When you hear “what’s for dinner?” do you have trouble trying to come up with something healthy AND kid friendly at the end of a long day? If you are looking to take the stress out of meal time, the key is to plan ahead.
I know what you may be thinking: I don’t have TIME to menu plan. Trust me when I say that setting aside 1/2 hr. once a week to make a menu and grocery list will SAVE you time every day. I promise! Before I started menu planning, I would often have to run to the grocery store multiple times a week. Or I would go to the grocery store unprepared and wander around buying random things (forget if I went hungry-that was always a recipe for disaster!).
Once my daughter was born and time was at a premium, I started to plan a weeks worth of recipes before heading to the grocery store. Here are just a few of the benefits that you can get from a weekly menu plan:
- Saves time: When you have a list of all the ingredients you need for a weeks worth of meals, you are more efficient. Instead of wandering around aimlessly wondering what to cook for the week, you can be in and out in no time flat!
- Saves money: This to me, is the biggest benefit! Meal planning means that you will be less apt to order out, which in turn saves you $! You are also less likely to have those impulse buys which can easily add up. If you are up for it, you can save even more money by looking at the weekly circulars to see what items are on sale and plan a menu around that. TIP: try to stay away from the processed/packaged foods that may seem like a good deal – stick with the basics like fresh produce, meat, chicken and seafood.
- Healthier choices: Have you ever picked up some fast food on the way home from work, resorted to eating a bowl of cereal or worse yet, skipped dinner altogether because there was nothing to prepare? This is yet another reason to menu plan! You are much more likely to eat a well balanced, healthful dinner if you take the time to plan ahead.
- Less waste: Do you buy things at the grocery store thinking that you will use them at some point only to have them go bad? Having a list means that you are buying only the things that you need.
- Get the whole family involved: Ask your spouse and kids to contribute to the weeks menu by asking what they would like to eat. TIP: Keep a list of everyone’s favorite meals so that you always have some “go to” recipes. In addition, ask your little ones to help prepare the food. Not only is it a great way for them to learn how to measure, cut (if they are old enough), pour and mix, it will also help them appreciate what goes into their meals every day. My daughter has been prepping dinner by my side for several years now and playfully refers to me as “Big Chef” and herself as “Little Chef”. Her proud face when she tells Daddy that she helped make dinner always makes me smile.
If you have a smartphone or iPhone, I highly recommend that you download a shopping list app. There are many free apps to choose from (I use one called AnyList). I find it so much more convenient to be able to have a list on my phone rather than scribbled onto a piece of paper. Most apps will categorize the items so it’s even easier to assure nothing is forgotten on your list. If I find that we run out of any pantry items, paper products or other miscellaneous items during the week, I simply pick up my phone and add it on (before I forget and realize we have no more toilet paper!).
Finally, in addition to a menu plan, it is always helpful to start with a well organized and well stocked and pantry. I offer a service called kitchen refresh to my clients that are looking to get rid of all the processed, refined foods and replace them with better choices. Here are just a sampling of the staples that I make sure every client has on hand at all times: brown rice, lentils, quinoa, dried or canned beans, oats, whole wheat or gluten free pasta, canned tomatoes, broths, coconut or other shelf stable milk alternatives, nuts, dried fruit, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, coconut oil, peanut butter, honey and a variety of dried herbs (just to name a few!).
Try menu planning out before you go grocery shopping next week and see the difference that it can make. I’d love to hear your tips and tricks for menu planning too!