A Month Of Meal Planning – Where Have You Been All My Life? (Plus A Freebie)

CMO adventures in meal planning!

Hi all! I missed you. It’s been a little while since my last post – back to school and the end of summer snuck up on me. But I’m back and better than ever! Well, not really, but I’m back. 🙂

I wanted to talk to you today about something I’ve been doing the past month, that I’ve loved. It’s called “meal planning”, and it’s awesome.

Yes, I’m almost forty years old and I’ve been winging meals for the past twenty years of adulthood.

I’ll tell you a bit about my prior meal philosophy, and talk a bit about the changes we’ve made. Bonus – I made a downloadable printable just for you! If I was smart, I’d make you give me your email address or something to get it, but I’m feeling generous. Consider it a gift for sticking around during my break.

My Prior Meal Philosophy – Tightwad Gazette Inspired

I moved out into my own condo when I was nineteen or twenty years old. Back then, before I was married, meals were somewhat half-hazzard. Sometimes we’d go out to eat, sometimes eat in. Of course, we didn’t have a lot of money, but it was also just the two of us. So getting a pizza would last a few days, and meals were simple. There were many sandwiches. Not a lot of ramen, though, despite the fact that I was in college.

After my oldest son was born and started to eat food, we needed a better plan. Upon reading one of my favorite books of all time, The Tightwad Gazette (affiliate link), I decided to follow her “meal planning” method. Which is better called a pantry method. Essentially, you determine what items you need to keep a fully stocked pantry, and buy those. Then you just re-stock your pantry as needed.

“Pantry” in this case is used loosely, since it includes things in an actual pantry (or cabinets, which I had at the time) as well as the freezer. Over the years, I’d stock up on sale meats and freeze them in a chest freezer, buy in bulk, and essentially use the pantry method.

It worked very well back at that point in our lives – but our lives were very different than they are now.

The kids were small, and there was one – then two. I didn’t travel for work, and I cooked most of the dinners back then. We didn’t eat out much, because it was expensive, but we did occasionally. Kids meals are still pretty inexpensive.

The pantry method was nice because I essentially had everything on hand I needed to make breakfast, lunches, and dinners at all times.

Life Happened – And I Didn’t Notice

Much about our lives has changed since those days. We have three kids now. My husband cooks all the meals, and makes the kids breakfast and lunch. Both kids needed more food. Eating out has become much more expensive, since my 14 (nearly 15) year old both eats like an adult, and can’t get kids meals any more. The little guy needs his own meal, and it’s hard to get out of any restaurant for under $30. More often, it’s about $50 or more for five meals.

We didn’t eat out “very much”, compared with most people, at least when you look at spending on food dollars (fifty percent of an average American’s food budget is spent on meals out!). Most of our meals were at home, all school lunches were brought from home, and we averaged less than once a week eating out.

Alex eating “Peanut Butter Jelly Pie” with my homemade strawberry jelly.

It was still getting to be too much, though. Not just in terms of the money, but also in terms of health. Meals out with kids are not the easiest to make healthy, especially when you have moderately picky eaters like I do.

Life has gotten substantially busier since my early adulthood days. The little guy has started preschool, my oldest is in high school (ahhhh!!!), and my middle son has started middle school. There are after school activities, my oldest has an eleven hour school day, and there are many drop-offs and pick-ups involved. Weekends are busy, I travel for work at times, and I work long days.

So life has gotten crazy, and the pantry method started to fail. Quick-cooking things snuck into the freezer and pantry, and although we cook a lot from scratch, I noticed we were going through an awful lot of white flour/white sugar/butter. We also got into a rut. Ruts are boring, and eating out is quick, easy, and everyone can get what they like.

It wasn’t working anymore and it was time for a change.

Enter: meal planning.

Why I Never Tried Meal Planning

I always thought of meal planning, and prepping, as something that uber-healthy and uber-organized people do. I am neither of those things (have you seen my cakes?), although I often wish I were. I’d like to be one of those people who uses planners, has a nice schedule handwritten on chalkboards, and generally is flawlessly organized – but I’m not.

