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Tuesday, May 18, 2021

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Menu Planning Myths Debunked

I hear it all the time: Fellow parents and household managers who know meal planning is a smart and economical habit and wish they did it, but they just … don’t.

I think a mixture of trepidation and a feeling of being overwhelmed paralyzes people into avoiding something new, even when they know it would be beneficial. I’m certainly guilty of this as well but trust me when I say there is absolutely nothing to fear about meal planning.

Whether or not we enjoy cooking, have a big or small family, or work full time, there is one inevitable and inescapable fact we all have in common: we all need to eat and feed our family every day!

This undoubtedly can be an overwhelming reality, but that’s the very reason why meal planning is such a crucial habit to cultivate. It is the absolute number one way a household can save money, save time long-term, stay organized and eat healthy.

Here are some common misconceptions most folks have about meal planning, and why they shouldn’t be excuses to hold you back.

I don’t have the time: This is the big one. First and foremost, it’s worth noting that no one running a home and family is lounging around all day without an agenda and a million things on the to-do list. Everyone has to prioritize how they spend their time but planning meals should be a priority.

Secondly, not having a solid meal plan for the week or month is actually wasting more of your time because you’re most likely running to the grocery store much more often and probably picking up a good amount of takeout. When it comes to meal planning, it’s a matter of changing one’s perspective about time and seeing it as an investment. If you put in the work upfront, you will be saving and consolidating time in the long run.

It’s too inflexible: I meal plan for two weeks/twice a month. A lot of times during that menu “cycle,” I rearrange things because life happens.

Think of meal planning as food “insurance.” You have everything in place to make that roasted chicken, wild rice and green bean casserole on Tuesday night. But if you’ve had a horrible day or aren’t feeling well, it is OK to save that meal for another time and stick with grilled cheese! As long as you don’t waste what you’ve planned for and already purchased, it’s perfectly alright to reschedule your plan and play with the timing.

A little spontaneity is fun when it comes to food, but that has to be balanced out with having a blueprint for the rest of the week. You can work flexible or take-out nights into your meal planning, so long as it’s not the majority of the time.

I’m not creative or a great cook: Meal planning is not synonymous with gourmet cooking. It’s going to look differently for everyone based on a lot of factors, but you can keep things as simple as you wish.

Spaghetti, taco night, grilled cheese and tomato soup, a healthy salad with some crusty bread – these are all easy-pleasing dinners that are uncomplicated and require little time and technique. Once you get established, you can experiment with getting fancier if you wish, but don’t let the fear of having to make gourmet meals deter you from a simple menu as your base!

But it’s hard: I get it. There’s a lot to consider when you’re meal planning if you want to do it well. But over time, you’ll develop a lot of little tricks you can add to your tool bag that expedites the process.

One of my biggest tips is to always be in meal planning mode to some degree all the time, not just when you’re sitting down to do it. This might be easy for me because I’m always thinking about food, but I tend to think most people are! Throughout the week, jot down little notes to yourself, whether it’s about something you think would be good for dinner or even just that you discovered a box of rigatoni you forgot to use. When it’s time to finally sit down to meal plan, you’ll already have a head start.

You can also enlist the help of other family members. Is there a night your husband or teen can take a turn cooking dinner? Check the calendar. If everyone’s schedules are crazy Thursday night, there’s your day to start a chili in the crockpot bright and early. Having your “meal planning switch” turned on all the time will add up and allow you to feel less overwhelmed.

Finally, believe me when I say that meal planning is worth it and saves money! It’s the ultimate guide to help you stay on track, buy only what you intend to use, avoid impulses, commit to using what you spend money on, and avoid food waste.

I have tracked every dollar my household spends for years, and I can vouch that meal planning (the longer the stretch, the better) is the absolute number one thing in your control to stay on budget and limit excessive spending. So, get that calendar and sheet of paper out and get going!

Debra Caffrey
Debra Caffrey is the writer/editor of the Education and Infant & Pregnancy e-newsletters for Fredericksburg Parent and Family. She also writes the monthly Practical Pantry column, sharing her recipes and tips on being a home cook, grocery shopping, and smart meal planning. Debra is the proud mother of an almost-teenage son. When she's not writing, cooking, or parenting, Debra enjoys working out, yoga, running, hiking, traveling, and reading.

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