November Habit #13 Meal Planning is So Much Healthier

Dear FlyLady,

Two years ago, I tackled what was my own personal area of CHAOS, menus.

I have been flying for a long time, and my DH can attest to the fact that we live in a comfortable, clean home that is obviously lived in by adults children and dogs, but not engulfed in clutter.

We both work full time, but my job has the shorter commute so I’m the cook, a job that I don’t mind — I love cooking and I love the satisfaction I get from it in blessing my family with good food. I may not be able to spend as much time with my kids as I would like because of my work demands, but I know that every night they now eat a healthy meal.

Anyway, meals were the one thing I couldn’t get my head around, specifically, the issue of variety. I tried and tried, but menu planning just eluded me, and on Friday night I found myself planning essentially the same foods. So we ate a lot of pizza, hot dogs and grilled marinated meats. After a while, my taste buds (and my waist line) got tired of that fare.

One day I had an epiphany. I made a list of all of the main courses we ate, and then put them on my calendar, Monday through Friday, and had 5 main courses a week for 5 weeks. I grouped together stuff that could be used as a main course earlier in the week, and as leftovers later, and then I started a rotation.

I also started thinking more about different foods, trying new things, and in the course of a year, I came up with a rotation that now has 16 weeks of main courses and 1 weekend meal (96 meals). We often eat Sunday dinners at my in-laws, and if we aren’t going to that weekend, we know about it in advance so we can plan, and that’s when my DH cooks and I do the clean-up.

So, I have a repeating 16 week cycle that is on my calendar so everyone knows what’s for dinner that night. That’s 16 weeks of menu planning, done, and it’s written on the entire calendar (when I get my new calendar I just start where I left off and write it on there, for 52 weeks, finishing up the entire year). Every weeknight dish can be prepped and cooked in under 45 minutes, most closer to 30 minutes (a thank you goes out to a certain Food Network personality for that inspiration). This week we our menu is Chicken Fettuccini Alfredo with
peas on Monday (Monday is always past night in our house, and the chicken is left over from Sunday’s roasted chicken for dinner); Tuesday is Taco night; Wednesday is bratwursts; Thursday night we’re doing chicken philly sandwiches (rest of the left-over chicken), Friday is Quesadillas (using the leftover taco meat) and Saturday is Pizza.

16 weeks from now we’ll have the same food, but it won’t seem like it’s
repetitive because there’s variety.

I do confess that some of our favorites, like tacos, do come up once a month. We also like baked breaded chicken sandwiches, but they’re once a month as well, month 1 is regular, month 2 is parmesean-style (tomato sauce and motzerella cheese — my own simple chicken parm!), month 3 is regular again, month 4 is buffalo-style, with yummy hot wing sauce and your choice of cheese or dressing. There are other foods that come up twice in the 16 weeks, but they’re spread out so they’re 8 weeks apart.

For sides, I utilize frozen veggies and canned, because there’s less wasted food. In the summers I try to use fresh veggies, but I find that even with my best intentions, I often overbuy and then it goes to waste. Like main courses, there has to be a variety of veggies. My 4 year-old, who already doesn’t care for them, has an absolute fit if we have the same veggie 2 nights in a row, and I don’t blame him! So for me, frozen works best. I will often cook up 2 cups of rice on a Sunday, and then use it with appropriate meals over then next week — 10 days. I do use some boxed pasta and potato side dishes or instant mashed potatoes, but when made with skim milk and a margarine substitute and eaten in proper portion size, they’re actually not that unhealthy. It’s all about
moderation. I throw in a quick salad most nights, too. I use pre-washedlettuce, pre-cut carrots, croutons, shredded cheese and dressing (not the healthiest, but I’m working on getting my DH to eat salads, so it’s a start).

We keep a magnetic note pad on the side of the fridge, and if someone uses the last of something, we put it on the list. Every week it always has certain staples on it — bread, lunchmeat, milk, sliced cheese — and then the other necessary for that week’s food or household goods (limiting my trips to my favorite home store, Target, and therefore saving me money!). Friday night, I look at what’s on the menu for next week, check the fridge/freezer to see what we already have and what we need, make the grocery list and check the coupons to see if we have anything that works for that week’s menu, or if we have a coupon that’s going to expire soon that we normally use a lot of.

Then on Saturday after breakfast (our Saturday morning routine — out for pancakes!) we go to the store and shop sticking to the list. I’ve been known to tell my DH that no, he can’t have any orange juice because it’s not on the list. I don’t care if he just realized he drank it all on Wednesday — if it’s not on the list, we’re not buying it! That has only happened 2 times. He learned his lesson fast! And I do give him the opportunity to add things prior to entering the store, asking if there’s anything he forgot to put on the list while we’re driving to breakfast or to the grocery store. But once we’re inside, I’m pretty strict about sticking to the list. No more aisle cruising!

At the end of the day, I can feed my family a meal every day that I know is healthier then the alternative fast-food. I’m saving money because there’s less wasted food. I’m saving myself a headache by not having to stress about meal planning every night, or even every week. We get a good variety of foods, my family is blessed with a nutritious meal that comes from the heart and we’re able to eat as a family and spend quality time together.

Thank you for everything you do. You truly are amazing women.

Take care,
Betsy

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