Meal Time is one of the moments that can be most pivotal in our day. There is nothing like coming together at the table, around nourishing food, and connecting. Even if it is over a can of soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, those moments can mean so much to our relationships as a family.
But, I think one of the hardest parts of the day as a mom is dinner time. Or more aptly, the few minutes right before dinner where you panic and think,
"what am I making for dinner? Do I have anything to make for dinner? Do I have to go to the grocery store now, at the worst part of the day? Do I have any money in the budget to just order pizza?"
Please tell me that I am not alone in this.
And, while I have a soft spot in my heart and my belly for Pizza Hut Pan pizza, I try to make that more of a once-in-a-while occurrence rather than the norm. It means I have to be a little 'practiced', or practical in my home! I have to practice being practical, hahaha!
So, I make a meal plan. I started having to meal plan when we lived in Kosovo. We worked for a humanitarian organization, and we fed 40-60 kids each day. We would also have to drive 30 minutes away to the nearest grocery store, which even then might simply be 4 different stalls at the open market; and we normally had to fit in 8 other errands while we were in town, so I had to make my time, and our budget count.
We ran a kindergarten/daycare and they had a specific 'menu' that we stuck to. Mondays were hard boiled eggs and bread;Tuesdays were fried peppers; Wednesdays were soup; every other Thursday was Pasul (a bean stew), and Fridays were salami and cheese - only the salami over there looked, smelled and tasted suspiciously like bologna. While I'm sure I have the days all messed up - and I know I have left out a few meals - the routine of knowing what we would be having made it easy for the cook to make a list of what she needed for the next week. All we needed to do was shop for it.
And, so I started making a meal plan for my week, also.
Making a plan helped cut down on time running back and forth to the grocery store (which, if we're honest, didn't happen for quite a few reasons. . . . so, we would just scrounge for what we had at the house, and because food variety was what it was, all we would have found would have been the suspiciously-bologna-salami. no thank you!!)
When we moved back to the United States, I kept up the habit. In America, we do have the ease and convenience of being able to run to a grocery store whenever we need and find almost any ingredient we could want, but now, I found that I had to meal plan to make sure that I stayed within (or close!) to our budget!! You can fill up your cart, and empty your wallet, really quickly, and find that all you have bought are a family size box of Cheerios, a jug of orange juice, a pack of cheesesticks, bacon, some granola bars, and the fruit gummy snacks that your kids begged you for!
So, I meal plan. It helps me stay on track and (close) on budget.
There are a few things you need to keep in mind before you start:
- if you are on a budget, I recommend keeping your grocery budget for buying food separate from your 'eating out' budget. It is very hard to keep the 2 together and stick to a budget for what you need to buy. If you have an unlimited budget a. I'm jealous, and b. still having a meal plan will help you prepare for the week
- pick a day & time of the week that works for you and schedule your shopping on that day. That way you know how many days/meals you have to plan for. If you are not able to shop on the same day each week, just make sure to plan enough meals to last until your next shopping trip.
So, now we begin!
1/ make a list of all of the meals that you make. Create your family menu! And, I'm not just talking about homemade-from-scratch-slaved-over-the-stove-for-hours meals. I'm talking, what do you guys eat?? Just start listing them out: spaghetti, tacos, boxed mac and cheese, Cheerios with blueberries (except for boxed mac, all of those are on my list!). Maybe your family loves Costco lasagna - write that down. This is your start. These are also your go-tos. Your 'ace in the hole' meals. But, I'll explain more about that later.
2/ From that list, you can fill in the days of the week with meals : )
3/ Make your grocery list based on the meals that you will be making! One meal for each night. If you need to, write down lunch meals, too. Don't forget the snacks that your family likes, and the staples. In our house, I try to keep back up bottles of mustard, balsamic vinegar, & Dan's salad dressing. When, we pull out the back up bottle, I buy another one! That way, I won't be caught short without any!! Same with flour, sugar, etc. . . .
-if there doesn't seem to be many meals, that's okay - over time, you will add to it.
-be realistic about your menu vs. your budget. I LOVE steak! But, my budget doesn't. So, if I want steak, I have to do a little give & take on my meal planning that week. Steak one night, canned tomato soup and grilled cheese the next : ) It's about balance people.
-Meal plans help to build a flexible structure (oxymoron much?!) into your life. It is a game plan that you can refer to, but doesn't have to be set in stone. Sometimes I write down that I will make homemade pizza on a Monday, and then Monday happens, and I realize I don't have time to make my crust from scratch and I didn't buy the Trader Joe's pizza dough. . . . so I switch that night with 'breakfast for dinner' night. Also, don't forget some of your meals will provide leftovers. Write that into the meal plan. And, then, when your kids grow and leftovers don't happen any more, you know your meal plan has to 'flex' again : ) We found ourselves at this point recently, so I asked God to give me a way to add to our grocery budget, so I started selling essential oils!! I kid you not!! Our lives will change and grow, a meal plan gives us a tool to work with to navigate those changes graciously.
- Add to your menu!! you will always keep those good old stand by meals, but as you try new meals, or remember ones you originally forgot, you can add them to your list. For a while, I would try a new recipe every 2 weeks. I haven't done that in a while, but have been feeling the need to 'branch out' again : ) It's nice to have some go-to meals, like I was referring to earlier, for the rest of the week so I can bring some creativity for that new meal : )
-I meal plan with my calendar open right in front of me. There is nothing worse than planning for a tedious meal (lots of cutting and prep!) on a night when I am running back and forth in between sports and music practices!! UGH!!!! If I know a week is going to be busy, my meal plan says things like 'hot dogs', 'frozen pizza' and my shopping list is pretty simple.
- If you are able to schedule a time to do that into your week, DO IT!!! I used to plan the following week's plan on Friday afternoons, and I would love to get back to that. But, now, Friday afternoons don't work, so I might try for Saturday mornings. If nothing else happens, I do it Sunday evening. Because not doing it, isn't an option for me!
Now, let's take a minute to be transparent. While making a meal plan will help you create your home and feed your family, it isn't easy. It takes time and work. I came home this Sunday from driving 4 hours after waking up from shooting an 8 hour wedding the day before, and instead of falling asleep on the living room carpet, I sat on the couch and worked on my meal plan. But, the peace of mind it helps me with during the week - when I need to be able to take care of all of the moving parts of homework & meetings & sports & church - allows me to be a much happier Mama!
And, remember, creating home, even creating a meal plan, is a process. It may never look perfect, but if it brings a greater sense of connection to my family into my home, then it is successful!!!