During the first two years of marriage, I didn’t really have a game plan for meals. I pretty much made the same five meals over and over again. I’m someone who likes my “ruts,” and I don’t mind eating the same things a hundred times. I like it, so why change? Another problem I was running into was that a lot of food was going to waste. I would go to the store with my favorite ingredients in mind, but then I’d come home and forget what I was going to use the peppers for… or I would realize that I had forgotten a key ingredient, so I’d have to try a different recipe entirely. Because I didn’t have a good plan in place, it became more of a burden to prepare meals than a joy. And, even for my “same old, same old”-loving self, I must admit I was starting to get a little tired of the meals, too.
My husband, however, is not so much like that. He loves trying new things and loves variety. He very kindly ate the dishes that I prepared, being sensitive to my transition into wifehood and then motherhood. But one day when our firstborn was a few months old, he gently and lightheartedly brought up the subject. “So, I was thinking… it might be fun to try some new meals!” I could tell he was being very sensitive, but I still found myself becoming overwhelmed at the idea. “It’s so hard to pick new meals,” I said. “I don’t know if you’ll like it, and I don’t know if I’ll have all the ingredients, and then if there’s something in the recipe I can’t eat (I was off of both gluten and dairy at the time) I might not be able to modify it.”
He thought for a moment and said, “What if I pick some meals?” Oh my, I knew he had hit upon something brilliant! He’s naturally a planner, and I’m naturally an executor, so I knew we work well as a team in that regard. And thus began our adventure into the joy of intentional meal planning.
I tell you what, this has been a massive game-changer for me. I (usually) no longer get stressed about meals, we waste far less food, and I’ve introduced so many new and delicious meals into my repertoire. Although it’s changed slightly over the years depending on our season of life, these have generally stayed the same for the past six years or so. What’s worked for us may not be exactly what works for you, but I hope it will at least spark some ideas to help you diminish stress and increase enjoyment around food preparation.
1. Plan Weekly Meals
I usually do my grocery shopping on Saturday, and beforehand I take the time to lay out each of my meals for the week. I try to “wing it” as little as possible so that I don’t find that I’m forgetting something important. I look at the ingredient list for each meal and write my shopping list at the same time. I usually make 4 meals/week, and on the other three evenings we eat leftovers. This means that I have three longer afternoons to catch up on laundry or clean bathrooms or have a friend over with her kiddos.
For lunches, I try to keep it very simple by keeping lunch meat, fruit, cheese, carrots, etc. on hand so that I don’t really need to put a lot of thought into them and can get them on plates quickly.
2. Go Shopping Once per Week
Generally I make one grocery trip/week. I know this doesn’t work for everyone, depending on the size of their family or how much they can fit in their fridge or pantry. But having as few shopping trips as possible creates much more time in the schedule, and it helps me be more thorough in my list-making so I’ll get everything that first time. Sure, there are the occasions when I forgot to grab toilet paper or we have unexpected guests and I need to run out again. But these don’t happen as often as they used to, and it most definitely helps me plan more carefully so I’m not forgetting as many items.
3. Keep Staples On Hand
I’ve learned from experience that meals don’t always go as planned. Sometimes there aren’t enough leftovers for another dinner. Sometimes there are unexpected guests. Sometimes the meat spoils. Sometimes I need to bake something for an impromptu get-together. So, I’ve learned to keep certain items on hand that can either be frozen or are non-perishable. Meat and certain vegetables can be frozen and pulled out when a meal needs to be stretched. I always try to keep gluten-free flour, coconut sugar, chocolate chips, etc. in the pantry. Rice is another great one. I can’t be prepared for every single scenario, but I can be prepared for some!
4. Use A grocery pickup service
Now, this one has only come ‘round the past year or so, but it has been an absolute lifesaver! I was a little skeptical at first, but was sold the first time we tried this. It cuts down on time, it’s super efficient, and it saves us money (because I’m not tempted by all the other “needs” that catch my eye as I walk through the store). I can put an item in my virtual cart as I’m looking at the recipe I’m going to make. It’s an incredible help for those with little kids or who are short on time. We have a King Soopers a few minutes away (a branch of Kroger), and this is what we use. Walmart also offers this, as well as a few other stores.
As I mentioned earlier, when my husband started picking meals for me it helped relieve a lot of stress. Some husbands may not be as eager as Judah was to pick meals, but you can also glean a lot of meal ideas and prep tips from friends. If you’re not sure where to start in meal planning, ask a friend or older woman who is skilled in that to help you. I know some women who enjoy doing freezer meals, and will get together and chop their veggies while they chat. Collaboration can go such a long way in adding excitement and inspiration to meal planning.
Well, there you have it! My top five meal planning tips.
On a final note, I want to encourage all of us to bring God into this process of preparing food, asking Him for wisdom and perseverance and creativity. Consuming food is a necessity, but He is the one who created it with diverse flavors and ways it can be paired and prepared. As we seek to love and serve our families and those who enter our homes well, we’ll be bringing glory to Him and He will increase our joy in this daily task.