Monday, July 11, 2016

Meal Planning for Dummies

First of all, I know you're no dummy. So don't be offended by that title. I will say this, when I first became a wife, I was kind of a dummy. I know I know, it's not nice to call names, but I promise you I didn't know much about the kitchen. Once, when Justin and I were dating, I wanted to surprise him with dinner. This was after he gave me a key to his house so obviously things were getting all kinds of serious. I decided to go over early and have a meal ready for him when he got home from work. It wasn't until I got there and stood in his kitchen that I realized I didn't know what the heck I was doing. So I got a pot out and called my best friend and asked her to walk me through how to make spaghetti, from the boiling the water step.

I wish I was kidding.

Fast forward almost five years and being a wife is my favorite thing. Seriously. The cooking, the looking after the house, the making sure things run smoothly around here, MY FAVORITE. I work really hard to make sure our home is clean and smelling good at all times because I want Justin to feel as relaxed as possible when he comes through the door from a stressful day at work. Being a wife is seriously the best thing I've ever been. I love this "job" and wouldn't want to be single ever again, not for one second!

So one of my favorite things to do to help our household run smoothly is to meal plan. I know meal planning is a hit or miss with people. Some do it, some don't. Here's why we do it and why it works.

1. Saves money. When I wasn't meal planning I would go to the grocery store and be immediately set up for failure. I would throw anything and everything into the cart and walk out spending way too much money and chances are, I probably forgot a thing or two while I was at it.

2. Healthier. When you don't have meals planned out and you get home after a long day at work or with the kids and it's dinner time you are more likely to grab a pizza, stop through a drive-thru, etc. So not only does meal planning save money, it ensures that you stick to your plan (who wants to waste fresh foods? NOT ME) and avoid those drive-thrus.

3. Less stress. Whether I'm being a stay at home mom to Hudson or just getting home from my internship, once 5:30 rolls around all of the stress of "what's for dinner" is gone because I just open my notebook and make whatever is on the calendar that day.

4. Easy. No more scurrying around for last minute recipes or hoping you have just one more frozen pizza to get you by. Meal planning is the best thing I could have done to keep my household running smoothly and efficiently. And I love to cook. So it's a win win. Seriously. Once 5pm rolls around, I get so excited to get out my knives and cutting boards and cook up something yummy for my family.

Are you convinced yet? Now let me walk you through how I meal plan each month.

I meal plan for two weeks at a time because I use peapod's delivery service. Basically it's an online grocery store. I pay about $100 a year for this service. And it's worth every penny. Here's what the screen looks like.

Usually on a Sunday night I'll get in bed with my laptop and notebook, put on my favorite Netflix show and get to planning. I find a lot of family favorites from my Pinterest board and some from a recipe book my mom gave me. I write out the days of the week in a two week span and just fill in our favorite meals. After I write in each meal I will look into the recipe and find out what ingredients I need to purchase and write those in my grocery list. Here is a two week example from last week's meal rotation:

Monday: Skinny Buffalo Chicken Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
Tuesday:Pizza Margherita Grilled Cheese
Wednesday: Chicken Salad in Pita Pockets
Thursday: Zucchini Lasagna Boats
Friday: Fajita Chicken Kabobs with Mexican Street Corn
Saturday:Peach Basil Mozzarella Flatbread
Sunday: Leftovers
Monday: Chicken Bacon Mac & Cheese
Tuesday: Fish Tacos
Wednesday: Smashburgers (Pioneer woman recipe)
Thursday: Salsbury Steak,  mashed potatoes & collard greens
Friday: Date night
Saturday: Bacon and avocado grilled cheese
Sunday: Leftovers

I budget about $300 a month for groceries. This trip was a little more expensive than planned because I used a ton of fresh ingredients. But the next two week trip was a lot less because I restocked our pantry so it all evened out. Whatever is left from the grocery budget that doesn't get used goes right into savings. For breakfast we usually do cereal or fruit. Sometimes I will bake something the night before but breakfast isn't a huge fuss for us. Justin get's lunch out since he is busy with work and meetings and I usually eat leftovers or a salad. So the only big meal planning I do is for our dinners.

Once I get my list together I pop over to the Peapod website and add all of the ingredients and foods I need for the two week period. Grocery shopping takes 15 minutes now and I will never go back to the old way of grocery shopping again. (until we move out of MA and have no online option to which I will then say, god help us all).

Meal planning is easy and call me crazy, but fun! It does take a little bit of time to get the meals planned out, but once you get the hang of rotating meals (and being flexible to change your days up a little if you see that your produce needs to be used for specific meal before it goes bad) you'll be a pro! Sometimes I will make a mistake by planning three nights of chicken meals in a row, and if that happens I'll just swap a day to even it all out.

So what do you think? Want to give meal planning a try?