You're standing at the refrigerator in your booger-crusted yoga pants and as you twirl your messy bun in your fingers, your eyes desperately scan the shelves for something that resembles ingredients for a meal. You glance at the clock behind you and your stomach drops to your knees - where, coincidentally, your toddler (mid-tantrum) clings to you, demanding treats - because its 5:00 and they're starving. Not-to-mention, your dear husband will be home in 30 minutes expecting dinner (and lets be honest, he worked hard all day and probably deserves a nice, hot meal...much less a hot wife? But, I digress). Meanwhile, your extra-chatty elementary schooler simultaneously does homework, asks you for help on said homework, watches his favorite after school show and crunches extra loudly on his Cheetos.
Its enough to drive you to the brink. And it's a scene that is all too familiar to me - and still haunts me from time to time.
Listen, I big FAT heart cooking. Like, if money were no option and budgets didn't exist, we would be eating steak and mushroom risotto paired with the best wines. Sea Scallops and cuts of exotic fish would line the shelves of my fridge and I would love every minute of dinner time. But ya'll, truth is, money is an option and budgets seriously exist, and I HATE dinner time. That is capital H- hate it!
Enter: meal plans to save the day!
A couple years ago, I got this idea that, like, if I just sat down and wrote out what we would eat each night I would know exactly what to get at the store. At the time, it helped with efficiency at the grocery store. Because, toddlers. And while it ultimately helped me get in and out of the grocery store a lot more quickly, it also dawned on me that dinner time was a lot less stressful because I had a "menu" set ahead of time.
I had a plan, so no more panic attacks at 5:00 upon the realization that I had precisely 30 minutes to create a meal out of a can of chick peas and a pound of Turkey sausage (it was on sale, ok?). But, for real - do you know what I am talking about? The days when you just barely keep it together and then your family shows up acting like they're going to waste away to nothing if dinner doesn't magically appear in .07 seconds. I mean, they seriously expect you to feed them 3 times a day. Every. Single. Day. Real life, mom-life.
So over the years, meal planning and I have had one of those on-again, off-again relationships. I would go two months straight and feel like I was totally rocking this motherhood-stay-at-home-wifey thing. Then, I would skip like 3 months and once again be driven to the absolute brink of insanity. Dinner time would be, yet again, filled with my attention being split a million different ways, the pantry was never stocked with the proper ingredients - due to a lack of planning and inefficiency at the store - and you know the old saying, "when mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy". Dinner time was miserable.
Let's be honest, don't we all have this picture in our minds of dinner time being this happy family bonding time where we all sit around with smiling faces and talk about how uniquely challenging and exciting our days were? We all sit down to piping hot food, everyone eats every-last-drop of all the components of the meal - meat, complex starches and nutrition-packed green veggies? I mean, that is how dinner is supposed to be, right?
Instead, when I don't have a plan in place, I morph into this mom-ster of epic proportions, attempting to assemble ingredients, prep them and cook them while yelling at my kids to sit down and be quiet, or get off my leg, or denying them the attention they request, the help they need, the snacks they demand, and the list goes on...If my husband happens to be around while all this is happening, he's seeing a side of me that I'm not proud of. Maybe I'm alone when I admit that dinner time has had the tendency to bring out the absolute worst in me, or maybe you can completely relate to everything I am saying. In any case, can we all just agree that life is easier when you have a plan?
Once I really got on the healthy-eats band wagon - and I mean really got on, after having fallen off so many times I can't even count anymore - meal planning became a real necessity to staying on track. For me, if my meals are planned and partially prepped, I am about 100x more likely to actually eat healthy and nutritious foods, not just talk about it like a far-off, distant goal. Oh, and I'm not a mom-ster at dinner time.
Meal planning [not-to-mention consistency] has done wonders for me. After I got the hang of making plans and doing the shopping and creating a menu, I began adding small preparatory elements to my plan. Menu plans helped cut down on the likelihood of forgetting an ingredient and eliminated the scrambled search for a last-minute dinner idea, but prepping the food partially takes meal planning to a whole new level. Having things like the protein or starch already prepared - only needing to be reheated at meal time - made life infinitely easier. It cut my actual cooking time down considerably and I could - even on a totally crazy day - have dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes. Mom-win!
Recently - ok this morning - I was asked to talk to a group of my mom friends at my church's mom's group about how I go about planning and prepping meals. The truth is, this is going to be different for every family. Based on your budget, based on your tastes and based on your schedule. So what I do may not work for your family, but hopefully there are principles that you can draw conclusions from and formulate a plan that will work for you. In preparation for this talk, I penned a short twenty-something page book about my process in planning including a sample menu and all the associated recipes. You can download it on Google Play or iTunes for $2.99.....just kidding, you can grab it off my Google Drive for free. Just don't judge me too hard, I didn't really proof read it, and I copied and pasted recipes from Pinterest. It's far from publication worthy, but maybe it'll offer something to spark your inspiration.
Sorry this post is more like telling a weird story and not really like teaching you how to meal plan. But luckily you have that handy link up there that you can use for future reference - you know, when you have a few moments for some light reading. Hopefully this will help inspire you! Please ask me questions, I am glad to help any way that I can. Meal prep can be as simple or as complicated as you make it and anyone can do it. I promise. Even if you serve a combo of frozen pizza, grilled cheese, macaroni and hot dogs at dinner (no judgement here! We've all had those weeks) - having them written down so you know what is dinner for each day it will take some of the guess-work out of your meal time. Guess-work = stress, so anytime you can eliminate stress, that's a win in my book!
Here's to stress-free meal times!
Plan some meals - let me know how they go and share your recipes!
-The Farmer's Wife
PS - coming soon: FREEZER MEAL SWAP. stay tuned!