Meal Planning: The "Why"

A little over a month ago I posted a picture on Instagram of the "processed" food I purchased at Costco and said it was the largest amount of processed food we've had in the house since my last pregnancy. In truth it was cold cereal, veggie straws, and whole wheat bread. A friend commented and asked if I could share my method of meal planning to avoid buying pre-made food on a regular basis.
Now that I'm feeling better (I'm now calling it Sweet Sixteen because that's the week when my morning sickness seems to subside) I decided I would attempt to answer that question and any others that people might have. I asked my friends on Facebook what they would like to know more about when it comes to meal planning. Here are the responses I got:
  • How to meal plan in general
  • How to plan healthy, balanced meals
  • Make it quick and efficient
  • How to save money
I also got some questions about individual situations such as pregnancy, toddlers, hectic schedules, etc. I'm hoping that by addressing the general principles of meal planning you will be able to tailor the methods to your own life.
So, that's a lot to cover in one blog post, so I'm breaking it down into 3-4 posts. Starting with this one that will hopefully convince you why meal planning is so awesome! I've discussed it with other people before and mostly I've heard that people don't meal plan because it's too complicated, time consuming, not worth it, etc. If you are one of the those people and feel that meal planning isn't worth the effort, here are some good reasons to reconsider:

Healthier Meals

I have found from experience that our family eats the unhealthiest when we don't have a plan. We just eat a PB&J sandwich for dinner (or we eat out) because I don't have all the ingredients for a more substantial meal. 
Even when I do have the ingredients, I find that we aren't eating a balanced diet overall because the meals consist of the same things (meat, frozen veggies, rice). Meal planning enables you to look at the month overall and see where there might be discrepancies in your diet. Some weeks you might find that you are eating way too much meat, not enough veggies, too much fat, dairy, etc.
If you have all the ingredients on hand and you've done some preparation ahead of time there is no reason to resort to ordering pizza or scrounging through the fridge and eating whatever will go bad in the next few days :)

Quick, Efficient, Simple

I don't know about you, but it seems that a large chunk of my time is used planning, shopping, and preparing for meals. Cooking the actual meal doesn't take as long as the time spent to prepare for it. Meal planning helps with that problem by 1) compiling recipes that you know are quick and easy, 2) preparing menus and shopping lists that can be reused and rotated, and, 3) depending on the recipe, you can do the majority of meal prep ahead of time.
If that wasn't enough, meal planning makes things simple because you aren't constantly trying new recipes. You can make room for new recipes in your plan if you find something you'd like to try, but the majority of the time you reuse recipes you know your family will enjoy and you know how to prepare. This saves you time and money.

Saves You Money

When you meal plan you go to the store with a plan. You don't buy too much or too little, you buy exactly what you need. There's no guessing involved, no estimating. It's pretty simple. The other bonus I've noticed with meal planning is that I looked at my recipes and found that I was using a lot of recipes that had meat and/or dairy. I decided to cut out a large amount of the recipes in my rotation that used expensive items such as meat, dairy, and specialty items. My recipes are also organized by season so the majority of fruits and vegetables in my recipes are already on sale and abundant when I need them.

I'll be honest and say that it took me a while to get my meal plan figured out. I tried a few different methods that just didn't work for our family. The method that I use now has been working great, so I'm going to outline, in detail, how to implement it and then briefly explain some other methods that might work better for you.
I am more than happy to share some of our family's favorite recipes if you're interested. For the most part I'll assume that you'll use your own recipes for meal planning so I won't be posting a lot of my own. If you'd like me to post more recipes just leave me a comment or send me an email :)

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