5 Reasons to try Monthly Meal Planning.
Tuesday, October 02, 2012
I must have a little dose of crazy in me to add another thing to my "to do" list. I tend to fly by the seat of my pants sometimes and have never even tried weekly meal planning. But I read in July about a friend of mine who was doing monthly freezer cooking all on one long Sunday afternoon, and was sort of inspired. Truth is, a day of monthly cooking is not feasible in my schedule right now, and I like the idea of cooking some things fresh as I go (instead of freezing/defrosting every single meal), but I like her idea of having a monthly plan. So, I modified this into a goal of monthly meal planning. And I LOVE IT!
I started this in August, actually, but September was really my first successful month of sticking to it, and now I'm an addict. Here's what I'm doing: At the end of August, I found a calendar form online for September and then used my Pinterest (on my "Fit and Fabulous" board :) to choose some menu items to try. I only plan for dinners - lunches do not go on the calendar (but I try to make extra for lunch left-overs!). I try to take into account which nights we have kids' activities so that I pick simpler meals for those nights, and save the more involved recipes for nights when we have a wee bit more time. Not every night is some huge time commitment or a complicated recipe (because, let's face it, I'm just not a great cook) - the menu has plenty of simple things like whole grain spaghetti with turkey meatballs, burgers on the grill (hamburgers for the kids, turkey burgers for me and the hubby), or plain chicken breasts on the grill with a veggie.
Here are just a few of the perks I have noticed:
1. I'm saving time. Because my plan is posted on the refrigerator, I check it out each night and get the meat defrosted for the next day (if needed) and/or do any other prep work I can do in advance (and if there are some things I can prep on Sunday, like dicing up an onion that will be used in several recipes through the week, I go ahead and take care of that, too). That way getting dinner together the next night is a snap! I don't feel frazzled on my commute home trying to think of what we should do for dinner. The decision is made.
2. Did I mention I'm saving time? Because I'm also doing monthly grocery shopping. After I've prepared my calendar/menu, I make a giant shopping list for all the recipes I've chosen, and double check my pantry and freezer to cross off anything I already have. I also note any items I'll need to buy fresh, if the recipe isn't on the calendar until the end of the month. Then, I make one big trip to my two grocery stores (one discount store, and one regular store for everything I can't get at the discount store). I buy all the meat I need for the month and freeze it in portion sizes for the menus I have planned. Then I just make a few random trips back to the store throughout the month for perishables like milk, fruit, veggies, and bread. Which leads me to my next point...
3. I'm saving money. Fewer trips to the grocery store means fewer opportunities to buy random stuff at the grocery store. It forces me to use what I already have in my pantry to make dinner instead of constantly going back to the store for "one more thing." And since my discount store is not super close to my house, it means I'm able to buy more of my groceries there, because I'm not running out to buy ingredients in the midst of last-minute meal preparations. Way less food is going to waste because I'm planning for how to use leftover ingredients in other recipes (for example, if I need to buy fresh cilantro for a recipe, I check to see if I have any other recipes that call for it, and calendar those meals in the same week to use it all up!) I'm using an envelope system to track the grocery budget and it's working marvelously! Last month I came in just under budget - with 4 boys in the house, that's pretty much a miracle.
4. Did I mention I'm saving money? Because we are eating out at restaurants WAY LESS. Because I have a plan - and the plan includes meals we all look forward to eating - we are way less tempted to go out to eat. I work some "eating out" nights into the calendar in advance, so that now we look forward to that night as a special treat. We weren't perfect on this (because I think we have to be flexible with busy schedules!), but we stayed in our "eating out" budget last month for the first time in months. And enjoyed our at-home meals immensely!
5. I'm having fun and eating healthy! For ease, I have a lot of "standby" favorite recipes on the calendar - recipes that I'm already familiar with and can make quickly and easily. But, I'm also trying to put one or two new recipes on the calendar each week. It's really fun learning to cook new things! For example, last night I tried these "skinny sour cream enchiladas" I had pinned on Pinterest but had never tried to make (see the Skinny Mom blog) and they were fabulous! The kiddos loved them. And it made enough for me and the hubs to have leftovers for lunch today and tomorrow. Since Thursdays are a busy night, I have a new crockpot chicken recipe (also from Pinterest/Skinny Ms. Slow Cooker) that I'm going to make. I am starting to feel like I sorta-kinda know what I'm doing in the kitchen (anyone who knows me would tell you that in the past, my only kitchen specialty was mac-n-cheese...from a box) and how to make better "clean eating" choices by planning this out in advance. I'm trying to choose healthy recipes for 99% of our meals (yes, we had crockpot mac-n-cheese a few weeks ago...oops). And I think my whole family is discovering that eating healthy can also be delicious! Yum.
I'm sure there are more benefits (in fact I can think of several other things I love about the monthly meal plan right now) but these are the biggies. Plus it's my lunch hour and I need to get back to work and stop writing this blog (novel). Seriously, you should try it. I feel so organized and it's so much easier for me to feel like I'm staying on track...with my health and my budget. :)