I’ve recently learned how to meal plan with the Flylady system and have been so happy with how it’s helped to save us a lot money and has reduced stress for me as a mom of four. In this post, I’ll share with you my tips and tricks for meal planning success!
Mama! What’s for Dinner?
At about 4 p.m. nearly every single night, the words, “Mama! What’s for dinner?” used to instantly stress me out. Is it the same for you? I could feel the cortisol rise up within me because I didn’t know what was for dinner, knew I had to decide, and knew I didn’t have much more time to do it all. Then I’d give my kids a rude, “I don’t know!” and feel badly that I’d been short with them when it’s not their fault.
The Gangrene Hour
My aunt calls this time of day, from about 4-6 p.m. the “gangrene hour!” And she was right – it’s when small kids start getting very hungry, cranky and tired, and mama, too, for that matter.
Why Feel Stress if There is a Solution?
I don’t know about you, but I got really tired of feeling that daily stress. And it’s silly when there is an easier, better way with menu planning! When I had just two kids many moons ago, I used to meal plan, but as we had number three and four, I got out of the habit. I do remember how it really helped back then – both to save money and to give me some peace of mind.
Once I started doing the Flylady system of home organization and cleaning about a month ago, I got reinspired to get back into meal planning. So here are the tips and tricks that are working for us as a family of 6!
How Meal Planning Saves You Money
When things get hectic crazy around the house, we are temped to do what’s easy and fast for dinner. That often can mean we go for takeout or go to a restaurant, which as we all know, is WAY more expensive than buying groceries and cooking at home!
How to Meal Plan – 7 Tips from a Mom of Four
1 – Make a List of Your Family’s Favorite Meals
The first step in learning how to meal plan is to make a list of all of your family’s favorite meals. Not the fancy, wish your kids would eat meals, the ones they ACTUALLY eat. It’s okay if they are simple meals. If you’re going to be spending money to buy the ingredients and the time to make the meal, isn’t it more pleasant and less stressful to make things your kids actually eat? I know for me it is!
Now this doesn’t mean that I don’t introduce new vegetables and dishes to them also, but on a regular basis I do make sure to cook meals they will most likely eat. This has been a big part of reducing my meal planning stress! Admitting to myself that kids do not have fully developed taste buds yet helped me to stop fighting reality and embrace without guilt that they’re more picky than adults.
You could create a list in your phone if that makes this step easier for you!
2 – Plan Meals Once a Week
The second step in learning how to meal plan is to plan the next seven days worth of meals. This can be whenever works best for your schedule. For me, that’s Mondays when all of my kids are at school and I can plan while it’s quiet. Maybe that day is Sunday for you, or maybe you work on the weekends and you want to plan and shop on Fridays! The day doesn’t matter – just as long as you sit down and do it!
If you really want to get ahead, you could plan the meals for the next two weeks or even month! Thought I’d still need to shop once a week to have fresh produce in the house, so for me, once a week works well.
To make your list, pull from your list of your family’s favorite meals to make this step MUCH easier! That way you’re not racking your brain to come up with new ideas each week.
Also, the Flylady suggests that you set a timer for 15 minutes and make your favorite cup of tea or coffee while doing this just to make the activity more pleasant and fun. Setting a timer helps to know there is a clear end in sight and in just 15 minutes, you’ll be done!
You could also type out the menu plan in your phone if that would work better for you.
Tip – Display the Menu Plan in Your Kitchen
I have a chalkboard in my kitchen where I write out the week’s meal plan. I don’t set it by day so I can have some flexibility in what I feel like cooking that day. The kids also like this so they can see what’s for dinner, and they get excited, too!
This also helps to reduce my mental stress because I don’t have to go find my home management binder to see the meal plan for the day. I just look at the chalkboard! The chalkboard never moves so it’s easier for me.
3 – Plan Your Grocery Menu from the Week’s Meal Plan
After you’ve written out the weekly meal plan, start a separate list of the ingredients you’ll need to make each meal. This is when it’s helpful to have a home management binder or a recipe box so you can quickly and easily see the ingredients needed for each meal and don’t have to look all over the kitchen finding recipes.
Make sure to shop your fridge, pantry and freezer first so you use up what you already have. This alone will save you a LOT of money and won’t waste food!
4 – Buy Only What You Need for that Week
I’ve been diligent to buy only what I need for the week and that has consistently saved us $30-$50 a WEEK! When I used to buy lots of extra things, my pantry, fridge and freezer would get so full that I wouldn’t see or I’d forget about some foods and they’d go bad. Those foods would end up in the trash, wasting our money and the food!
When you meal plan and make your grocery list straight from the plan, all of the items you buy get used up. There is less food and money waste, and more space in your fridge, freezer and pantry.
Now there are a few exceptions to this rule. I do buy a month’s supply of toilet paper and paper towels because I have room in my garage to store the extra. If I didn’t have the room, thought, I probably wouldn’t do this step. Also, I do like to have extra meat in the freezer; and an extra jar or two of spaghetti sauce, 1-2 extra boxes of pasta, and a few extra canned good items in the pantry for quick and easy meals.
5 – Have a Dry Erase List Grocery List on the Fridge
This one tip makes my life so much easier! Before my husband would just tell me in passing something we’d just run out of. “Hey sweetie, we need more peanut butter.” Of course, I’d never remember to put it on my grocery list when it came time to go to the store and I’d have to go BACK (so annoying!) to the store to get a jar of peanut butter.
Now anyone in the family can add to the list! If the kids need something for school, want a special treat, or run out of something, they can also add to it. This also teaches them how to meal plan, along with the meal planning chalkboard. When they have families of their own one day, they will be able to use this system.
6 – Time and Money Saver – Order Groceries Online for Pickup or Delivery
Ordering groceries online helps to ensure that I don’t make unnecessary purchases like I do when I’m in the store! I’m not tempted to buy things I don’t need.
It also saves me SO much time! I order my groceries through the Kroger Click List App and it saves my regular purchases in the app! Each week, I start with that list first, then add any items we need for the different meals, and last I add the
7 – Have Themed Dinner Meals to Make It Easier to Fill the Meal Calendar
I like to have themed dinner meals to make filling out each week’s new meal plan much easier! This also helps to create those special family traditions that kids remember the rest of their lives.
For instance, every Friday night we have family pizza night. The kids talk about it all week long and really look forward to it! Tuesdays are perfect days to do Taco Tuesdays, or anything Mexican. Sunday could be soup day where each week you try a different soup! Get creative and fun with it and share the plan with your children so it becomes a fun family tradition.