“What am I going to make for dinner tonight?”
It’s the first thing I think about when I wake up, and has been for as long as I can remember. I’ve always been the spontaneous cook who loves to think up something fun for dinner, then I’ll run to the grocery for ingredients. But since having my children, this process quickly lost its luster. It’s hard enough taking your kids to the store once a week with a game plan, but running back for a few extra ingredients every day just got old-not to mention really expensive! What used to be my idea of fun is now my idea of stress.
So after a few years of this ridiculous routine, I decided to listen to some of my sage mom friends and give meal planning a try.
I always thought meal planning would take the creativity out of my cooking, but in reality it has done the opposite. By creating a game plan and sticking to it, it’s like someone came and removed a big piece of stress out of my life. (I never knew how good it could feel to have a refrigerator full of groceries!) And because I take a few minutes each week to come up with some variety, we’ve never eaten better. The best part is that if I’m not around, my husband or a babysitter can run with what I’ve got figured out for dinner. So what am I doing? Here’s my strategy:
- I write down 5-7 dinner ideas for the week. I like to create a variety between types of foods and price points so I can stick to my budget. I also ask each of my kids to choose a few recipes from my website www.onefamilyonemeal.com so I know they’ll love what we’re having for dinner.
- I make my shopping list. I write down my dinner ingredients, then I figure out my lunches and breakfasts for the week. If I notice I’ll have leftover ingredients from dinners, I’ll incorporate them into my lunches by making quesadillas, pasta with a simple sauce, or chopped salads. For days where I don’t have lunch ideas, I fill in with my kids’ favorites, like turkey sandwiches, peanut butter and jelly, etc. Then I add any breakfast ingredients and snacks I’ll need.
- I shop once a week for the bulk of my food. Sometimes I fill in with a lighter load towards the end of the week if I need items that are really perishable like berries or fish. (Tip: If you really want to shop just once a week, you can plan to serve the most perishable foods at the beginning of the week, then save the recipes with dry ingredients and less perishable fruits and veggies for the end of the week. With a little crazy strategizing, you can get your grocery trips down to once a week!)
After a month of this routine, I couldn’t believe how much time and money I was saving. As other moms promised, I have shaved over a hundred dollars a month off of my grocery bill, and I’m no longer throwing away unused food. And now I have extra time to actually hang out with my kids after school instead of running them back to the store for just one more thing. I still wake up dreaming about what’s for dinner, but love knowing that all the choices I need are already in my fridge!
Amanda Haas is a cookbook author, teacher, cooking video host, and the founder of One Family One Meal, a website that helps families menu plan, grocery shop, and cook on a budget. She's also on Twitter and Facebook.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.