I still remember the first food shopping trip I took when I moved in with my now husband. It was our first time living without our parents, and we spent over $200 and bought everything and anything. I don't remember what we bought, but I remember the feeling of excitement and promise, the awesome fact that we could buy and prepare whatever food we wanted, for the first time ever!
Fast forward a few years. With us working full-time, demanding jobs, our meal times consisted of whatever was quickest. I bought pretty much the same food every week, and I can't tell you how much stuff I ended up throwing out over the course of a couple of years--meat that had been in the freezer for months, rotting fruit and vegetables, and stale bread.
At some point, right before I got pregnant with my first child, I realized that we had to make a change in the way we ate. We started with wholesome, non-processed ingredients. We brought healthy lunches to work instead of going to the local eateries. We were on a good road, but once we threw children into the mix eating mindfully and healthily became more of a challenge.
I needed to make a change, and so I decided to start planning my family's meals--dinner especially. I plan my meals for a week and then I shop accordingly. I've done this now for over five years, and it has made such an immense difference in all of our lives. For one, absolutely nothing goes bad or goes to waste, since I only buy whatever I need for what I'm cooking. Second, I'm not left scrambling to throw something together at 6:30; having a plan ensures that we are getting a good meal every single day.
I don't use a website for help, but I
write down each meal and the day I'm going to make it, and put the list on the fridge. Since we run around a
lot during the week, I plan my meals around whatever each day's
activities are. For example, on the days where we have after school
activities, I make a stew, casserole, lasagna, or something in the slow
cooker (basically anything that can be made ahead of time), so that when
we get home we can get straight to eating.
I make the meal
schedule flexible so that if something changes, I can easily swap out
meals from one day to the next. Sometimes things come up and I'm unable
to cook, or we eat out unexpectedly, so I adjust the schedule and often
carry meals from one week to the next. So that things don't go bad, I
look at my meals and make the ones that use fresh produce first, so that
I'm not stuck with rotting food in the fridge. And if there's a meal
that requires advance preparation, like marinating or defrosting, I will
make a note for myself on my meal schedule list. I look at my meal
schedule every morning, and take out meat to defrost, if any.
To keep things a little simple, I make every Wednesday roast chicken night. I roast a chicken with some variation, with a different side every week. This is the kids' favorite meal--especially the crispy chicken skin. I save the bones and any leftover chicken meat and make a mean chicken soup, either later in the week or the week after. Our favorite is chicken soup with celery, carrots, and egg noodles. We have breakfast for dinner every other Thursday (also another favorite). I make gluten free waffles or pancakes, sometimes with home potatoes or bacon, and sometimes a frittata. Once I find a good gluten free pizza crust recipe, I'm going to incorporate a pizza night into our week, as well.
takes me around an hour to meal plan and shop for groceries. I shop for
my groceries at Costco, where I buy most of our staples like milk, cereal, sugar, snacks, etc., and also on FreshDirect.com, a grocery
delivery service in NYC. The online service really helps in terms of managing my
time, because it takes a lot less time than going to a supermarket
would. That's not to say I don't shop in grocery stores and
supermarkets. And I can't wait for my local farmers market, which starts in June.
Planning meals is about more than just convenience. I'm in the middle of reading "French Kids Eat Everything," and learning about how the French view food and mealtimes has re-inspired me to let my kids help me out in the kitchen, for more than just baking cookies. Two nights ago Sofia helped me make Asian-style shrimp with rice noodles and not only did she want to try every single thing as we were making it, once we sat down to eat, she finished every bite and declared the meal the best she's ever had. I love the stress that planning ahead alleviates for me and I love that I can take the extra time to spend in the kitchen with my children.
Does your family plan their meals ahead of time? If not, are you inspired to start?