If you read a lot of Mommy Blogs, then you know that meal planning is everywhere. Mum's everywhere extol the virtues of meal planning, share their weeks' menus, and point you in the right direction of meal planning websites that can make your life easier. And I get it, I really do. In theory, anyway! I am still struggling with being able to consistently plan out my meals and stick with it. Yes, meal planning is saving me money (a lot of money!) and it is generally saving me from the dreaded "what should I cook for dinner?" at 5 o'clock, but it is not helping me with the "it's 6 o'clock, and I have the ingredients, and I just can't be bothered to cook right now" scenario. Sometimes, like a lot of other things regarding homemaking, I just have to suck it up and get on with it.
When I first started meal planning, it was taking me hours to plan out my menus and write up my grocery list as I poured over recipe books. A couple of years ago I happened to catch a show on cable called Fixing Dinner which is all about meal planning for busy planners. At the time, I thought, "that looks so easy" then promptly forgot about it until this year, when I finally decided I had to get the meal planning thing to work for me.
After some searching on the web, I found the matching cookbooks, bought some, and haven't looked back. These books really are Meal Planning For Dummies - all the work is done for you. Each week has five meals planned out for you, together with a matching grocery list (which you can also print out for free on Sandi Richard's website). I have tried two of her books - her latest, Eating Forward, and an older one, The Healthy Family, and the recipes have generally been a real hit with the family.
What I love most about these books are that the meals are categorized into four time and effort categories: dinners on the table in less than 30 mins with either 15 or 20 mins prep time, or dinners on the table in less than an hour with either 15 or 20 mins prep time. It means I can fit the various meals around our schedule. I also love that most weeks have a slow cooker meal, which is perfect for Thursdays when we are at swimming lessons until 5. In the past, that would have meant take out; instead, we walk in the door to the delish smells of a freshly cooked meal. I do make some modifications to the recipes, since they rely a lot on processed foods like canned cream soups and stock, but I make up my own stock and cream soup substitution in bulk and freeze them, so this is an easy switch.
Now don't get me wrong; things are still not perfect here. Today, we resorted to McDonald's for dinner after DH and I both decided to have a nap at 2.30 after we put the kids to bed for rest time, and then didn't wake up until 7pm! I honestly couldn't believe it - firstly that I slept for so long, and secondly, that a toddler and a preschooler would leave both of us alone for so long and nothing went wrong or got destroyed. They had even gone into the fridge and got their own yoghurt and juice at some stage, with only minimal spilling of the juice! I can definitely put up with some spilled juice given I got an unheard of 4.5 hour nap. But overall, the meal planning is definitely starting to work, and I think that once I really get the hang of it with Sandi Richard's books, I will be right to go it alone.