Right up front, I’m going to disclose that this post became an absolutely overblown, long-winded, text-heavy tome. Rather than making it one single post, I’m making it a series by splitting it into three separate ones. The first is kind of the background about how I came to my manner of meal planning. So here goes:
Over the past year or more I’ve struggled to come up with some way to actual make dinners work. I have gone in fits and starts:
I’ve tried freezer meals (making many entire meals in one day for future use) – this did not work at all for me – I was grumpy and tired at the end of it all and then we got bored with the same stuff repeatedly. I’m sad to say some items even got wasted. I’m so impressed with how people manage this – for me, finding several hours to really bust a move in the kitchen, let alone time to shop for such an extravaganza makes me feel like I’m drowning.
I’ve tried building blocks in the freezer (this worked reasonably well for me and I did it a couple of times where I spent 4 hours in the kitchen putting together the building blocks, however I was cranky by the end of it and so I changed it up, first, to just doing one of the building blocks at a time – much better! – and now I do one on a smaller scale when I’m already making one of the building block items for dinner – more on that later)
I’ve tried quick meals (20 mins or less) which never seemed to go as quickly as the recipe advertised. Plus I had to have the necessary ingredients and, being disorganized, this was not easy for me. Of course, I have my go-to quickies which I make liberal use of, but actually finding additional quick meal recipes has been less-than-successful thus far.
I’ve tried meal planning to an extreme (down to every breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, dessert, for me, my kids, my husband – you know, for taking to preschool and work). I thought having everything set would liberate me in that I’d never have to think about it – instead, it bogged me down – it was too much. The menus took hours, then making the associated grocery list took a long time, then shopping for all that stuff was an epic adventure – by the time it came to cooking these meals and prepping the snacks, I wanted nothing to do with any of it!
I’ve tried buying organization. You know those sites that will give you a “week’s worth of recipes, complete with a shopping list.” Yeah, I have tried (free-trial in most cases) several of these with varying degrees of
success failure. Inevitably, there was a recipe that I knew none of us would eat or enjoy. Some recipes took too long. Some portions were huge, others were minuscule. I’m not saying this might not be a good option, but for me, it wasn’t meant to be.
But now I’ve hit my stride! I’m almost two months in, with several months of planning already in my back pocket, and things feel great! I’m happy, not cranky. The food is getting eaten. I feel more organized and in-control. We’re saving a lot of money. AND, now it’s October and things are just madness in terms of busy and we’re still eating at home – good, yummy, home-cooked, real meals – almost every night. When something works even in the insanely manic times, I know it’s working completely.
Try enough different things and eventually something fits, I guess… I’m just really, really, sloooooow at getting there.
So, here’s what works for me: DINNER PLANNING.
Let me repeat that. This is meal planning for dinner only.
Here’s why I only plan dinners:
Breakfast: I eat one of three things for breakfast 98% of the time: oatmeal, yogurt, green monster smoothie. As oatmeal can keep in the pantry and add-ins are whatever we have (including frozen berries), yogurt is staple in my fridge (see add-ins for oatmeal), and green monster smoothies in my house are banana (always have) + spinach or kale (frozen) + whatever else (peanut butter or berries or whatever) + some other stuff (yogurt and/or chia seeds and/or flax seeds and/or vanilla extract), there’s really no need to plan for that, per se. Similarly, the kids eat oatmeal nearly every day. And the husband takes yogurt cups to work, so as long as I have some basic bits and pieces, we’re good for breakfast.
Lunch: The kids get packed lunches. I basically need supplies for those and mix and match whatever I have. These supplies include oatmeal/fruit bars, apple sauce, fruit, yogurt, cheese sticks, stuff for sammies (bread, sunbutter, jam, whipped cream cheese, cheese slices), fruit-in-juice cups, and raisins – you get the idea. I just make sure I have a variety of these things on hand an build lunch from there. My husband doesn’t let me pack him a lunch, so I am off the hook for that one. I eat leftovers or something like a sandwich and a banana (from the kids’ lunch stash) if there are no leftovers going that day.
Snacks: The kids get stuff from the lunch stash. I’ve stopped snacking and drink water or tea. If I’m desperately hungry, I hit the lunch stash – raisins are great!
So really, that leaves dinners. And since the Breakfast and Lunch stuff is working already, why “fix” what ain’t broke?
Dinner was most definitely ‘broke’… and driving us broke. Okay, not really, but we had been spending waaaay more money than we wanted to and more than is reasonable on dinners in restaurants and take-out. Plus we were bored with going out! I mean really, we ate out entirely too often. But most of all, dinner was a massive stressor for me. I mean, I had the full-on guilt going: guilt about buying food that ended up wasted because I didn’t plan well. Guilt about spending money on take out and restaurant meals we didn’t really enjoy. Guilt about feeding my family not so healthy take out and restaurant food. Guilt for being disorganized. Guilt cycle gone mad! And now that is all gone!
Tomorrow, I’ll share my second post in this series. I’ll dive into the nitty gritty of my methodology. This will give you the tools to do the same kind of meal planning I do. (Click here for the next post.)
It truly has made my busy months (specifically, late September and October) go so much more smoothly (thus far) this year than it has previously. My stress levels are way down, too! Stay tuned for the next two posts!