This week I want to discuss the value of meal planning. Full disclosure, I’m not an expert at it, but I can see the benefits of planning out your meals. In September of 2019, my family started planning out what we’d eat for dinners so that it was easier when the time came to make it. We have noticed a few benefits when we have our meals planned out for the week. First, we save money. Second, we tend to eat healthier, and last, we tend to eat earlier. If you do not already meal plan, I hope this article at least gives some food for thought, pun intended.
When it comes to saving money, it works on a few levels. Having your weekly meals planned out for at least 4 or 5 days of the week helps you to make an appropriate grocery list. You are less likely to add ingredients that you don’t need, thus reducing the size of your grocery bill. It also cuts down on the number of trips you need to make to the grocery store, which reduces your gas consumption if the grocery store is farther than walking distance. However, that does not consider public transit or self-powered vehicles (IE: cycling). If you rely on a taxi service to get you to the store, you reduce the amount of money you pay for each ride. Thus, there is a financial AND environmental incentive. The last way I think you save money is on takeout meals. When we know what we are going to eat ahead of time, there is less guesswork, and thus we order out less, which saves us more money.
When we plan our meals in my home, we tend to eat healthier meals. Instead of ordering takeout from a fried chicken restaurant or going to the closest drive-through, we can pre-prepare our meals. I’m home during the day, so I can slowly prepare ingredients for dinner in between breaks while studying or reading course material. If you are not that fortunate, then some preparation the night before can save you time. Plus, there is so much technology these days to help us cook at home. With instant pots, sous vide, delayed cooking in our ovens, we have many options for meals. Plus, there is a satisfaction that can come with making a meal yourself. Other ways that meal planning helps you eat healthier are the portion sizes, the number of extra ingredients, and the ability to freeze it for another week. In my home, we tend to eat smaller portions at dinner time because we feel more satisfied. We are also consuming less salt, sugar, carbohydrates, and saturated fats. Food manufacturers need their foods to last a specific duration of time. To ensure it does, they have to add ingredients. Extra salt, more sugar, preservative chemicals, and packaging atmosphere. Not that the food we buy at the grocery store doesn’t contain those items, but I like to look specifically for reduced sodium (and I also check the sugar content compared to the standard option), the amount of sugar in the ingredient, or buy the raw option. Sometimes it also gets us out of our comfort zones, we don’t repeat meals every week, and we get more variety. We might make a stir fry two weeks in a row, but the first week’s stir fry will likely contain different ingredients than the second week’s.
Best of all, my spouse and I feel less stressed at supper time because we aren’t guessing what to make. I said earlier that we usually eat earlier as well. Supper time in our home can be anywhere between 5 and 7. On the nights where we don’t have a meal plan, supper is generally later because we are guessing at what to make.
When the meal is planned, I can start supper earlier, and we aren’t stressed because we only have five minutes to get to that night’s activity, and no one has eaten. In turn, this gives us more time together as a family and helps strengthen that bond we value with our children. We get time to discuss the day’s events with our kids, and everyone gets some attention.
This shows our kids that we want to hear about their day or about their lives. The hope is that it instils a strong enough bond with them that they can tell us about their hopes, worries, and dreams. It’s not always a positive time, there are times where we struggle to have a meaningful conversation, but I like to think we have more good days than bad days.
If it does nothing else, I hope this article inspires someone to try planning out their dinner meals for a few days at a time. People are so busy these days with a variety of activities, especially if you have kids. I always feel like we are running from one activity to another, and it’s not always just for the kids. So, meal planning has been helpful for us, and when one of us has a planning block, the other will take over for a while.