Are you a meal planner, or do you decide what to cook around suppertime each day? You may think you don’t have time to cook meals at home from scratch, let alone to plan a whole week’s menu ahead of time. But did you know that meal planning can actually save you time in the long run? It can also save you money and help keep your family healthy.
The more time you spend on planning, shopping for, and preparing food at home, the healthier your family’s eating habits are going to be. You’ll eat fewer take-out meals and less processed foods. You’ll eat more fruits and vegetables, and a greater variety of healthy foods. Being a meal planner may even help you to avoid weight gain.
Reasons to Be a Meal Planner
- It will save you money: Shopping the sales and planning meals around seasonal foods will help cut your grocery bills. And knowing what you’re going to cook ahead of time means that you won’t get stuck having to buy a missing ingredient at a higher price than you’d normally pay. You will also find it easier to stick to your grocery budget if you shop with a list and avoid making impulse purchases.
- It will save you time: Being a meal planner allows you to group like meal prep tasks so you can do them all at once. For example, chop all your vegetables in one afternoon or cook a large batch of meat and then divide it up for use in several meals. Cooking a second chicken for soups and casseroles when you prepare a roast chicken takes almost no time at all. But it will save you cooking time later in the week. And having just one clean-up to do is a big bonus!
- It’s environmentally friendly: A meal planner knows she can save electricity by putting two chickens in the oven at once. She may also buy those chickens or other ingredients in bulk, which cuts down on packaging. And because she’s making the best chicken soup recipe from scratch, she’s cutting back on even more packaging. Forget the stuff in the cans!
- It’s better for your health: You know that if you have a meal ready to go, you’re a lot less likely to stop at the drive-thru on your way home. But did you know that meal planning is also associated with greater variety in foods and better adherence to dietary guidelines? People who plan meals ahead of time eat more fruits, vegetables, and salads. A French study even found that being a meal planner reduces your chances of being overweight or obese!
- It means hubby and the kids can cook for you: A make-ahead casserole your husband can put in the oven on his day off means that you can take a day off from cooking. Your older kids and teens are perfectly capable of cooking a crockpot meal. Get them to defrost the meal a day ahead, and start the slow cooker before they leave for school in the morning. By suppertime, all they have to do is prepare side dishes and serve the meal. It’s a great lesson in autonomy and it helps them gain confidence in their cooking skills. Plus you can put your feet up one in a while!
Being a Meal Planner Doesn’t Have to be Complicated
Some people really go all out when it comes to meal planning. They create fancy menu planning templates, or they post a menu plan on the kitchen wall. Some people spend hours poring over recipes on Pinterest and writing up shopping lists. Others invest in sectioned food containers and cook huge batches of food. And some moms prepare all their school lunches and snacks a week in advance.
It’s OK if that’s not you.
Meal planning isn’t just for the perfectly organized PTA moms who were probably born holding a glue gun in one hand and a Swiffer in the other. You don’t have to be super organized or super creative to be a meal planner. You just have to be able to think ahead a little bit. And you need to know what kind of food your family likes.
If you can’t manage to fill in a weekly menu planner and stick to it, just don’t use one. Try planning meals for just two or three days at a time instead. Focus on suppers. The rest will fall into place. If you really aren’t cooking your own meals at all right now, just plan one meal a week at first. Look for easy recipes and slowly build your cooking repertoire. Once you are in the habit of cooking that single meal each week, it will be easy to add a second meal. Work gradually from there, until you reach your personal goal.
Use Planned Leftovers to Make Menu Planning Easy
If you routinely cook at least one larger meal each week, it’s easy to use leftovers from that meal to create a second or even third meal for later in the week. For example, a large batch of spaghetti sauce could be divided into several smaller portions. Freeze one for your next pasta dish or use it right away to prepare a make-ahead lasagna that you can freeze for later. Add spices and beans to another portion, and you’ve got a quick batch of chili. Add a little tomato paste to thicken your sauce, and you can create sloppy joes or homemade pizza pockets with that last portion. See how easy it is to make four meals out of one?
When you cook a chicken or a roast, save the leftover meat, vegetables, and gravy to make soup. You can also use leftover meat and vegetables to make casseroles, like shepherd’s pie. Use leftover ham to make Dublin coddle, pea soup, or Western omelettes. There’s really no end to what you can do with planned leftovers. Just think of the foods that you like and try to identify dishes that use the same ingredients. Cook more than you’ll need for a single meal, then use the leftovers to make a second dish for later in the week.
Delicious Chicken Soup from Scratch
It’s easy to cook up a batch of homemade chicken soup from scratch, especially if you use leftovers to start your recipe. You can put almost anything you want into your soup, but this is a recipe I created a little while ago when I had leftover roast chicken and vegetables to use up. I also had cooked rice from an earlier meal, and I needed to use up part of a fresh cabbage we’d bought to make cabbage soup. If you don’t have cabbage, you can easily substitute any dark green vegetable such as spinach, kale, or even broccoli or green peas.
12 cups chicken broth
4 stalks of celery, diced
3 carrots, diced
2 cups shredded cabbage
1 large onion, diced
1-1/2 lb cooked chicken breast, diced
1 cup leftover cooked vegetables
2 cups cooked rice
Because much of this soup is already cooked, it takes very little time to prepare. Simply add the fresh vegetables to the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Add the cooked meat, vegetables, and rice, and cook just long enough to heat through.
If you prefer to cook your homemade chicken soup in the crockpot while you’re away at work, place the broth and fresh vegetables in the slow cooker and set it on low. Cook for about 4-5 hours. (If you’ll be away longer, it helps to have a timer delay or a “keep warm” setting on your slow cooker.) Add the cooked ingredients and heat another 30 minutes before serving.
Why You Should Be a Meal Planner: Bottom Line
Being a meal planner doesn’t have to be complicated. Start by just planning and cooking one meal at home each week. Then try expanding your repertoire by learning to use planned leftovers to turn one home-cooked meal into two, three, or even four different meals.
It’s easier to eat a variety of foods if you plan ahead. Meal planning can also save you time and money, and it’s more eco-friendly than buying take-out or processed foods. Preparing for meals ahead of time is part of a healthy eating plan, and it can help improve your family’s overall nutrition. It can even help prevent you from gaining weight or becoming obese. So be a meal planner! It really isn’t that hard at all.
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Original content © 2018 Kyla Matton Osborne, aka #RubyWriter
Public domain images by Pixabay users [users]
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