to be in bed at 8. You need different meals for different days, and only you can know what you can do on those jam-packed, high-stress days. The best I can manage is ladling chili into bowls, so there’s no judgment here.
- Take a look at your week & plug in meals from your list.
What’s going on? Is there a day when your significant other won’t be home and you’re gonna throw a box of Kraft mac & cheese on the stove, pour yourself a glass of wine & call it dinner? Done. Is there a day you’ll be home all afternoon & maybe you wanna flex your domestic muscle & make something special? Great, turn to the complicated category of your list. You get the idea. If you’re leaving the house at 6 AM on Tuesday, and you have a meeting and Joey has practice, then that’s an all-day crock pot meal.
- Start your shopping list – include everything.
The idea is that you go to the store ONCE. Now, some things can’t be helped. You shop for everything on Saturday, then Monday morning your realize you just poured the last of the creamer into your coffee – I get it. But the idea is you plan for every contingency you can think of, then you’re not wasting precious time & energy navigating the grocery store after work. Do you find yourself picking up an iced latte in the drive thru on the way home? Then grab a package of those bottled Starbucks drinks when you’re shopping. If you find yourself with a sweet tooth craving after lunch every day, and often visit the office vending machine, then throw a bag of fun sized snickers in the cart. It will pay off – in both dollars and calories.
The goal is to hit the store once in the week, you’ll save time & money & gas, and it all takes us to our larger goal – a happier, calmer you means a happier, healthier family.
The one exception is certain kinds of produce. I’m a big believer in salad – have a salad with every meal and at least you and your significant other will be taking a step toward healthiness. The trouble is, if I buy a bag of spring mix on Friday or Saturday, by Wednesday or Thursday it’s looking pretty . . . sad. So another *very* quick dash in & out to grab berries, salad fixins, etc is sort of standard for me. It also allows for the one thing you inevitably forget in your massive grocery run – ahem, deoderant, fabric softener . . . you get it. I always aim to spend fewer than fifteen minutes in the store. The less time you’re there the less crap you buy.
- This one is really important – set aside time to prep.
For me, this is usually a Saturday or Sunday morning – but I don’t have kids in soccer yet, and we usually go to church at 11 or noon. This will inevitably vary by your own schedule & family life. It shouldn’t take more than three hours at the very most. You’re gonna do things like brown meat, chop veggies, etc. Anything you can reasonably do before hand, do it. Cut the chicken breasts, spray down the casserole dish, add the spices – then come Wednesday you throw that in the oven, and dinner is cooking. You get the idea.
- This is the tough part – STICK TO THE PLAN.
Use the tools at your disposal. Set an alert or a reminder on your phone. Put a post-it on the coffee maker. You may see a commercial for Macaroni grill while watching the Today show, but you have chicken enchiladas prepped in the fridge – STAY STRONG!
It doesn’t help in the slightest if you take the time to prep the crock pot meal on Saturday & toss it in the freezer, but then on Thursday morning you oversleep and barely get out the door – and the meal never makes it into the crock pot. That only makes a bad day worse. Whatever is going to keep you on track – that’s what you need to do.I mean, all that sounds simple enough, right?
This is a really long post, so I’m gonna wrap it up, we can talk about the coming week in another post.
Thanks for sticking with me through 1500 words. I hope this has been somewhat helpful!