Thursday, March 19, 2015

Why I Meal Plan (and my latest strategy)

If you have been following my blog, you’d know that I’ve been trying different approaches to meal planning and grocery shopping. I plan our meals for a number of reasons.


why I meal plan


1. To save money

We have a very limited budget. We live on my husband’s salary. I am a stay-at-home mom so I really have to budget our money wisely. Back when it was just my husband and I, I would go to the supermarket and pick up whatever I fancy. Then when meal time came, I would stare at a fully-stocked fridge not knowing what to cook. The result was food got spoiled and money wasted.

When I gave birth, I had to drastically change my life and my habits, especially my shopping habits. I needed to think about the diapers and the formula and the books, clothes, toys, etc. I needed to be smarter.

Making a meal plan helps me come up with a grocery list that is on target. I am able to stick to our budget more or less every month. I say more because sometimes I just have to get a treat for us like a tub of ice cream or a pack of cookies, etc. I also go over budget when my son requests for a specific food which is fine with me because I can tweak our budget in other areas of our expenses.

2. To save time


You wouldn’t believe how much time I’ve wasted before I started meal planning. I would decide what to cook a few hours before lunch or dinner time and realize that I need to thaw out a piece of meat. If it takes too long, I get lazy and my husband gets hungry then we end up ordering take away.

3. To be more productive
 

I have been tweaking my meal planning strategy for a few weeks now and I think I’ve got the right solution.

Back in January, I did one huge grocery shopping trip. I stocked up on meat and veggies. I only needed to go to the supermarket to buy bread and more veggies or fruits. The food lasted until February. You can see how we ate through our freezer starting with this series. I didn’t do the groceries until I didn’t have enough ingredients anymore.

It was a great plan and I was able to save a lot of money but I ended up exhausted and burned out from cooking and planning meals. I just wanted to eat out after the last freezer meal. I got sick of cooking stir fries and simple dishes. Good thing we went on vacation and had my mother-in-law cook for us. Otherwise, I would probably have spent the rest of February eating out. It’s like being on a diet and binge eating.

So, I decided that that strategy wasn’t for me.

My strategy today is I buy whatever is on sale or in season at the grocery then I work our meals around those ingredients. I also don’t write out a weekly menu anymore. I write a daily menu. You would think that this is more work but it isn’t for me. Why? Because of a few factors.

First, I really don’t want to limit myself into eating chicken tomorrow or on Thursday because that’s what the plan says. What if I wanted to eat chicken now? What if I don’t want to eat chicken for a week?


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Next, life happens. There are unexpected things that happen daily. For example, we might decide to spend the day in the mall. That would affect our menu. If we come home late, it’s not practical to cook a complicated dish so that ruins the plan. Also, if we plan to go home late and wait for my husband, we usually just have dinner out.

Every day and night, I look at my crisper and see which vegetables I need to cook right away. Then I go through my recipe books/binder and the Internet to find the right dish. If I lack ingredients, I substitute, scratch that ingredient or just choose another dish. Then I think about the meat that would best go with the vegetable. I also think about the fruit that I will serve. I am trying to feed my family fruit with every meal. My son loves it and really, it’s just healthier. We’ve had less chocolate cravings ever since I started this.

I am also trying to serve at least 2 viands. Rice is a staple in every Filipino home so our meals revolve around it. Even when we serve noodles, rice always makes an appearance. My son loves the variety. I do too. Plus, I don’t get to eat the same thing over and over again. We used to eat the leftovers from dinner for lunch the next day. My son hated it. He does not want to eat the same thing twice or thrice in a row. Again, he wants variety.


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How do I become more productive?
 

For example, I will cook 3 dishes for lunch and 3 for dinner. The following day, I will choose a combination from the leftovers to pack in my husband’s lunch bag and for our lunch at home. This way, we all get to eat different meals.  Before lunch time, I will cook 1 dish or prep for a dish or two that I will cook for dinner. I always watch the clock whenever I’m cooking as I don’t want to spend too much time in the kitchen anymore. So, with this strategy, I can do more with less time. When evening rolls around, I will just start the stove and start cooking. There is very minimal or no prepping. While I do the night chores, I get the meat that I need to thaw out and transfer it to the fridge. Sometimes I also do a bit of prep for breakfast. Come lunch time, the meat is ready. Sometimes I decide to add a side dish at the last minute but that’s okay as they are usually easy to prepare.

I’ve also decided to make grocery time date time. My husband and I rarely have dates so last Tuesday, I texted him to say to accompany me with the grocery shopping. We met at the mall that is near our house. I don’t like pushing the cart because it puts too much strain on me. I am petite and have fibromyalgia so that’s a big issue for me. I avoid going to the grocery if I know I will have no choice but to push the cart. (I also don’t like to go grocery shopping with my son as he still does not have the patience nor the temperament to stick with mommy the whole time.) So, he pushed the cart while I got the ingredients. We finished in 20 minutes! I left home at 7 pm and we got back home a few minutes before 8. We got to bond and accomplish an errand. Two birds and all that jazz.

So comes the question, “why not just spend one afternoon or a few hours prepping”?
 

Again, life happens. I don’t want to end up with spoiled chopped veggies in the fridge because I was not able to cook them. It’s a waste of money. I prep as the day goes. Sometimes I prep while doing the laundry. Sometimes I prep while waiting for the rice to cook.

A few personal notes


I buy fruits in bulk. For example, last Tuesday, I bought a whole watermelon. If you’ve been following my toddler plates posts, you may have spotted the watermelons several times. I just rotate the fruits so that we don’t eat watermelons 3x a day.

I have learned to be a little loose on the budget. If you can recall, I got a scare with my husband’s health. I’m a firm believer that food heals because it worked for me so now, I don’t follow a strict budget. I feed my family whatever we can afford. I feed them good food. I don’t scrimp anymore. And, I’ve seen results. My son eats a lot more. My husband also finishes/enjoys  his packed lunch more. He also gets to eat snacks during the day because I add several small snacks to his lunch bag. He looks better now because of this. I’ve also had more energy to tackle chores and blogging as evidenced by my daily posts. I’ve also seen them eat with more gusto during meal times ever since I started serving them different dishes. It’s true that it’s more work to prepare more food but it’s all worth it.

I stick to one supermarket and that’s Rustan’s Fresh because of the member rewards and the variety of products. I also choose a branch that is small so that I can get what I need right away, not be tempted to buy anything else and to finish shopping quickly. If they don’t have what I need, I usually ask my mom to check out other groceries.

So, this is the end of this post. I hope you learned a lot and have realized how important it is to meal plan. If you are already doing it, I hope I was able to let you see another aspect of it. You can also go through my archives for more on meal planning. For delicious, budget-friendly recipes, please visit my food blog.  Happy planning!

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