School is back in session, which means a re-introduction to hectic mornings, pick-up lines, packing lunches and keeping track of homework. Our kids started about a week ago. Although things are off to a great start, I know it's just a matter of time before I'm feeling overwhelmed by a chaotic schedule. I'll take any short cut or help I can get to ease the busyness of this demanding time of year.
So, let me share with you what I found a couple of years back. This comes from “Passion for Savings” and is a game-changer. - meal planning. Now for some this may be an obvious and you’ve been doing this for years or for others this may not seem like help at all because of the time it takes to plan ahead, but let me explain what I mean by meal planning.
A Plan with Flexible Options
Meal planning for me means a plan with flexible options. This means not coming home at 5 o’clock with the burning question, “what’s for dinner.” Now, instead of going to the store with my list of potatoes, onions, butter, milk, cheese, etc. and still not knowing what to fix for supper, I go with specific meals in mind and buy those specific ingredients. Now, this does not mean Monday – meatloaf, Tuesday – tacos, etc. Of course, if you want to get that specific then you can. But for me, I like to have more flexibility in my schedule. So I plan for five meal options for the entire week that I can work in wherever they best fit. I plan for five meals because I figure at least one night we will have leftovers. Another night can be something simple like sandwiches or you might allow yourself one night to eat out each week. Let me just say, a well thought out plan can go a long way and I promise you, if you will make yourself take the time to plan out your meals before you go to the store, it will take so much pressure off you during the busy week.
A Week of Meals
For example, the week of meals might look like this: spaghetti, chicken and rice, green chili burritos, oven bar-b-que chicken and beef pot pie. Now spaghetti, green chili burritos and oven bar-b-que chicken come together fairly quickly, so these are flexible and can be made whichever night they sound good. In other words, you’re not locked into any one dish on any specific night. Whereas chicken and rice and beef pot pie may take a little longer. Use these on a Saturday or Sunday when you have more time. Also, try your best to cook on the nights you are home and save the eating out or leftover night for one of those back to back meeting/practice nights. It’s best to decide what you will have for supper that morning so you can layout the meat for thawing. This frees your mind up for the rest of the day, not to think about it again until you are home, pulling your freshly thawed meat out of the fridge and begin cooking. What a beautiful thought!
You can take this idea a bit further if you’re feeling really organized and ambitious. Cook a large cut of meat such as a roast or ham on the days you have more time such as Saturday or Sunday, get one meal out of it then and use the leftovers later in the week in a new dish. Also, try to think ahead. On the nights your home, cook more meat than you need that one night and save the rest for later. For example, for green chili burritos you only need one pound of hamburger meat, but go ahead and brown two pounds and use the other pound of hamburger meat for your beef pot pie tomorrow. Done and done!
I first discovered meal planning with “Passion for Savings” where she used it as a budgeting tool, and boy does it help! Meal planning prevents the unplanned eating out, prevents groceries from going to waste and can actually keep you from the same old’ routine. So, here’s to a new school year, may it be filled with delicious, well-planned meals that keep your budget on track and you in control! Happy Meal Planning!