By Katie, Contributing Writer
When I was growing up, my friend’s mom always planned her meals in advance. She always had a meal plan written out on the refrigerator and from that point I always thought I would try to do that when I was running my household. When I got married, I didn’t realize just how important this little tactic actually was. It’s taken me several years but I feel like I have finally hit my groove when it comes to planning meals.
We used to eat out a lot
Over the course of our marriage our diet has changed significantly. We started out by eating out a lot. Like, a lot. At least one meal every day. That makes me cringe thinking about that. *Shudder*
Then we tried the whole cooking at home thing, sort of. Spaghetti, boxed mac and cheese, Rice-A-Roni, coco puffs and lucky charms, frozen french fries and tater tots, store brand sodas, bagged salad with ranch dressing, canned fruit cocktail, American cheese slices, frozen pizzas, and instant oatmeal packets.
It was the basic, inexpensive diet for a young couple first starting out. Low income type of meals. I didn’t really know how to cook. I had no confidence in the kitchen. I didn’t want anyone to watch me cook.
After I had my first child, things didn’t change much. We still ate out quite often and we still bought pre-made foods. Now, there’s nothing wrong with all of that, but for us, these weren’t wise choices. For our health, for our budget, these choices were detrimental.
Transitioning to cooking more at home…
After a few years of practice in the kitchen and a few financial slaps in the face, we finally realized the importance of cooking at home and how simple cooking from scratch can actually be.
We decided on a bi-weekly grocery run so we were buying canned soups, frozen meat, and frozen produce to get us through two weeks.
Then, following some health issues such as thyroid issues and also gestational diabetes during my third pregnancy, I knew we needed to change something. We decided to go the whole/traditional foods route. Just real, wholesome, nourishing food. It was almost as if I had to learn how to cook and what to cook all over again.
…and then to cooking real food.
This is when I really began to embrace the idea of planning my meals. It simplified everything. We started buying bulk and basics. Oats, sucanat, flour, baking powder & soda, beans, nuts, rice. We started buying these dry goods in bulk so we always had them on hand. We started budgeting for farm fresh, free range eggs, maple syrup, and honey. We stopped buying canned soups and started making soups, stocks and broth from scratch. Just those changes made something in my mind just switch. I had good food in my home that was versatile and nourishing.
A note from Jami: By the way – you can try out Build a Menu for just $4 for your first month! Use coupon code: SaveMeMoney to try out my very favorite meal planning solution! (I’ve been using Build a Member now for over a year and a half and I am totally in love with it!) Find out more about Build a Menu here.
How I prepare healthy meals on a budget
Over time, I have learned better ways to plan and budget for meals for our family. Specifically, there are two ways I prepare healthy meals and stay at or under budget ($100-$115/week for our family of 5):
1) I go to the market in the beginning of the week and only shop for the week to come.
I find when I go shopping for food on Saturday or Monday and prepare for the week ahead, I am able to afford more fresh food such as produce and fresh meat that I normally wouldn’t be able to buy if I were planning meals for two weeks or more at a time. It does take more time out of my week because now I am planning more and going to the store more often, but it’s worth it to have fresh food in the house.
2) I try to prepare simple, basic meals that are nourishing and delicious.
These meals don’t have to be fancy. As long as they are healthy and good for your family, that’s all that matters, right? That’s not to say you can’t make an effort to make your food look pretty. Take pride in what you’re eating and serving!
I can usually get by only making two or three main dishes and squeezing other meals out of those leftovers or adding other types of meals such as breakfast for dinner (substituting eggs for meat), or utilizing one whole chicken for broth in my chicken soup and using the meat for three or four other meals.
I have found that it’s ok to repeat meals each week. It makes life simpler. If you have a handful of delicious recipes that the family enjoys, make them more often rather than fancy, new recipes that might cost a little more to buy ingredients for. I am not saying don’t try new recipes. I love trying new recipes. But as a whole, I try to make the same favorite meals every week or every other week and then throw in something new occasionally.
More often than not, we try to eat what we know. It helps us save money and time. It also helps if you have the basics around like flour, honey, oats, etc. These items can help you in a bind and provide the opportunity to add variety to regular meals such as homemade tortillas, biscuits and honey, cornbread, muffins, cookies, etc. Adding a yummy baked good to most meals enhances them! Also by being able to buy more fresh produce, adding a fruit salad, a fresh garnish, or a yummy side salad and veggies would be something different to add to your basic main dishes.
A sample weekly menu looks a little something like this at our house:
Monday: B- Oatmeal with cinnamon and milk. L-Tuna & Crackers. D-Chicken soup (homemade broth from whole chicken) with rice and veggies.
Tuesday: B- Eggs and toast. L-Leftover soup. D-Chicken tacos (with leftover chicken from yesterday) & homemade guacamole.
Wednesday: B-Oatmeal with cinnamon and milk. L-BBQ chicken sandwiches (again, with more left over chicken). D-Taco soup.
Thursday: B-Eggs or smoothies. L-Leftover taco soup. D-Homemade pizza
Friday: B- Toast, yogurt+fruit, or oatmeal. L-Left over pizza or taco soup. D-Chicken salad
Saturday: B-Pancakes. L-Leftovers. D- BLTs
Sunday: B-Fend for yourself (AKA something quick before church like fruit, toast, or yogurt. Lunch-Chili from the crockpot. D-Meal at our church for the kids, date night/take out for Mom & Dad.
Overall, the benefits of meal planning I’ve found are:
-Spend less money at the grocery store.
-Stay within budget more easily.
– The ability to purchase fresher foods more often.
-You actually might eat your leftovers!
-Spend less time on meals over all.
-Remove the struggle of “what’s for dinner?”
There are several resources that helped/help me meal plan. Some I use and some I have only looked at for examples.
Some good resources:
*I have not been compensated for mentioning/linking these websites. These do not include affiliate links.*
How do you plan meals for your family? Do you have any tips for busy moms who don’t think they have time to meal plan? Share your thoughts and meal plan tips in the comments below!
A note from Jami:
I’ve actually converted to an online system for my meal planning and now I can do my complete meal planning and print off my shipping list within just a couple of minutes. This new website I’ve been using is called Build a Menu.
I originally purchased a membership almost a year and a half ago when they ran their super special sale and I’ve been so happy with Build a Menu! And right now, you can try out Build a Menu for just $4 for your first month! Use coupon code: SaveMeMoney to try out my very favorite meal planning solution!