… how meal planning gives me an extra 90 minutes each week!
What would you do with an extra 90 minutes each week? Would you read a good book? Would you spend that time with your kids? Would you hit the gym and do a little cardio? No doubt you’d rather spend that 90 minutes doing something fun, not spending it grocery shopping.
Years ago, I was no fan of meal planning. In the meantime however, it has become a great habit, which has saved my family a lot of money and time over the years.
Before we had children and were living in Switzerland, we worked full-time. In Switzerland, people tend to eat a big lunch and then a small dinner – cold meat and cheese with bread or a soup. Our workplaces offered a canteen so we typically ate there for lunch. There was no real reason to meal plan.
The weekend was the only time we really cooked, and that was if we didn’t go out. A few times I tried to implement meal planning, but it just wasn’t for me. I was also under the misconception that meal planning would take away any flexibility, spontaneity and freedom. I mean what if I wanted one thing but planned for something else?
You know what’s coming … once we had kids, everything changed! It didn’t happen right away of course. It actually happened after we moved to Australia… a whole new culture to contend with. You see, I was a stay-at-home mom with two toddlers (one and three years old). My husband’s workplace offered a canteen but he’d rarely eat there. And, this is when I found myself cooking dinner every single night.
It was becoming quite clear that meal planning may be a good idea after all. So, I started it and tried several things. When you check out Pinterest, you get all kinds of ideas and pictures on meal planning systems. The reality though is who has time for doing all of this so elegantly and beautifully? I don’t, and I don’t really care to do it so creatively. If you are the creative type, more power to you and have fun!
Let me share what worked for me.
3 Helpful Tips To Create Your Own Easy-To-Follow Meal Plans
Do Your Math
Meal planners are going to tell you that you save yourself a ton of time. However, I’m a bit of a skeptic so I sat down and did some calculations. If I did a weekly plan and the grocery shopping takes me roughly an hour and half each week for a family of four (combining my trip with a school run and shopping), I spent about 78 hour or three and quarter days a year doing this.
If, for some reason, I have to shop more than once a week, I’d still need approximately the same amount of time to do the shopping. However, no meal plan and a trip to the grocery store all the time would take me three hours a week or nearly one week a year. And, that cuts into my work hours or dragging the kids to the shop. Talk about added stress there!
So, what did I learn? I learned that meal planning is a big payoff for both me and my family.
Find Your Best Day For Meal Planning and Grocery Shopping
I used to do my meal planning on a Monday morning before school and doing the shopping first thing after the school run. Right now, I am doing my meal planning on Saturday. We talk about the next week over breakfast and consider what everybody’s plans are … sports, business trips, doctor visits, extracurricular activities, etc.
For instance, I don’t cook fish on Monday night because one of the boys and hubby come home after 7 p.m. My other son and I don’t want to eat that late and have dinner shortly after 6 pm. Keeping this kind of meal warm is not an option. And, I don’t feel like cooking twice. Therefore, I need a meal I can re-heat or keep warm easily, such as a one pot meal (find interesting recipes here).
I then pick the menus. During school holidays, each boy gets to choose the meals for one week. This encourages them to help with the cooking and, in my eyes, learn an important skill without even noticing. I see it as an added bonus.
Find A Planning System That Works For You
I tried meal planning using my computer, but I found that didn’t work for me. And, doing a paper and pencil system seemed too wasteful and time consuming (of course you could keep the plans and re-use them some weeks later).
What I did was create little cards using thick paper, printed the meals on them, laminated them and cut them into card size. You could also use empty laminated cards and write on them using a whiteboard marker.
I then used a cheap Ikea photo frame and put some fabric in the frame behind the glass, painted seven wooden pegs and glued them onto the glass. I didn’t bother writing the names of the days on them since we know the first day is Monday. Now, all I have to do is add one card per day. The board is situated in the kitchen and everybody can see it.
My meal planning doesn’t include breakfast or lunches. That’s because breakfast is generally the same every day. As for lunches, I don’t list them on the plan but they are considered. I don’t like giving our kids sandwiches. Perhaps that’s a cultural thing because, in Switzerland, we don’t have them for lunch. Rather, I give them the night before’s leftovers. I give them their food in Tupperware Heat ‘N Eat containers so they can use the school’s microwave to re-heat them.
Once I’m done with the planning, I make the shopping list, which can be done quickly. I go shopping and that’s it for the week. I rarely ever have to visit the shops again during the week for fresher vegetables and/or meat. If stored right, you can keep vegetables and fruit fresh for the week and I freeze the meat.
Extra Time Saver Tip: Combine Your Errands
Try combining your grocery shopping with other errands to save yourself time and petrol money.
Remember earlier when I said I was afraid of losing my freedom, flexibility and spontaneity? Well, doing this for several years now, I can tell you that this just isn’t true. I am still flexible, and in fact often do move menus around the week. However, since everything is at home already, I don’t need to do any last minute shopping trips.
What kind of meal planning system do you use (if any)? What works for you? What doesn’t work for you? If you have a picture of your system, I’m sure we’d all love to see it!