What's that, you ask?
It just seemed, oh I dunno - boring. Confining. Planning menus meant admitting that I was the only person responsible for feeding myself and three other people every day, day in and day out, except when Franklin stepped up to guest chef on the weekends.
But since I've started planning, my life is better. And so, here's my list of Ten Reasons to Love Menu Planning:
- Without any real effort, we've cut our grocery spending by about $25/week. Our bills were inching up, slowly and steadily, to $125/week and often more, not counting Franklin's forays to pick up the paper and a few necessaries on the weekend. And not counting the $12 spent on locally delivered milk, cheese and eggs. My weekly bill now averages closer to $90 - including holiday indulgences.
- Our bills will continue to shrink. The first week I spent a mere $65 - because I planned around what was in the pantry and freezer. I've always stocked up on some things at sale prices - mostly granola bars and cereal - but now I'm using the same principles for menu staples.
- My weeknights are far less stressful. Instead of standing in the kitchen in a panic every night around six, I know what to do. And it's easy to think to defrost something the night before when I'm looking at my weekly list of menus - no more coming up with a Plan B because the chicken is frozen.
- We're eating more varied meals. In a pinch, I reach for whole wheat pasta. Freddie won't eat it, and Franklin would rather not eat it every night. But a little bit of thought has turned up more meals that the whole family enjoys.
- Shopping is faster. This is huge. I started menu planning when my daughter was about six weeks old. Shopping while wearing my daughter in her carrier is enough of a challenge. If I had to think about what we needed? Forget it. We'd be eating take out every night.
- We're eating healthier ... errr ... we will be. One of my biggest challenges is getting veggies into our diet. We all voluntarily eat fruit, and we're not opposed to vegetables. But when you're a novice cook, it can take some doing to plan balanced meals. Over time, I think I can easily push our veggie consumption way up.
- I don't even think of eating out. Okay, that's not entirely true. But I used to long to just walk down the street to a restaurant, where they'd have variety and someone else to do the dishes. By planning everything in advance, I rarely get the urge to eat out. In fact, eating out seems harder than eating in - the opposite of my old thinking.
- Freddie is learning to cook. Cooking with a four year old has its challenges, but I'm amazed at how much he can do. This is the best part of the process. B.M.P. (before menu planning), he was playing alone in his room, out of my sight - or maybe parked in front of the TV or maybe begging for Goldfish crackers and string cheese under foot - while I cooked. Now? He's stirring something and telling me that he's "bein' a Top Cef." Menu planning allows me to think about how he can help and plan accordingly. As a bonus, he seems to always eat what he cooks - not true of meals that I prepare without his involvement.
- I'm learning to cook. Yes, I cooked before this. But I didn't really know how to do much. By planning, I can evaluate what I know and what new challenges I can take on, slowly expanding my skill set.
- It's green! Okay we're still not subsisting entirely on a diet of locally grown veggies and probably never will. And we'd already reduced our reliance on take-out dramatically. But now I'm learning how to reduce our reliance on convenience foods, choosing less processed options. And that is a huge step for me - a step towards healthier, less chemically intense products and meals.
In a month, there have been just two nights this completely fell apart. One night, I had picked out a new recipe that required putting the skillet in the oven to finish the dish. Our skillet isn't oven-safe. D'oh! I tossed together something else and Franklin used the ingredients from the abandoned dinner over the weekend. (He really is quite the cook.)
Another night we were off to have our family picture taken for the church directory and honestly? I fed the toddler, nursed the infant and decided that the adults would have to fend for themselves.
I'm pretty amazed that it's gone this well. In addition to meal planning, we've turned out homemade cupcakes for Freddie's birthday (the cupcakes were a mix, but the frosting was from scratch); chocolate chip cookies from scratch and banana bread from scratch.
Resistance is futile. Menu planning has changed my life.
Now what else have I been refusing to do?