I actually first learned about meal planning when I was doing an internship in college. Shortly before Dennis and I got married, I worked at a transitional living home for women battling addiction. I had a wonderful experience working with these women, sitting around their kitchen table through many a meal, Bible study, and counseling session. Every monday morning when I arrived, the women would sit around and plan their meals for the week. I thought it was such a great idea that I initiated it in our home as well. I'm sure my Mom did something similar when we were growing up, but I don't specifically remember it.
Why is meal planning so helpful? Why take that extra time to sit down and do all that planning each week? Why not just buy what looks good at the grocery store and work with it when you get home? Well, here are a few reasons why we rarely let a week pass at our house without a meal plan in place.
You save time.
Yes, meal planning takes some time on the forefront, but you save that time and more by making less trips to the store. With your meal plan, you plan all at once and make one shopping trip. Also, you spend less time staring blankly into the fridge waiting for dinner to jump out at you. (Don't be ashamed, we've all done it. If you dinner does ever actually jump out at you, I don't really suggest eating it. That sounds dangerous.) In fact, I do most of my meal planning on Sunday afternoon or Monday morning, and it now takes me a total of about 10 minutes, plus another 5 or so to write out my shopping list.
You save money.
As I just mentioned, when you plan and shop just once for the week, you save time, but you also save money. You use less gas driving to the grocery store and back, but you also have less opportunity to buy things that are not on your list. We are all susceptible to impulse buying, but if you shop once a week and you have a specific list with a plan, you will buy less.
Also, it's a good idea to take stock of your pantry, fridge and freezer before you sit down to meal plan. That way, you can cater your meal plan to the things you already have that need using up. This helps prevent food from getting pushed to the back, forgotten and allowed to spoil. Throwing away spoiled food is like throwing away money to me!
Planning ahead also saves us from those "I can't think of anything to cook and there's nothing to eat here. Let's just eat out." nights. Man, we can waste a lot of money eating out simply because we failed to plan ahead!
You eat healthier.
Like I just said, we eat out less when I keep a good meal plan going. I don't know about you, but eating out is usually one of the least healthy options for us. Of course, I could order a salad, but if I'm paying good money for my food, I want to enjoy it, dad gummit! I have no self control when I'm eating out, which okay on occasion, but not okay 3 times a week because I didn't plan a healthy meal at home.
Also, when we cook at home, we know what goes into our food. Most commercially prepared foods would shock you with their ingredient lists, especially at fast food restaurants.
Of course, we can make food at home that is really unhealthy, too, so we have to be mindful of what we're cooking. Planning ahead helps us here, too, as we're not frequently resorting to microwaved super-processed "food" at the last minute.
So, there are all the good reasons to have a meal plan, and I'll be writing on Wednesday some tips to help you get started meal planning, as well as a few different methods of meal planning. Next Monday, I'll start posting my meal plans each Monday (accountability!) and I invite you to post your meal plans, too.