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Meal planning to save time and money is old-fashioned, something our mothers did. And it’s incredibly fast effective if you do it with a modern twist!
Do you spend on average 45 minutes a day getting dinner on the table?
What if I told you that you could reduce that time to 15 minutes, including clean up?
Would you like to plan your meals and grocery shop in a fraction of the time you’re spending now?
Meal planning can sound like one. more. thing. to add to your already crushing schedule.
I get it.
And if you haven’t done it before, it might seem complicated. But it really doesn’t have to be.
How to painlessly plan your meals for a week
Planning your meals and saves you money and time.
By knowing just what you need to buy before you head for the store, and then quickly prepping your ingredients when you get home, you’ll save valuable time by having dinner components ready to finish quickly. You’ll also have less food wasted and won’t be wasting time at the store looking at the aisles and trying to come up with ideas.
I’ll let you in on a secret.
I don’t particularly like meal planning.
The endless “So, (husband or kids). What would you like me to make for dinner next week?”
The answers are always “I don’t know,” or suggestions for their favorite non-nutritious meals.
So I created a simple meal planning system that I use every week. It’s literally a mix and match of our favorite main dishes and sides. Pick one from column A, B, and C and you’ve got your meal.
And it’s yours. I’ll have it at the end of this article for your to download. Please be sure to follow the instructions so it stays available for anyone who wants it. Add your family’s favorite recipes and delete the ones you don’t like. I’m constantly trying new recipes and adding them to the roster once I get a thumbs up from the family.
ALTERNATIVES TO GROCERY SHOPPING
If meal planning is your road map, grocery shopping is the actual route.
But grocery shopping is a huge time suck!
Do you take your children with you, either to be able to spend time with them or because there’s no one to leave them with? Walking the aisles to get what you need for the week while the kids grab extra unhealthy snacks to put in the cart and blowing your food budget?
Or maybe you go grocery shopping on your way home or in the evening after they’ve gone to bed, giving up your precious free time and shopping when you’re already tired?
Consider grocery delivery.
Grocery delivery is HUGE right now! Check out this article.
That’s not an accident. People need this service and companies have responded. Imagine ordering all your groceries and having them delivered exactly when you want them. No driving (saving time and gas), no kids involved (saving time, money and your sanity), just opening the door and having it all handed to you!
And prices are so low for these services, you have to give it a try!
Amazon Fresh is $15/month and offers a 90-day free trial. In my book, this is the most cost effective option if you live in an area that offers the service. Assuming you shop every week, the delivery cost will be less than $4 for each delivery.
Walmart is expanding its grocery delivery this year to many areas of the country. Cost is $10 per delivery and a $30 minimum. They also have Online Grocery Pickup, which lets you order online and then pick up the groceries at your local store without ever getting out of the car. Your first order is delivered free with promo code FRESHCAR.
Local grocery stores have begun to offer delivery too. In my area, our big chains are Safeway and Lucky’s, both of which offer very low cost delivery (Safeway, for example, charges $10 for a delivery over $150).
Home grocery delivery is a growing market so expect to see some great deals.
And you can and SHOULD take advantage of the various free trial options before deciding who to use.
For dry goods like flours, seasonings, nuts and grains, you can also use online shopping and have your items delivered in only a few days.
Meal planning to save time and grocery delivery go hand in hand for busy moms.
Many of my chef friends use Amazon, Thrive Market and other online grocery stores to get great deals on shelf-stable items and to find exotic ingredients not available in their cities. So check prices on these, and other online markets, and see if they work for you.
Meal Planning is at its best when you add Food Prep to your routine
Since I began working from home, I usually shop on Friday mornings because that’s the day I take my non-driving parents out for their errands.
So Thursday night, I clean out the fridge and I inevitably am annoyed about any food wastage. It’s usually things that I bought on the spur of the moment, thinking I’d add a side dish or bake something off my menu plan.
That’s why menu planning and prepping is such a smart thing to do.
By planning your menu and prepping your ingredients when they get home, you’ve already done some of the work that you would otherwise do the day of cooking.
I’m not referring to freezer cooking, where you basically totally assemble and cook your week’s meals and freeze them. Though that is a super smart way to save time on busy weeknights.
By prepping, I mean washing, pre-cutting and storing vegetables and other ingredients you’ll need for your menu.
If you’re going to make hamburgers and tacos in the same week, buy the larger (and often cheaper) package of ground beef. When you are ready to prep, separate the package and season, shape and package hamburger patties, then season the rest of the ground and put it away.
Crockpot meals are ideal for prepping ahead and crockpots are great for having dinner ready when you get home. Combine your ingredients in a large ziplock bag and throw them all in the crockpot before leaving for work in the morning, then get home to the blissful smells of dinner waiting for you! Yum!
Try to put a crockpot meal or two in your meal plan for the week if you’re especially busy.
You’ll save time getting things ready to cook and only have the clean the kitchen once after you’re prepped for the whole week.
You can read more about prepping a week’s worth of groceries from Tammy at Organize Yourself Skinny.
And for a slight segue into kitchen cleaning …
Although I cover this in Cleaning on a Time Budget, it feels right to mention it here too.
By learning to clean as you go (or putting your kids on the job) while getting dinner on the table, you’ll have little clean up to do after your meal.
Small tasks, done routinely as part of your cooking steps, will save you time in the long run.
Oil, heat and use a pan to sear chicken breasts while you make a sauce in another pan. While the chicken is cooking and the sauce is coming up to a simmer, wash the food containers that held the ingredients (or throw away disposables) and wipe the counter down. This will take only a minute or two.
When the other ingredients are ready, pour the sauce onto the chicken and while all the flavors are melding, wash out the saucepan.
Ready to serve? Remove the pan from the stove (or transfer the food to a serving dish and wash out the pan) and wipe down the stove.
These micro steps leave your kitchen tidy and clean before you even serve dinner, leaving very little mess to deal with after the meal.
Cooking and cleaning the kitchen go hand in hand. It’s just a matter of getting into the habit and
how willing you are to shake up your routine, get help from your family, and apply time-saving strategies to everything that you do.
This will never the the same for any two people.
For one woman, cooking is a passion and a pleasure and she will be willing to spend extra time doing it. While another woman just wants to serve her family nutritious and delicious food her family likes and to do it in as little time as possible.
Use shortcuts in the areas that make sense to you and embrace your time spent doing things you love that take a little longer.
Here’s a link to my simple Meal Planning System. When you open it, go to File and select Make A Copy. If you edit, add or delete anything in the spreadsheet without saving a copy to your own drive, it will end up messed up for everyone else.
To use, just select a main dish and two side dishes. Add your family favorites to your copy and watch your choices grow!
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