Pop quiz: What’s worse than staring blankly at your pantry each night, wondering what on earth you’re going to cook for dinner?
At least, that’s how I feel! And about 7 years ago I realized something had to change. I had just returned to work after having my first child, and I was desperately looking for ways to streamline our evening routine. By the time I got home from work, tried to think of something to make for dinner, cooked, cleaned up, then my baby was ready for bed! I felt like I wasn’t getting any quality time with him. That’s when I realized I needed a better plan. One idea I came up with was meal-planning. Every Friday I’d come up with a list of 7 meals for the following week. I’d grocery shop on Saturday, and start with the first meal on Sunday night. It worked great! It kept our food budget on-track, too. No running to the store for last minute items (and impulse-purchases), and we didn’t go to restaurants as often, knowing there was plenty of food at home.
A couple years (and another baby) later, I tweaked my meal-planning process again. Cooking a meal from scratch every single night was tough! It dawned on me to start creating my weekly lists with only 3-4 meals, but doubling my quantities so that we’d eat the leftovers the next night. Cook once, eat twice! This way, at least a few nights a week I can spend a little extra time with my kids instead of feeling chained to the stove. I’ve been doing this for more than five years now, and it works extremely well for my family. I don’t think I will ever go back to cooking 7 nights a week!
If leftovers aren’t your thing, a friend of mine shared her meal-planning method, which I think is very cool! She wrote 30 of her favorite recipes on index cards. At the beginning of the month, she picks 7 cards from the pile, and that’s what she makes for the first week. She leaves those cards out of the pile until the end of the month so she doesn’t make the same meal more than once. She’s able to quickly compile her grocery list too, since the ingredients are right there on the card. It really takes the guesswork out of the whole thing. Another mom I know makes a week’s worth of dinners every Sunday. This allows her to keep up with her sons’ busy schedules and not spend an hour every night cooking dinner.
Some of my mom-friends shake their head and say, “I don’t know how you do it! I could never come up with a meal list every week.” My response is: I don’t know how I could NOT do it! I’d much rather spend 20 minutes a week coming up with a list, than rack my brain each night trying to think up something new. And how would I know what to buy at the grocery store if I didn’t have a plan? I’d come home with bags of random foods and probably wind up serving my kids weird meals like hotdogs with scrambled eggs on the side.
Maybe I exaggerate; perhaps it wouldn’t be that bad. But if I didn’t plan some things, my life would feel like chaos! I imagine it this way: It’s the awful witching hour between 5:00-6:00pm. I’m starving, the kids are crabby, homework and chores need to be done, and my husband isn’t home from work yet. Coincidentally it’s the same hour I’m supposed to cook a meal and feed my family. Say what?!? I shouldn’t make dinnertime harder than it needs to be!
If you’ve never tried meal-planning, I encourage you to try it! With a quick Google search you can find tons of articles with lots of great ideas. Find a method that works for you, and stick with it! It may just result in easier meal-times and more organized evenings. And if you are a meal-planner, please share your tips in the comments below!
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I’ve just found myself cooking larger meals purposefully for leftover for the next day lunch or dinner. And I totally agree about the 5-6pm witching hour! You have to have a plan when your trying to cook with screaming hungry tired babies. I have to plan and make breakfast, lunch, and dinner and snacks everyday! Now that we have two, meal planning, home cooked frozen meals, and the crock pot are saving us and our budget.