I have two part-time jobs that realistically need 40+ hours of attention in a week. We are growing a Plan B business, I am a coach’s wife and mother to three very active sons. Last month, we spent over $700 on groceries. I totaled all my receipts (actually my debit card online….way cool and yet stomachache producing…another blog post topic) two weeks ago, so I could actually give you the exact dollar amount, but I don’t want another stomachache.
I need to be a planner. I must meal plan to stay on budget both for my bank account and my clothes account. When I don’t meal plan, we eat 5 Dollar Pizza, which is great but not great for the 42-year-old body with baby weight that I am still rockin’. In order for me to stay 80% on my nutrition/health goals, I need to meal plan. And honestly, nothing makes me more likely to lose it after a long day of work or running the kids than the question, “Momma, what’s for supper?”.
You do not have to be super organized to save money, waste less food and time, and eat cleaner. When you take a small amount of time, plan a few meals, and create a flexible plan, supper time is less stressful.
There are a number of great apps and websites that are helpful. Here are a few:
There are a number of ways you can create your plan; however, I have found that kickin’ it old school with paper and pencil (pencil is key, because things change all the time) works best for me. I have a meal planning worksheet that my great friend Heather Tiegan created which helps me keep my personal nutritional goals focused as well as plan for feeding the family. I don’t plan what the kids eat for breakfast and lunch, because they tend to fend for themselves (thank goodness they are old enough to do so now!) and they are creatures of habit when they take cold lunches to school. My focus is feeding me during the day and family dinners.
In the Morning
This morning I took about 15 minutes before everyone was up and planned our food for the next week.
Figure out what I want to eat – What fruits and veggies are in season (nothing, it’s winter in MN. Thank goodness for Aldi’s produce section)? What protein is on sale? Did I look at the ads? What did we have last week? What am I craving? What new recipes do I want to try? Are there special occasions to cook for?
Make the plan– I have made multiple paper copies of my meal plan, so I have them handy when I am ready to get started. I have been known to get a ruler out and draw my own grid in order to stay organized. I begin with writing down breakfast ideas that include a protein and 1-2 carbs. I also base this choice on how much time I know I will have to eat in the mornings. Next to plan are my morning and afternoon snacks. Momma needs to eat every 2.5 hours or so in order to keep her 42-year-old metabolism rolling and maintain her muscle strength. I keep things simple and pick two snacks and eat them every day for the week.
Making Lunches Easy
Lunches include a protein, a complex carb, and a veggie. Lunch is usually leftovers from dinner the night before or a crockpot meal that I prep. Eating the same thing for two to three days might get boring for some, but I love how it makes the decision making easier, and I don’t have to scramble in the morning to make a healthy lunch. I am always thinking about evening activities during the week, sporting events, and meetings as I plan dinners.
The world’s greatest invention for meal planning, meal prepping, and busy families is the crockpot. Do not be afraid to use it. Not everything in a crockpot has to be a stew or soup. I have found a number of healthy and family-friendly recipes that work well.
I know and understand that we will probably eat out one night of the week. Some nights, it’s just easier to grab Subway on the way to or from swim practice/church/baseball game. I know that there will also be at least one night every other week that I look at the plan and do NOT want to cook and we will have grilled cheese sandwiches or frozen pizza. I “wing it,” and I am okay with that when we only do it every once in awhile
The Actual Work Of Meal Planning and Prepping
1. Grocery Shopping
Having a plan, knowing what you have on hand and what you need at the store, saves you money every time. Grocery shopping is key. Check the ads, look at sale prices, and consider making one monthly trip to a wholesale club like Costco or Sam’s Club. I have yet to make this work for me. We always manage to spend $200 on amazing fruits, veggies, and other things, only to be completely out in a week. I can get almost everything I need at Aldi’s, with one or two trips to Hy-Vee & Trader Joe’s in the month.
I plan on writing more about meal prepping in the future, but I will say that meal prepping some things for the week has been a habit that has completely changed my ability to stay “on” my nutritional goals. I love to snack. I graze. I comb the kitchen looking for food after the kids are in bed, if I don’t prep my snacks.
Over the weekend and during random free moments during the week, I will wash and chop fruits & veggies for dinner, make lunches (usually a big batch of something from the crock pot,) and take time to make individual servings of my snacks. Yes, I weigh out 1 ounce of almonds, five times, and reuse Zip-Lock snack bags. Having things ready and available helps me eat snack less and make better food choices over all.
It is simple really. Sure, planning and prepping takes time in the moment, but ultimately it saves time and makes for an easier week. It is so nice to know that the family has eaten a real meal on Wednesday, when I work late, because I took time during the morning to fire up the crock pot. But, with everything in life, it’s all about finding balance and some nights you just end up calling 5 Dollar Pizza.