Meal Planning 101: Your key to chaos-reduction

Friday, January 22nd, 2016

So, I’ve mentioned “meal planning” a few times before, but I haven’t taken the time to talk about it in more detail… until now.

As part of a family where both parents work, it can be hard to come home at the end of the day and spend an hour cooking something that isn’t from-a-box easy (but bad). I used to find it so wearying at the end of my work day. More chores to be done before I could even think about spending time with my family.

So I took a step back. I said to myself “self,” (okay not really, but we’ll go with that). “Self, what can you do to make my end-of-day better?“.

Well, “self” ignored me and surfed Pinterest instead.

Believe it or not that was a good thing! I swiped through dozens of pins on using my slow cooker, and dozens more of “10 minute meals” (of the set-it-and-forget-it variety).

I was inspired!

I filled my slow cooker for the next morning and used my momentum to cut up ingredients for the day after that.

Two meals in one week that weren’t baked-something and rice? Gord was over the moon! My daughter was even on board… if only because she still hadn’t learned the word “no” yet.

I had a good start making a couple of meals a week home-made from scratch. However I was finding it difficult to keep coming up with meals every work night. Picking something that either myself or Gord could cook, plus trying to remember what ingredients were on hand was a bit unwieldy. What could I do so that we could eat home-cooked meals with flavour more regularly?

It was a challenge, but I was up for it!

Instead of figuring out food to eat “on the fly”, it was much easier when I knew in advance what to make. And knowing what to make, well, that just meant I could do some of the more time-consuming preparation steps the day before. And if I could do that for a couple of days, well, I could do it for the rest of the week too!

Here’s how I did it…

The “What”

1: What to eat

The first thing I needed to know was just what my family was willing to eat. We had a few staple recipes that we all enjoyed, so I started with those. My recipe book has grown since then, but sticking to those staples has helped everyone stay on board.

2: What are your limitations

The second thing I needed to look at was my schedule and skill level. It wouldn’t help anyone if I needed two hours of waiting before I could cook the darn thing! Nor would it work if I overreached my skills.

So, I researched a few recipes that were “30-minutes or less” using flavours and techniques I was comfortable with. Weekday meals aren’t for stretching my culinary wings. They’re for quickly filling bellies with nutrition (and, okay, maybe a little play-time in the kitchen, but only on my terms!)

You’d be right in thinking my first few recipes are meal-plan ready (funny how that worked out, huh?)

Give ’em a try, I’ll wait!

The “When” and the “How”

Figuring out “what” you can eat is only half the battle. The “who” (your family) and the “where” (home-sweet-home) are easy too, so, now for the “when” and “how”:

1: Pick when to shop

Starting off, I picked one day a week to do the grocery shopping: the day after weekly fliers came out.

2: How to shop the sales

It was no accident that I picked the day after fliers were delivered to do my shopping. Fliers were my gateway into picking which store had the best deals for that week.

Shopper points aside, I found shopping sales the best way to save money. If you’re determined to collect all those golden point-miles, keep the long view on sales and stock up on the things your family uses often when they go on sale. It may be hard, but stick to your guns and only buy what’s on your meal plan outside of those family staples.

A couple extra cans of tomatoes seem to always make their way into my pantry when two-for-one week is on.

3: Plan when to prep

More than just planning the meals, planning to prepare those meals is essential. I started out doing the work for the next day after baby-bed-time, but soon found that doing two hours on Sunday was a better fit for my schedule. Sure, it takes two hours up front, but it allows me to just throw things together for the rest of the work week.

Put it into practice!

Put together, what does my weekly meal planning look like? Something like this…

Wednesday night, I find the fliers on my front step after work. Once the little one makes her way to bed, I sit down and take a look. Does the green store have a big two-for-one sale on beans and pasta? Does the red store have a special on my favourite brand of chicken? Whichever one has the best sales gets my business!

Next, I jot down some of the things on sale that my family likes. Chicken… tomatoes… lettuce… that goes well with those taco shells I bought a few weeks ago (on sale, of course) and rice. Let’s make taco salad one night and chicken burrito bowls on another!

Finally, I make a note of how many meals need onion, how many need peppers, and so on. I need…. five onions, three peppers, and some mushrooms. Let’s plan to do some chopping on Sunday night and put it in the fridge until the day-of!

Wait… what?

I know, I’ve been a bit vague. What you end up doing can really depend on how much time you have, and what your family enjoys.

To help you along I’ll be posting a few of my secret weapons: printable planner pages, and a walkthrough of my month-long February meal planning (yes, I said month-long, you’ll understand when I post about it later).

Give meal planning a try and share what works for your family!

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