If there is one thing that I know, its food! I love food. I love cooking. I love eating. I don’t really like cleaning… that’s a different article though…
My problem with meal times came when it was time for me to decide what to make. On the days where I would plan earlier in the day, I would inevitably realize that I didn’t have the proper ingredients, so I’d either go to the store and spend a bunch of extra money or else I’d just give up all together and convince my husband to eat out instead. It wasn’t until I made a meal plan that worked for our family that I was able to overcome this beast (and save a ton of money in the process).
My meal planning has gone through several incarnations. Each has been wonderful for that phase of my life, but as our family grows, I find that our needs grow as well. I encourage you to try a few different plans, and if the first one doesn’t work, don’t be discouraged. You’ll find a good one!
When my son was very young, I made a great system using the Mastercook software. I entered in all of my family favorites and divided them into 4 weeks worth of plans. Each week I would choose a plan, print out the grocery list (it makes one automatically) and I was done. It was easy, and after the initial setup, it took almost nothing to keep up with it.
You could do the same thing without any special software: just write down your favorite meals and then write down the shopping list on another sheet of paper. If you have a notebook for all of your family business, just stick the pages into a sheet protector and you’re good to go! You can also do this on your Palm Pilot (Handyshopper is a great program for this) or in a program like Word.
As my kids started to get to the toddler stage, I realized that cooking every night was getting to be more challenging. I just couldn’t get that much time alone. At this point I decided to start using freezer cooking (aka once-a-month-cooking or OAMC). I didn’t want to spend an entire day in the kitchen, so I doubled and tripled recipes instead. My very favorite was my ziti recipe, which I will post in the recipe section. It really wasn’t too much extra work to double or triple the recipes, and I was able to buy my ingredients in bulk, which was much cheaper. I would double/triple recipes for a week or two, then coast off of the food in our freezer for another few weeks, then cook again. It was a good way to buy a little extra time!
Then, in 2004, we discovered that my son was severely allergic to casein, the protein in cow’s milk. I had to rethink all of our meals. Milk, cheese, and butter were staples of our meals, and most of the frozen meals were casserole-type dishes, and they just weren’t that good on our new, more restrictive diet.
To work around this issue, I have gone back to a plan that I used when I was a working wife (before my kids were born). In this plan, I had a set “theme” for each day of the week, but I would sit down on Sunday (that’s my shopping day) and decide what exactly we will eat on those nights. Having the categories helps me to decide quickly.
Our current schedule is as follows:
Sunday – Bible Study (potluck dinner) or Italian (if there is no study)
Monday – Breakfast for dinner
Tuesday – Asian
Wednesday – Soup and sandwiches
Thursday – Mexican
Friday – Pizza
Saturday – Traditional / Family Favorite
So far, this is working very well for us. I currently use the grocery game. In order to make it fit with my schedule, I check what is on sale with the grocery game, and then I try to incorporate the sale ingredients into my meals. Honestly, since you do so much “stockpiling” with the grocery game, there are very few items that I need to pick up each week for my meals. I “shop” in my pantry/fridge instead, using items that I have stockpiled.
I am happy with our current system, but if our needs change again, then I’m sure that we will adapt to meet them. I still bulk cook a couple of meals each month. I like to have them around for busy days or if I am called from church to bring a meal to a fellow mom who has just given birth.
Feel free to comment if you have any questions or suggestions. I’d love to hear what works for your family!