I’ve discovered that using my calendar and Alexa for setting reminders, keeping a written calendar hanging in the kitchen with activities, and generally using my smartphone works best for me. So it’s no surprise I never tried meal planning.

But a month ago, I became desperate for a change. I was tired of so much eating out, and of relying a lot on convenience foods. I much prefer homemade foods, but I also recognized that a lot of my homemade go-to recipes needed lightening up. We were getting bored with the same old, same old food. And we needed some ideas for the upcoming school year.

Enter…The Meal Plan

So I decided to plan out meals for the week, as a way to force us to try new recipes, improve grocery shopping, and stop eating out.

Simple and sloppy, but it works. And that’s the most important part.

I’ll tell you, it’s worked a million times better than I had ever expected.

 

Not only is grocery shopping a breeze, because we know what we need for meals for the week, but it’s so much easier to know what’s for dinner. If we want to try a new recipe, we can have it printed and at the ready. We can make meals on the weekend and freeze them for weekdays, and we can all agree on what everyone wants to eat.

Now we’re on Week Four of the meal planning method. That’s four weeks of no breakfasts, lunches, or dinners out. Four weeks of three meals a day plus snacks. We even packed and brought  meals and snacks with us on a number of adventures, like to a castle hike. And it’s working great.

I’ll tell you more about some of the awesome new recipes I’ve been trying, and the new things I’ve been baking, next week.

 

My Simple Meal Planning Method

Honestly, I just used some notebook paper and blank printer paper these past few weeks. But then I remembered that, as a blogger, I know how to use Canva to make cool images. I decided to check to see if they had any meal planning templates, and of course they did. So I whipped up a cool template I can use every week.

CMO Weekly Menu
Isn’t this cute?

You’ll notice that I put in some fun images – my three boys with their three different hair colors, snacks, and just some fun things to go with the days of the week.

If you’d like to make your own version, you can check out all their meal planning templates here. It’s free to use, and you can add in your own icons or pictures if you’d like. Or you can keep it simple and use the templates as is.

If, on the other hand, you’d like to use mine (without the images) stick around to the end of this post and you can download a copy of this template to print. Absolutely free, no e-mail sign up required (although I’d appreciate it!) and handy no matter what the size of your family.

As a family, we plan out breakfast, lunch, and dinner before grocery shopping. Lunches and breakfasts are usually different, but our dinner is the same for all of us. Planning everything out helps us make sure we have balanced meals, have all the ingredients we’ll need, and that we don’t forget anything.

Having the plan already in place helps with the crazy busy nights, because we can plan ahead for them. And it keeps us from succumbing to wanting to eat out – not only do we have food in the house to use up, but we also know exactly what it is we need to make.

What Does This Have To Do With Money?

Food is one of the biggest expenses in most peoples budgets, and it’s usually one of the few we have a lot of control over.

Cutting down – or out – on eating outside the home is a huge potential savings. You can divert those savings into better tasting, better quality groceries, or you can put them towards a different goal or dream. It’s totally up to you.

Effective and efficient grocery shopping is also key to saving money. By planning your meals, you can plan based on what’s on sale and what you already have available in the house. You can prep ahead of time, keeping plenty of yummy things in the freezer for those crazy nights you know you’re going to have.

Setting yourself up for success is so important when it comes to money saving tips. Just because something works for me, doesn’t mean it will work for you. And that’s OK! But I’m also a big believer in continuing to experiment, and change things up, as time goes on. What works for you as a parent of infants may not work as they turn into teenagers. It can be hard to recognize when we’ve fallen into a rut, but when we do, it’s time to shake things up.

This will save you time and money in the long run. How so? Otherwise when you get bored, spending more is an easier way to fill the void. If you’re bored of the usual meals, or finding that eating out has become too much of the monthly budget, don’t be afraid to change it up a bit. Get the kids involved – they’ll think it’s fun! At least, they’ll think that if they’re not teenagers.

