Borrowing words from my friend, writer Renée Bacher, I threw up my hands recently upon reading my bank statement, and screeched to my children, “Stop eating! You’re devouring your college funds!”
For years, the amount of money I spend at the grocery store has been creeping . . .no. . . skyrocketing, up. I used to fantasize about how much I’d save when our children were finally out of diapers. Right. Diapers were cheap compared to the endless list of items I collect at the supermarket to satisfy their needs as growing kids, and mine and John’s as food enthusiasts. Even if we didn’t like food so much, getting meals for five people on the table (two to three meals a day, seven days a week) ain’t cheap.
I finally got frustrated. There had to be a better way of doing things. And so, after 15 years of marriage and 14 years of parenting, I bit the bullet and tried what so many people before me claim works like a charm. I started planning meals. I generally resist forced organization, and part of me sees myself as a childless gourmand who thinks she can still eat at dinner 10 pm and shop at the “market” every day with an eco-basket. “Food should be spontaneous, not restrained!” I’d think. “They don’t plan meals in France!”
I finally got over myself and started planning meals. And guess what? It does work like a charm.
Meal Planning for Foodies in 5 Easy Steps
Nobody in the house thought I was being over-the-top or too plan-ny. They got on board and have enthusiastically participated in the new protocol. Seven weeks in, I’ve absolutely saved money at the grocery store, because for me, the only way to reduce spending at the grocery is to stay the hell out of it. And equally important, I’ve saved a motherload of time because the meals are planned with a lot of thought on the front end, and we stick to them.
Here’s what you do:
1. Create a master list of meals.
Make a list of all the meals your family likes, or that you want to try. I began by soliciting ideas from everyone on the team about what they like to eat during the week and we came up with 30-40 off the bat. And, no, I don’t have a house full of perfect eaters. My kids have some seriously irritating food quirks, and I was still able to come up with a good strong list that included stuff like chicken picatta, spaghetti and meatballs, chicken pot pie, red beans and rice, pan-fried catfish, soups, chili of various sorts and so on.
2. Plan meals for the week.
Working from your master list, develop a Sunday through Thursday menu. Basically, I plan meals for the week, then let the weekend be unstructured. Friday usually ends up being pizza night, and on Saturdays, we often like to cook out on the grill. But if I can slay Sunday through Thursday, I am so far ahead of the game it’s not even funny. Note: Dinner is the thing that most people think of when they think about meal planning, but it’s important to write down what you anticipate serving for breakfast and lunch, or in lunch boxes, too.
3. Develop a grocery list from the meal plan.
In the same Word document that I’ve typed up a simple weekly meals chart, I also type up a grocery list, and I really try to think though what will be required to get me through breakfasts, lunches and dinners until the next trip to the store.
4. Shop twice a week at most.
Once on Sundays, and once on Thursdays works for me.
5. Designate nights.
Not that I’m an advocate for regimentation…but it happens that theming certain nights of the week works for my crew. They want grilled steaks/chicken & baked potatoes on Thursdays, for example. I’ve made Sundays veggie nights as a way to detox from indulgent weekends. Here in Louisiana, many of us turn to red beans and rice on Mondays. Sometimes, I do black or white beans. And kids love the concept of tacos of some sort on Tuesdays.
If I can do this, you can.