Why Bother with Meal Planning?

"Meal planning? You must have a lot of time on your hands."

This was the response I got from a friend after blabbering on and on about my love affair with meal planning.

Pardon me? Doesn't she know that meal planning actually SAVES time? Like, TONS of time?

It turns out that not everyone realizes how utterly life-changing meal planning can be.

(And apparently not everyone gets giddy when talking about it. Go figure.)

Back in the pre-child days, I'm pretty sure at dinnertime I would just m-o-s-e-y up to the fridge, see what was inside and then sit and contemplate about what to make for dinner.

Then I'd leisurely prepare my meal, and enjoy it in front of the tv, or even in silence. (Can you even imagine?)

Okay, maybe it wasn't that idyllic. But I certainly don't remember being stressed or frustrated about it. I went to the grocery store a couple of times a week, and just bought whatever looked good or was on sale.

Fast forward 5 years, and it's a whole different story.

Finding the time to think about dinner, let alone cook it, is nearly impossible.

And is right before dinner not the craziest hour of the day?

The kids are hungry. And whiney. And tired. And if I'm trying to cook, it's super rushed and I barely have time to think.

Which brings me back to meal planning.

I can, without a doubt, guarantee that if I didn't have a good meal planning system in place, my family would not be eating as well as they do.

Plus, I KNOW that I would be a lot more stressed. And resentful. And that just wouldn't be good for anyone.

So today I'm going to tell you why I think every family should meal plan.

1. It will save you time.

Yes, sitting down and doing a meal plan is going to take time. But it's time well invested.

A typical weekly meal plan, usually takes me 30-45 minutes (you can definitely do it more quickly but I like to get really detailed). If I do a monthly plan, maybe 1- 1.5 hours. And then I usually invest about 1 hour on the weekend for meal prep (an important component of meal planning).
So we're talking around 1-1.5 hours MAX per week.

However, having my meals planned, the correct groceries on hand and some minimal food prepped ahead can SAVE me anywhere from 5-10 hours per week!

I'm not spending time figuring out what to eat every night. I'm not making last-minute runs to the grocery store (I ONLY go once every 1-2 weeks). And by prepping ahead of time, I'm doing less clean-up throughout the week. Plus, I usually try to do my food prep when the kids aren't around, so I'm not wasting time starting and stopping.

And I don't know a mom who couldn't use an extra 5-10 hours a week!

2. It will save you money.

One of the first things I always do before I start my meal plan, is to check my local flyers (I love the Flipp app for this.) Planning meals around things that are on sale will obviously save you money.

Plus, meal planning allows you to plan meals with ingredients that are cheaper, but often take more time.

For example, you would never use dried beans if you are scrambling at 5pm to find something for dinner. However, I often soak and cook beans for the week on Sundays if I know they are going to be part of a meal later in the week. These savings can definitely add up over the long run.

Another way you'll save money: you waste less food!

Everything you buy will be accounted for, so you won't end up with a lonely shrivelled pepper that you don't know what to do with. By the end of the week, your fridge should be nearly bare. And if it isn't, you can incorporate any leftover food into the next week's meal plan.

3. It will help you raise healthy eaters instead of picky eaters (and eat healthier yourself)

Feeding a family is tough to begin with.

But throw in the challenge of trying to eat real and healthy food and promote healthy habits - oh, and dealing with those picky eaters - and that's when things can become unmanageable.

Working with picky or selective eaters means having a solid strategy in place to promote healthy habits, which can include everything from serving a wide variety of food, having the right structure in place, and ensuring the dinner table is free from pressure.

Spending time every single day making sure that you are serving the right foods, plus incorporating variety and lots of healthy options would be draining. So draining in fact, that most moms tell me that they just kind of give up after a while and end up serving whatever is easiest.

Having a plan, means that you sit down and think about your feeding strategy ONCE (when you meal plan) and the rest of the week you simply execute.

It's easy to incorporate the right amount of variety into the menu because you are seeing it in front of you all at once.

By doing a bit of prep on the weekends, you can actually choose recipes that contain high amounts of real and fresh ingredients (which are too time consuming to make for a last-minute dinner).

You can design a meal plan that makes you feel totally in control of making sure that healthy meals are being served at your house. And of course, this benefits your health as well!
And finally, meal planning is a great way to make sure your child is involved in the feeding process.

Make sure to ask their input when you meal plan. Allow them to flip through the cookbooks and choose the meal for one of the nights. Heck, have one night a week where the kids choose the meal AND cook it (once they are old enough of course). Getting kids involved goes a long way towards developing their relationship with healthy food, and it helps them be more accepting of all that variety.

4. You will be less stressed.

This right here is what it comes down to for me.

I don't know about you, but I find life with kids challenging (you have permission to throw your hands up and yell 'hell ya!')

When my son was a baby, I suddenly I found myself scrambling to even get anything on the table for dinner. I had no time to make my morning smoothies. My mommy-brain couldn't focus long enough to figure out what to make every meal.

I REALLY struggled with the lack of control over mealtimes.

I don't remember exactly when I started meal planning, but what I do know is that I never want to go back to that feeling.

Sometimes I have weeks where I'm rushing and the plan is rather pathetic. And those are the weeks where everything just feels a little more hectic and things start to fall apart. And it always reminds me why my meal planning routine is so important.

To take it a step further, I find that meal planning gives my mind a little extra space to breathe, so to speak.

I feel like I'm always thinking 10 steps ahead about everything these days - so much to manage with kids, my business, renovating a house, keeping up with friends etc. I'm all about automating as much as possible in my life in order to make room for other, more important things. And when my meal are meals are planned, that is one less thing to think about.

So there you have it - four reasons why meal planning is LIFE CHANGING for busy moms who want to feed their families as much real food as possible.

Sarah Bester, CNP