The start of a new school year is a busy time for families adjusting to a new routine, particularly if older children are engaged with after school activities. It becomes tough for even the most organized parents to juggle it all and still have dinner on the table. The allure of take-out or eating out is really great this time of year in particular. While it is certainly fine to visit a restaurant once in a while, eating at home is generally healthier and better for a host of reasons.
Menu planning is my saving grace. I started menu planning several years ago after my first child was born and it revolutionized my life, lifting a huge weight off my shoulders. Yes, it takes discipline to sit down and plan out the coming week’s meals, but it is time well spent and now it doesn’t take me nearly as long as it did when I first started. The fact that I post my weekly meal plans on my blog, Nourish & Flourish, keeps me accountable on those weeks where I might otherwise slack off.
Here are the top three reasons for menu planning beyond just health:
- Menu planning saves time. While there is time involved up front to do the actual planning, it saves you time in the long run because you no longer have to stand in front of the refrigerator or pantry wondering what you will make for dinner. Furthermore, planning ahead goes hand-in-hand with making a grocery list and getting all of your grocery needs out of the way in one trip. How many times have you had to run to the store for extra ingredients required for a last-minute dish? Using a slow cooker is one of the best ways to get healthy, tasty meals on the table quickly. I can load it up in the morning when I generally have more time, and dinner is ready when I need it to be. If I didn’t plan ahead, I couldn’t use my slow cooker nearly as effectively.
- Menu planning reduces stress. I don’t know about you, but before I planned my menus in advance, by the time 5 p.m. rolled around I was stressed over what I would make for dinner. With young children, dinner time is usually the “witching hour,” where otherwise happy children become extremely grumpy. I certainly didn’t need the added stress of figuring out what was for dinner. That weight was lifted when I started planning ahead and no longer had to worry about what I could make in the precious little time I had.
- Menu planning saves money. Planning ahead means buying only the groceries that you really need and will use during the week. This results in less waste, and (if you stick to your list) less splurges on food that really isn’t needed. It also means you can make better use of the food you already have on hand so that there is less waste or food piling up in your kitchen.
If planning out a whole week’s worth of meals is too daunting, just start with one or two meals and see how it goes. I will say that I always leave room in my menu plan for leftovers, and the option to eat out if we feel like it. I start by cleaning out the refrigerator to prepare for the coming week, and I generally cook four times per week. The great thing about a menu plan is that it is flexible. Life happens. There are some weeks we follow my menu plan better than others. But the bottom line is that I always have a plan in place to fall back on. I post my menu plan on a giant monthly calendar that hangs in our kitchen so that everyone can see what is planned for the week.