Meal Prep Made Easy
I used to be envious of those moms who had it all together come meal-time. You know the ones I’m talking about: moms who had all their dinners for the week planned out, dinners made one day that could be rolled over into a brand new dinner for another day, meals written out neatly on a Pinterest-y chalkboard menu for all the family and the world to see. I never planned my dinners. We usually rotated through several meals that I knew everyone liked and I always made sure the house was stocked to be able to make at least some of those meals.
At work during my breaks, the conversation would often gravitate to “What’s for dinner?” But, while the conversation floated around me I would sit and wonder, “What was I going to make for dinner?” Often due to my lack of planning, I would be restricted to using meat cooked from frozen or having to defrost the meat - something I really disliked doing because it either didn’t defrost enough or it would defrost to the point of cooking which often lead to me overcooking the meat. Some of my coworkers were dinner planners and when they would question me about it I always had some sort of excuse as to why I didn’t: we always eat the same thing every week so I don’t see the point, I don’t have time to plan ahead, what if I didn’t feel like making what I had planned and when it came down to it, I really didn’t want to. But what I soon came to realize was that deciding what to cook for dinner was becoming a daily source of stress. There I would sit at work, trying to figure out what to cook for dinner. I couldn’t look in my cupboards, so often I would drive home still stressing about it. Once I was home I could usually figure something out, but the next day the cycle would start all over again. So last year as summer was coming to a close, I decided I was going to give dinner planning a try. Not the beautiful Pinterest chalkboard dinner-planning, just plain old, plan-your-dinners-in-advance menu planning - and I’m happy to say I haven’t looked back.
I will be the first to admit that menu planning takes effort (even without the chalkboard) and time. You really do need to pick a day of the week to sit down and plan out all your dinners for the next week. But when you take the time to do this, a couple beautiful things happen.
First of all, there’s no more stressing about what you’re going to make for dinner! If you plan your dinners in advance, the decision has already been made. All you really have to worry about is making sure to take out any meat that needs to thaw the night before. Because you have your dinners planned out, you know exactly what night the meat needs to come out of the freezer. And as for my excuse: what if you don’t feel like making what you have planned? Then don’t! Move onto the next dinner on your list if it’s do-able. When I do my planning I always make sure that at least one meal is super easy where nothing needs to come out of the freezer the night before, like breakfast for dinner or frozen (precooked) meatballs. If you tend to eat out or order in on a whim, that’s not a problem either because it means there will be one less meal you have to plan for the next week. I tend not to plan for dinner out or take out unless I know it’s a for sure thing and that way there’s always something I could make should we have to stay in.
Another beautiful thing about dinner planning is that not only do you know what you’re making, everyone, including your husband, knows what’s for dinner. If your kids are somewhat picky eaters like mine, you can ensure there’s at least a couple of their favourites on the menu they can get excited about. It also gives them a heads-up as to what’s coming and hopefully you’ll hear less complaints when you set dinner on the table. For those meals that I know are not their favourites, I try to make sure there’s at least one side dish that they do like and will eat. And remember I mentioned the husbands? Since dinner is planned out and the food is in the house, there’s no excuse to not at least start dinner if he gets home before you. I know I’ve been pleasantly surprised a few times!
One final bonus about dinner planning is that it saves money. If you base your weekly grocery list on your dinners, you’re only buying what you need to create the dinners you have planned, plus whatever you need for breakfast and lunch for the week. So there’s no overstocking the fridge with food that may go bad before you get the chance to eat it, overloading your pantry or filling your freezer with meat that will eventually get freezer burned. It’s been hard, but I have really tried to only buy what I need for the week and not replace the essentials until they’re almost gone. If there’s a really good deal on something that will keep or has a good shelf life, I may buy it even if it’s not on the menu, but for the most part if I don’t need it that week, I don’t buy it. (Except peanut butter. Natural peanut butter was on sale this week for $1…..I bought five!)
If you haven’t tried planning ahead for your dinners I urge you to give it a try. It could free you from a lot of stress if dinners are something you stress about, it could save you some money in the grocery store and it could simplify at least one of your meals for the day. I resisted for a long time, but I’m so glad I tried because I love it and I’m never going back to “no plan” dinners.