Updated: Oct 16
I have been planning meals in advance for as long as I can remember. I was doing it long before it became a trend, or a hashtag. Long before there was any such thing as an app for that or a delivery service to help. It just seemed like the right thing to do. Young and poor and on a budget, if I didn't plan out my meals, well, I probably didn't enjoy my meal very much. And I didn't eat very well. And I have never been a huge fan of getting to the end of my day, confronted with that question that no one wants to hear....."what are we having for dinner?"
Check out my simple reasons for planning the menu at the beginning of each week. See if any resonate with you.
1. It saves a whole lot of time. I know it takes time to create the plan but on a Sunday night, when the house is relatively quiet and I can think uninterrupted, meal planning takes less than 45 minutes. And a grocery trip is a breeze when I know what I need and what I'm doing with it. But if I wait and rely on planning each meal the day of, in the midst of homework and activities and phone calls and general 5 o’clock madness, it takes longer to even gather my thoughts and get started on the meal, leaving me to make pasta (boring), serve a later than wanted dinner, or grab the keys and head out for a quick bite. All of which will still result in feeding the family, but none of which are inspiring or satisfy my need to serve a healthy variety of fresh foods to my family.
2. It saves money. We don’t throw food away. We just don’t. I have planned the week around the principle of zero waste. I know what foods I need so I don’t randomly buy at the grocery. I know what I’m prepping each night and how much will be left so I build in days for leftovers. No one in my household minds leftovers, so they get eaten. The right amount of food comes in. And with continued attention to my food inventory, it all goes out. And we don't spend a lot of money on eating out or ordering in. We love eating out together, but it is never a steady default simply because I failed to plan. When we have decided to eat out, it can be something special and a bit of a splurge because it is not something we do all the time.
3. It keeps us healthy. The jury is not still out on this one. Eating in, preparing food at home, and eating meals together all contribute to the long-term health of each family member. Once in a while I will cook from my favorite cookbook Date Night In, by Ashley Rodriguez. And when I do, my family always says "this tastes just like at a restaurant!" You know why? Because Ashley is a former pastry chef in a fancy NYC restaurant. And because of that, her yummy foods are loaded with salt, butter, cream and other delicious goodies in much greater quantity than I care to calculate. Food in restaurants is good because they put a lot of the good stuff in. I am not blaming Ashley! She is an amazing chef and we lick our plates clean when I make something she created. But I am more moderate and mindful at home.
4. It gives me greater control of the schedule. When I know what the meals are going to be, I can organize my day efficiently. I know what to defrost, what to prep in the morning, what to start ahead of time. Dinner time is still a bit of a race to the finish but the tasks are laid out ahead of time. When we hit traffic coming home after dance, or when we have to run an unexpected errand, I can focus on those daily schedule bumps with much less stress because I know that dinner is at least under control. And no one asks me what is for dinner because they already know by looking at the board on the counter, where I have listed the menu for all to see. Even if it reads "leftovers", "out with friends", "date night", we all know what to expect. Dinner, if nothing else in our day, is under control.
5. It’s a challenge. Who doesn't love a good challenge? I always feel very accomplished when I have successfully planned a lovely menu that everyone will enjoy, that also happens to use that last bit of sun-dried tomato paste that I don't want to go to waste. I do not invent meals - I follow recipes like my life depended on it. I applaud those who are creative enough to see things in their pantry and just go for it. That is not me. But with my extensive collection of recipes that I have pulled from years of magazine subscriptions, I have 100's of options at my fingertips, which I organize and index, mark up and use, each and every week. What a challenge to plan the meals, shop for the meals, prep and cook the meals, and start all over again each and every week. In my little part of the world, it means so much.
7. It is habit. At this point, it would probably be harder for me to stop doing it than to do it. Weeks when I don't plan meals are very rare these days. NOT meal-planning feels like I have forgotten to do something vital, so it is easy for me to make time for it.
My priority is serving healthy, fresh meals to my family that include variety but some of their favorites. And because it is a priority, it is easy. But don't feel forced to meal plan because I am doing it, or your favorite Pinterest interest is doing it. Plan because it aligns with what you want, for yourself and your family and your household. You will eat, no matter what. But if you ever want to try your hand at something new, meal planning your own way awaits.