Do you ever feel like the most asked question in your household is “what’s for dinner?” Indeed, it seems to be one of the greatest questions of our time. Wouldn’t it be nice to just know the answer and to save yourself the frustration of being asked by five different people? The answer is closer than you think. One of the best ways to prepare for your meals is to use a weekly meal planner. Sitting down for thirty to sixty minutes per week will save you a lot of time, money, and aggravation down the road.
Time saver. “What? I don’t have an hour to spend on meal planning!”
It may seem like a lot of time to sit down and plan out your meals, but as you grow more accustomed to the process and create a collection of recipes your family enjoys, the time you have to spend planning will lessen. Realize that you only have to set aside this time once a week, and that the time payoffs for the rest of the week are even greater. When operating without a weekly meal plan, it’s easy to get distracted at the store and to even make about four grocery runs (instead of just one) during the week. Let’s say that your average time spent at the store is only 20 to 30 minutes. This means that your four trips to the store could add up to about 80 to 120 minutes. If you shop with a grocery list and make only one store run per week, you could save yourself 20 to 60 minutes of your time.
Another tip is to organize your shopping list by aisle to save yourself even more time at the grocery store. I group things like the produce, the frozen items and the dairy, but take it one step further. For example, while cheese, yogurt, and milk are all dairy items they never seem to be grouped together at the store. At my usual grocery store, I know that I’ll come across the yogurt before I find the milk section and the milk before the cheese so I’ll write it that way on my list. You don’t have to do it this way, but I’ve found that knowing the layout of my shopping center and incorporating that knowledge into my shopping list helps keep me from going back and forth between various aisles when it’s unnecessary.
A weekly meal planner also allows you to plan your meals around your weekly schedule. If you know you have a lot to do on Wednesday, you can use a crock pot meal that you put together Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning and allow it to cook all day while you’re at school or at work. You could also plan to eat leftovers from earlier in the week, or plan to whip up something simple like sandwiches. Another fun fact: since you know what you’ll be making each day, you can combine various tasks throughout the week. If both Thursday and Friday require meals with chopped bell peppers, you can chop enough for both meals on Thursday. If you require browned meat for more than one recipe during the week, you can simply brown enough for both meals on the same day.
Money saver. I always arm myself with a plan before heading to the grocery store. While it’s never been a habit of mine, I know several people who are highly susceptible to impulse buying. It’s easier to ignore the sale displays and candy by the registers when you have a shopping list handy. It may not seem like much to spend only $2 on a pack of gum and a candy bar, but if you’re driving to the store four times per week and purchasing two impulse buys each time that’s almost $10 per week you’re spending on impulse purchases (and that’s assuming your impulse buys are just small things like candy). Depending on the price of those unplanned items, it could be double that amount. If you stick to your weekly meal plan and shop only once per week, you can save yourself a lot of money on your shopping as well as gas bills. In fact, if you scan the weekly ads and plan your weekly recipes around what’s on sale, you could even lower the cost of your overall grocery expenses. Knowing what you are eating on different days also helps to maximize your use of leftovers. If you cook grilled chicken on Monday, you can use the leftovers in any number of ways: for use as a salad topper, on a sandwich, or in a tortilla wrap, to name a few.
Nutrition. Utilizing a weekly meal planner grants you more awareness as to what you are feeding your family. It encourages you to make better choices. Maybe you weren’t aware of exactly how much soda or snack foods you were buying each week, or maybe you couldn’t see the lack of variety in your diet. You have more control over the portion sizes, ingredients, freshness, and flavor of your meals when you plan to eat meals at home. You’ll be less likely to rely on fast food when you already have the ingredients and the knowledge of what you’re preparing (or have already prepared) for dinner later on.
If you’re trying to lose or maintain your weight, a weekly meal planner is also helpful. You can plan healthy meals and buy only the ingredients listed on your shopping list, limiting your access to trigger foods or more fattening options that may have been keeping you from reaching your goals. When you have a plan, you will be less likely to impulse buy or to purchase junk food.
Family time. You learn a lot about your family when you start talking about who likes to eat what and when you choose to spend time together eating and cooking meals as a family. Going back to the question about what’s for dinner, a weekly meal planner makes life less stressful for everyone. Remember those little paper menu schedules you were sent home with back in elementary and middle school? You can post your week’s plan on the refrigerator so that not only you but also the rest of your family knows what you will be preparing for the day. This also means they can help you prepare the menu. You could ask your older children to make the salad for you when they get home from their after-school activities, or your younger kids to set the table. You could call your spouse on your way home from work and ask him or her to preheat the oven for you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! After all, everyone should be happy to do something that cuts down on the amount of time it takes dinner to be ready.