What’s so great about meal planning anyway?

I used to think meal planning was just for SUPER organised mums (or dads). Mums with lots of kids, high-pressured careers, and, well, basically Type A personalities. I’m not one of those mums. I’m a stay/work at home mum, and I like to think I’m creative and spontaneous. But…I’ve gradually come to reluctantly realise that kids plus spontaneity is really just a recipe for disaster.

I’m not a planner. For me, planning is dull. Planning takes time. Planning takes away the fun. So, what’s so great about meal planning anyway?

Firstly, what does NOT planning meals look like for my family? 

Mealtime stress

It’s stressful…

5pm hits, and I commence the scrounge through the fridge and pantry to come up with something quickly. My toddler starts screaming at my feet if it takes any longer than 20 minutes. Either that or his big brother is sitting on him, or like ninjas, they’ve stealthily opened the pantry and stolen something. Then I find pieces of broken lasagne sheets everywhere and their giggles of delight as they crunch on raw pasta behind the couch.

Sooo many supermarket visits…

I prefer to get my groceries delivered, but I have to remember to actually order them. Each day seems to just slip away, before I suddenly realise I still haven’t ordered anything. That means I have to then do at least three visits to the supermarket in a week. With the kids! And, that’s never fun. My almost two year-old doesn’t quite get that you have to pay for things first. He thinks the whole place is one big buffet. Cue the meltdowns. My 5 year-old is okay, but up until not that long ago, he was a runner in the supermarket. Awesome times!

We waste money and food…

With the last-minute dinner ideas, and a quick dash to the supermaket, it often ends up costing $30 to make a stir-fry or a homemade pizza by the time I buy all of the ingredients…which any leftover veggies or herbs inevitably go bad because they don’t go with anything else I cook for the week! So, there ends up being SO  much waste some weeks, it makes me feel incredibly guilty throwing away perished food.

Why it’s even more important now to meal plan

Anyhoo, that was me (for years!) before FINALLY deciding that being so unorganised was coming back to bite me on the butt day in, day out. Food and nutrition is important to me, and I didn’t want it to be so low on my list of priorities. It was DEFINITELY time to make some changes. For my family’s benefit. To reduce food waste, and to even save some money.

School started this year…

My big boy started school this year, so thanks to the current COVID-19  crisis, that means juggling work, a toddler, homeschooling, and all of the other household stuff. More than ever, I know that now is the time to knuckle down and get into better habits.

More than just dinners to plan…

Because we’re home, and I’m busy trying to keep everyone healthy and happy, it means that I’m going to need to make sure the dinners are planned. To save time, I need to also plan out our lunches (yes, I’m still trying to pack lunchboxes to maintain some sort of routine), and I want breakfasts that will fill his belly up and keep him satisfied so he doesn’t complain that he’s hungry 42 times before lunch!

Lunchbox packing…

Lunch box packing is a whole new world for me. While he eats a pretty good variety of food, I want to work out different ways I can get leftovers into his lunchbox so I’m not making a whole array of new things every day. I also detest baking, but I know that I’m going to have to start making some goodies on the weekend to fill his lunchboxes.

What I’ve learnt since starting my meal planning journey

I know, I know, everything’s a ‘journey’ these days, but that’s because it’s been a steep learning curve for me. It’s not as simple as writing a meal plan, buying the ingredients, and that’s it…it’s so much more.

One family one meal

I’m now only cooking ONE meal for the whole family…

I didn’t even think this was possible. Seriously. For starters, I don’t eat meat – the rest of the family do. Plus my toddler seems to be changing the rules on a daily basis on what foods he actually likes. But… I’ve cracked it, I’m only making one meal for everyone! And I’ve saved so much time through not operating as a short order cook (believe it or not, the kids are actually eating more veggies too!).

I’m saving time and money…

I can’t believe it myself, but I’m shopping once a week! Sometimes I’ll need to buy fresh seafood on the day I’ve planned it, or fresh bread, or meat from the butcher, but I’ll know in advance that I need to do that so I’ll plan around it. Because of the current restrictions, that usually involves me telling my husband to pick it up on his way home from work (he’s an essential worker). I’m not throwing anything away either, the fridge is clear (and even cleaned out) when the next load of groceries arrive.

There have even been some surprising benefits…

Feeling this organised has felt ahhhmazing. It’s crazy how having a menu planned for the week and a tidy fridge has since flowed into other areas of the house. It’s inspired me to sort out the laundry cupboard that’s been the ‘there’s nowhere to put it, so chuck it in there’ space. I’ve decluttered the craft cupboard that was storing about a year’s worth of kiddy pieces of art. Even the kids are getting better at putting away their toys…in the right places!

I don’t think you need to spend your whole life planning ahead (where’s the fun in that!), but a few simple changes like meal planning, really saves your sanity at mealtimes. And then possibly may even make your life easier in other areas as well.

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