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15 Sep 2016

Adventures In Meal Planning

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by Ryan Lewis

We make plans, and then life happens. But life is gonna life, and unforeseen things are always going to happen. We still need to make plans.

About a month ago, my wife and I decided we had to tackle our grocery and eating out categories—or else. The month prior, these categories grew to be somewhere on the spectrum, between unruly and straight-up embarrassing.

Sure, we could limit Costco runs and finally catch up on all the episodes of Extreme Couponing saved on our DVR, but the school year was fast approaching and we needed something to change and fast.

It’s About To Get Real

We both work full-time and have two school-aged kids, and we know that by Thursday or Friday (sometimes, Wednesday?), we’ve thrown any sad attempt at a plan out the window and are ordering take-out, going to restaurants, and generally eating all of our money.

We also know that we have soccer on Wednesdays, teacher meetings on Thursdays and “please, let me just lie on this couch” on Fridays. We decided to try something crazy—being realistic.

We know our unique brand of crazy for the week, and we have to have a plan that suits our actual life. We toyed around with theme nights—think little girls wearing hula skirts while we make Hawaiian Haystacks—but that was short-lived (for obvious reasons). So we focused on what we needed to accomplish:

  1. Be something that all of us would enjoy (this can be tricky with younger kids).
  2. Not be the same thing over and over again, but also not be too all over the place where we would need to buy crazy ingredients all of the time.
  3. Be reasonably inexpensive.
  4. Account for the nights when we have little time to make dinner.
  5. Account for the nights when we have little desire to make dinner (which could be every night!).

And we planned accordingly. Here’s where we landed:

Mondays: Meat Mondays

We have time to marinate or do basic prep on Sunday nights, and our girls love it when there is just a basic protein instead of something like a casserole, so this made sense. We just feature a meat dish with some potatoes or rice and a vegetable and call it good. Monday is a day when we normally have a little more time to make the meal.

Tuesdays: Taco Tuesday

We did this half jokingly, but we’ve stuck with it. It’s morphed into more of a general Mexican food-themed night, although now that I think about it, it’s usually still tacos.  We still have optimism for the week (and for life) on Tuesdays, and we separate all of the ingredients for our girls on their plate and let them make their own tacos (or just eat the olives and tortilla, whatever).

Wednesdays: Slowcooker Wednesday

This is our busiest day, so we’ve been rolling with the “let’s just throw all of these things into this amazing contraption and let it sit for 8 hours” philosophy. It’s worked out well because we get home a little late on Wednesdays (for us, anyway) and dinner is ready to go.

Thursdays: New Recipe Thursday

I should have prefaced this whole thing by letting you know that neither my wife nor I love cooking. We don’t hate it either, but, you know. But we still want to try new things, so that’s what we’ve been doing on Thursdays. What’s crazy is that pretty much all of our attempts at newness (and actually using a recipe) have been a success.

Fridays: FFYSF

That’s “Fend For Yourself Fridays.” It’s the end of the week. We all need to eat, but listen: our ancestors had to just figure things out most of the time. That’s how it goes on Fridays. Normally, there are enough leftovers, or ingredients to make quick things like sandwiches, salads, or mac ‘n’ cheese. We let everyone decide how much effort they want to put into eating dinner, except for our 3-year-old because man cannot live on peanut butter and jelly alone.

Saturdays: Saturday Night Out

My wife was working part-time last year and when she switched to full-time, we added a little more to our eating out category. It’s nice to be able to have that built into our budget. We usually try to keep things pretty cheap, and with little kids, it’s not like we’re going to enjoy a five-course (or even two-course) meal.

Sundays: Sundays Are For Stew

When I was growing up, my mom would normally prep a stew on Sunday morning and pop it in the oven when we went to church. I actually kind of hated stew. But now, like most things that I didn’t understand when I was a kid, I get it and it’s totally genius. You’re getting some solid veggies and meat, the prep is just a bunch-a-choppin’ and then you just throw it in a dutch oven and go about your day.

Update: It’s Working

It’s only been a month, but it’s been a huge success. Our grocery and eating out categories are well under-budget, we’ve found at least three new, stellar recipes, and it feels like, overall, our nights have run (a little) smoother.

Sure, our meal plan wouldn’t be a perfect fit for every family, but we “embraced our true week” and taking into account our own circumstances and priorities, made a plan that works for us.

Is Monday a crazy day for you? Maybe not the best time to go all saffron and garlic clams on everyone. Do you hate cooking? Perhaps every day is “Slowcooker Wednesday” for you. Be realistic. Get creative. Plan for the inevitable not the ideal.

I think what finally clicked for us, was having a framework for the week—a perfectly imperfect and flexible plan—to keep us honest.

Your Next Step

Remember, budgeting is not restrictive. You won’t be spending less, you’ll be spending right. You can do this! Today. Right now. What do you have to lose? Except all that debt and stress. (Ok, so kind of a lot.)

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