Are you a New Year’s resolution maker? Many people who are determine around this time of year to lose weight and to save money. The beauty of those two resolutions is that they can easily go hand-in-hand with a little planning. Pre-planned, home-made meals are usually more cost effective and easier on the waistline than eating out.
One of my family’s resolutions this year is to eat at home more. While I already cook many dinners at home throughout the week, we have decided to be extra intentional in this practice. For me, the failure or success of this goal lies almost entirely in proactive meal planning. Growing up, my mom had regular dinners a few days of the week. Friday? Pizza. Saturday? Hamburgers. Sunday? Roast. The other days were a rotation of meals that appealed to the masses and the budget. And we all loved them (for the most part).
In my home, such a set schedule hasn’t really appealed to my personality or to my husband’s tastes… or something else I haven’t yet identified. I can’t count how many times Ben has said, “Add this to the rotation.” To which we both realize doesn’t truly exist. But I still have a running mental list of meals I know will be a hit for the majority of my family. Because neither of us prefers a set schedule, I’m always looking for a new appealing dish to try on my guinea pigs. Thus, my “rotation” is an actively changing thing.
So how do I start my planning process each week?
I select about 5 dinners to make at home.
I do this knowing we’ll have plenty of left-overs within those meals to cover another night or two if need-be, but I also know how sociable we are and recognize we may be invited over to a friend’s house or may have a date night during the weekend.
Creating the menu:
With literally endless amounts of recipe ideas on the internet and a small library of cook books at the ready now, we could get hung up on this stage, but I approach it by starting with one main criteria in mind. I prefer to cook a variety of meats throughout the week. In other words, I’ll tire of chicken 5 days in a row, so I throw in a couples of dishes consisting of pork chops, roast, ground beef or turkey in the rotation as well. Because I’m on a dairy and soy-free diet (for my nursing babe), those restrictions will also come into play as I make my determinations. Though, I have to say, it’s a great day in which to live when it comes to many food allergies. There are few recipes I look at now and really wish I could make and can’t with a few substitutions or eliminations.
Deciding how and when it’ll be cooked:
I’ll also think about the activities coming up in my week and try to select meals that will be easy for me to prepare, even on busy days. For my busiest of days, I’ll likely select a slow-cooker type of meal. That way I can dump the ingredients in, leave and know that when we come home hours later, the house will smell of roast, or white bean chicken chili.
Another way to tackle getting the meals prepared is to cook a few dinners in advance. If I’ve gone shopping over the weekend and I have everything on-hand, why not make two soups in one day? (See days 2 and 3 of this week’s planner.) I made all of these meals last week and prepared two soups in one day. We then enjoyed those soups for 2 dinners and many lunches.
I don’t include my breakfast and lunch menu here, mainly because I’m never more of a short-order-chef than during lunchtime in my home, “Tuna sandwich for you, left over soup for you, quesadilla for you”. One of the best money-saver elements to meal planning is that I can purposefully make more than we need for dinner (say, 1.5x what I know we’ll eat) and with the extra I can send my husband off to work with food and have super quick and easy lunch options to pull out for me and the kids during the days to come. (Did I mention we homeschool? So we wind up eating 3 meals a day at home everyday!) It continues to save us money (hubby isn’t eating lunches out as often now) and I can better control the foods my family is eating.
Aside from serving prepare-aheads (aka, left overs) for lunch, my other best tip in the lunch category is to make a lot of something else you enjoy on Monday that can be used throughout the week. My husband and I are both on a tuna kick, so I’ll make 3 cans of tuna, doctored up with pickles, tomatoes and the spices we like, and can turn that into yummy sandwiches as often as we want them all week long. More of a quinoa salad type of person? Make a large bowl of quinoa that you can add your favorite toppings to each day–chicken, feta cheese, tomatoes, avocado, pine nuts etc.
So back to our meal planning…
Now I’ve selected the entrees.
Next, I create a shopping list of ingredients.
Finally, I crosscheck ingredients then go shopping!
Optimally, I take a few minutes to doublecheck what’s in my cupboards and fridge. Honestly, though, sometimes the planning and shopping parts of this process happen while I’m out and about and waiting for a child to finish an activity. When this is the case, I sometimes don’t do a very good job on the crosschecking stage of this task. If that happens, I hope that we don’t have extra bunches of cilantro in the refrigerator that’ll go bad and I aim to do better in the future! This particular area is also something that made it to my resolutions list. (Look for a pantry and fridge inventory printable soon!)
Because I really want to be better about not throwing food away, I also dedicate some thought into how I can repurpose ingredients I have on-hand that will otherwise go to waste unless we can give them a makeover. (See my “Day-2 Enchilada” recipe coming soon.)
The main aspect to remember in all of this is that planning ahead can make eating at home an enjoyable and doable endeavor! I actually feel more confident, as I go about my week, knowing I have a plan in place to feed my family of 7 (and any company coming over). I’ve already selected something we’ll enjoy each day and I won’t have to cram in a special trip to the store in order to make it happen.
These all may be no-brainer suggestions for you, but for me, I didn’t pick up on any of this in my formal education (Why did they do away with Home Ec again??) and I only mildly paid attention to what my mom was doing in the kitchen (though much of it was done while I was off at school anyway), so getting a successful plan in place has been an evolving one over time for me.
I hope this helps some of you to better tackle meal planning as we start this New Year. Remember, a meal at home has the great potential to help both your pocketbook and your waistline, likely killing a few birds with one stone. 😉
So grab a note pad or download a printable from our Free Printables section and get started on your planning today!
While you’re planning, don’t forget to think about who you can share your favorite meals with this year!