As a stay-at-home mom, one of my primary tasks is to make sure everyone’s fed. As a budgeting consumer, I also try to be cost-effective when it comes to food as in, making it at home is usually cheaper—and healthier—than if I pay for someone else to make it.
Don’t get me wrong, I have ordered my fair share of take-out, have pizza delivery programmed into my phone, and purchased frozen dinners plenty of times. I know how to cook—I just don’t enjoy it. It’s a task, a chore, one that I feel mediocre at. I’m sure others would disagree. I have a list of household favorites, and the neighbors rave about my soup, but cooking is not my passion. At times…it’s like laundry; it stinks.
So, how do we combat this? How do we take the smelling, dirty, laundry-like chore and turn it into something a bit more than tolerable?
Every 3-4 months, we get in a meal rut, when it feels we eat the same food day after day, week after week, and can’t think of any alternative. Pasta three nights this week, anyone? When we hit this point, I hunt down my family members, individually if I must, and make them give me a list of meals they like. Suddenly breakfast for supper ends up back on our rotation, brats on the grill, soup, or that delicious Hawaiian roll slider meal I once made. If you find your household members are less than cooperative, threaten to make their most despised meal if they don’t contribute. Works every time. If you’re super organized, save the list to revisit down the road when you hit a similar rut.
The Meal Plan
I’m horrible at this, but every time I do it, it makes life 1000 times easier. Plan at least five meals forward to optimize your grocery trip. Remember your evening calendar to know which days you have activities and which days you’ll have time to cook. For example, Monday nights, we’re home. I tend to make a more involved meal. Wednesday church nights mean something quick and easy. Don’t get jaded, “involved” is still pretty simple. Maybe time-consuming or more-effort-needed would be a better choice of words.
Here’s a sample:
Monday – Home: Paninis with a side salad
Tuesday – Home late: Hamburgers and tater tots
Wednesday – Church Classes: Soup or other crockpot/Instapot meal
Thursday – Busy: Tacos using precooked meat
Friday – Home/family night: Pizza or Pasta
Meal plan and grocery list simultaneously. Take a gander at the grocery flyer. If pot roast is on sale, consider switching out for Wednesday’s soup. If ground hamburger is not on sale, but pork loin chops are, adjust the menu. On the flip side, if the ground hamburger is on sale, consider buying extra if your budget allows.
Here’s a tip: ground hamburger can be frozen raw or cooked. When it goes on sale, I buy 7-10lbs of it (or in bulk at Costco.) Patty your hamburgers for later. Brown the rest. Drain the grease and portion into 1lb containers. Freeze for future use. When needed, remove from the freezer, thaw in the microwave, and add to your recipe.
Another tip: set aside time to rinse, clean, and chop fresh vegetables (and certain fruits) shortly after purchasing them. We’re more likely to consume ready-to-eat foods this way, even more so if they are on the healthier spectrum.
Additional items for Meal Planning
Don’t forget to pickup up breakfast and lunch items—neither need to be spectacular. Milk and cereal, frozen waffles, or a dozen eggs allow for a quick breakfast variety. Make sure to remember fruits and vegetables. We eat an excessive amount of both and typically get whatever is on sale that week, and then some. If your budget allows, stock up on a few staples when on sale. For us, that’s pasta, pasta sauce, cereal, granola bars, macaroni and cheese, and canned fruit.
When I take the time to plan, even just a bit, it saves us from the 5 pm, what’s for dinner, panic. We tend to eat healthier this way. Once you have your meal plan and grocery list in hand, head to the store or call in your delivery order.