When Cory and I first moved to our own place together, cooking became a hobby of mine. Growing up, my dad taught me the basics of cooking and gave me a foundation of confidence in the kitchen. Then I became responsible for feeding myself and my husband, and my interest and skills grew. Cooking for just the two of us, I enjoyed making elaborate dishes with tons of fresh ingredients, and trying new things.
When we had Cody, cooking went on the back burner (hehe, pun). We had about three months’ worth of dinners in our freezer, which I prepared before Cody’s birth, and that helped a lot. But once that food ran out, we started eating a lot of convenience foods that required minimal cooking, and we ate out often. Our food budget really started to suffer.
In the past year, we’ve finally started to find a balance between spending less time and energy, and still eating healthy and economically. One of the key components that makes my system work is my collection of recipes that are easy, quick, and that I know my family enjoys. The other key component is meal planning.
Cooking dinner at home most nights has saved us a lot of money, and allowed us to finally stay within our food budget. It’s also reignited my love for cooking. I’m again enjoying learning to cook new things, and since I abandoned my vegetarian diet during my pregnancy, I have even more choices for cooking than I used to. I also love to experiment and make recipes my own!
One of my favorite aspects of cooking is sharing delicious food with others. While I may not be able to send food through the internet, I can share recipes. And as part of my recent blog “re-launch,” I’m going to be sharing a recipe every month! I hope you enjoy cooking some of them for yourself.
But I want to use the rest of this post to share my thoughts on the importance of meal planning. It helps us stay within our budget for food, saves time and energy, and helps us eat healthier and more balanced diets. I highly recommend it!
For us, meal planning only includes dinners. We eat the same few things for breakfast most days, and lunches are either leftovers from dinner, or things like sandwiches or bagels. Snacks are also unplanned, but we keep our kitchen stocked with our favorite healthy munchables.
Meal planning is a simple process for me. I plan out our dinners for the week on the same night every week, and make my grocery list at the same time. Some families plan out their meals for longer periods of time such as two weeks or even a month. For us, planning a week at a time works best.
My dinner planning session doesn’t usually take long, maybe 15 minutes or so. I start by looking at the calendar and taking note of nights we may need to eat a fast dinner. I write down the evening activities we have planned for each night of the week in my weekly planner, so it’s easy to visualize the entire week. I also write down my dinner list as I’m creating it, in the same planner, off to the side.
I start making my dinner list by checking out what we have in the fridge and pantry that needs to be used up soon, and plan a few meals using those things. I make a note next to the meals with time-sensitive ingredients, to make them earlier in the week. I also make a note next to meals that are fast and easy, to reserve them for busier nights of the week.
Then I look at other food we have that could be used for dinners, including frozen foods, and dry or canned foods in our pantry. Sometimes, we might have several dinners in our freezer because I make big batches of things on weekends that aren’t too busy. Finally, I choose a few meals from my “Dinner Master List,” to complete the week. Any meals that include fish or meat are designated for one of our grocery days (we have a big shopping trip on Monday, and a smaller mid-week grocery trip to pick up some favorite items from a specialty store). We also often plan to eat out one night of the week. Between all of these sources for dinner options, we can usually vary our meals quite a bit and we don’t have to repeat dinners more than once a month unless we want to.
The biggest tool in this process, other than my weekly planner, is my Dinner Master List. This is a list of all the dinners we like to eat, categorized by type of food, ease of preparing, and time required. It’s definitely one of my favorite organizational tools that I have created! I’m planning to share an editable copy of my dinner master list here on my blog soon, so stay tuned for that.
After planning my dinners for the week, I make my grocery list. I look at the recipes and double check every ingredient to make sure I don’t miss anything. I also add our regular breakfast, lunch, and snack foods onto my grocery list. Then when I go shopping, I follow my list! This is important for the money-saving aspect of meal planning. I’ve also chosen my grocery store based on their selection and prices, so that helps with the budget as well!
For the rest of the week, it’s as easy as choosing a meal from the list each night to cook. Some nights, we end up needing to change plans and we push a meal or two to the next week. It’s flexible!
There are definitely many benefits to meal planning, and I know I’d have a hard time feeding my family if I didn’t plan ahead.
Do you like to cook? What do you think about meal planning? Share your thoughts in the comments below!