So What Have You Been Up To?

What new things have you tried lately? Are you already a die-hard meal planner, or are you going to give it a shot? Let me know in the comments!

Psst – If you end up giving the meal plan a try, let me know how it went! Either in the comments or over on my social media. 

Be sure to follow my blog for more great posts via e-mail or WordPress, or connect with me on Facebook or Twitter and say hello! You can also check out what I’m buying or baking on Instagram,  what I’m pinning on Pinterest, or the latest books I’m reading (or want to read) over on Goodreads.

chiefmomofficer

IT professional, MBA, working mother of three, avid reader, geek and personal finance nerd

10 thoughts on “A Month Of Meal Planning – Where Have You Been All My Life? (Plus A Freebie)

  • September 7, 2018 at 10:46 am
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    When I remember to meal plan, life and shopping go so much better. I don’t usually meal plan breakfasts and lunch, but instead buy three or so options that we can rotate each day (frozen waffles, peanut butter sandwiches, yoghurt). But there’s something about having a plan to fall back on that makes that “ahh what do I make?” moment at 5:30 so much easier. Welcome back! Back-to-school is tough!

    Reply
    • September 7, 2018 at 12:13 pm
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      I’ve found it helpful for all three meals, both so I can bake things for easy weeknight breakfasts and to help make sure they get a variety. Last year we got into a lot of ruts-of course the kids didn’t mind having the same thing all the time! 😃

      Reply
  • September 7, 2018 at 12:08 pm
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    As a family, we have gone through periods of efficient meal planning, and periods of low efficiency. It is a great feeling coming home from work and already knowing what you will reheat, or which quick meal you will prepare. Some work on Sunday afternoon makes the whole week smoother. I’m better at winging a meal, but it stresses Mrs. JS out, if she gets home first.
    Our meals have been changing lately. Jack and Jill are at college or work at dinner time and it is hard to motivate ourselves to cook for 2. We’ve been taking advantage of happy hours. Half price burger Mon. Half price pizza Wed. There are several local restaurants where we can eat for 15$, plus a tip, if we order right, on the right night.

    Reply
    • September 7, 2018 at 12:11 pm
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      I look forward (financially, anyway) to the days where just my husband and I are the ones eating out again! Alas we have many years to go.

      Reply
  • September 7, 2018 at 5:25 pm
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    I love meal planning! I do quite a bit of meal prepping too. Since I live alone, cooking for one every night gets tedious, and I’m more likely to justify take-out. So now, I cook big batches of easy things on the weekend and pack up my lunches and dinners for the week. I still sometimes go off script, but not because I’m too lazy to cook!

    Reply
    • September 7, 2018 at 5:42 pm
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      Oh it’s so rough to make yourself cook when you just don’t want to. I feel you there. Having the prepared/frozen meals really helps us with that one

      Reply
  • September 7, 2018 at 8:55 pm
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    I am on the meal planning kick this September and so far, it’s been a breeze! I’m a teacher and the school year is so so busy that I really don’t mind eating the same thing for breakfast each day-yogurt parfait, lunch each day – chopped salad and dinner, usually a protein with a veg made in the instant pot and reheated every night. If I need a little variety, I enjoy omelettes and I’ve noticed the savings–Big Time! As onerous as planning and following through with prep is–it is really worthwhile. The savings are very real for us.

    Reply
    • September 7, 2018 at 9:00 pm
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      It really is helpful! I sometimes feel like I’m pulling teeth to get anyone else to come up with ideas and suggestions for meals. 😆But it’s worth it! I eat the same thing for breakfasts and lunches during the week too, but I try to give the kids a bit of variety. Dinners I’m doing a protein with starch, veg and fruit. Lots of weekend cooking and freezing too. It’s working well so far!

      Reply
    • September 8, 2018 at 1:42 pm
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      I was the same way-but it really works much better than I thought it would.

      Reply

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