I know, this seems like an odd title. The joy of meal planning, how can this bring joy? I am telling you its great! It relives stress, saves money, gives a chance for creativity, and it really is fun. I used to not meal plan at all. But after having my son, I have realized how helpful it really has been.
Before kids we would just go grocery shopping regularly and buy the usual staples with a few extras here and there. Then one of us would throw something together in whatever fashion we so chose. No big deal, though we would sometimes fall into a routine of what we would eat and wouldn't expand our horizons.
Since having a son, and only more on the recent side, I decided to start meal planning. It began with the start of the week and writing a few ideas on the calendar. Worked fine, but at times I would find myself stuck. I wanted to make something, had a pantry and fridge full of something, but would proclaim we had nothing to eat. So, we would eat out. Not good for the budget, especially when we had stuff in the house. Some of it was that I was getting tired of trying to have dinner ready for when my hubby walked through the door, some of it was I just didn't have the energy or desire to cook, and some of it I was bored with food. There were also weeks where I didn't write anything.
With having my son, who loves to eat, but also isn't very patient at times we found that this was not going to work. I needed to have a list of ideas, the ingredients on hand, and even more so I needed to be able to make it 30 minutes or less (emphasis on the less side if possible). So, the crockpot began to play a bigger role in our cooking. But I still wanted to have something to go to for ideas.
I began to plan the whole month out. I know, this seems like a huge thing and a task that seems daunting. Really, it was just writing in stuff we already did, putting ideas down that started off simple like crockpot chicken (then on that day I could decide what all I wanted to dump in there with it), and of course having leftover nights (where we ate what was in there or re-purposed it to create something knew. Those nights are called surprise nights. You never know what you will get, but hope its at least halfway decent).
Just because I put the idea on a specific date on the calendar, doesn't mean that is what we have to do. Though, generally it does work that way in our house. There are days that I will look on the calendar and think, "nope not going to happen, what other ideas are there". I just have to scan over the month and I feel inspired to cook and have an idea.
Another benefit of meal planning is that after I do that, I create the grocery list and we are ready to roll. It has helped to trim down some of the extra shopping trips, which has also helped improved our grocery budget.
I am trying to be intentional about other areas of my life, so why not do it with cooking. Now I just have to figure out other things my son will eat for lunch and things that make great on the go lunches. Not that mac & cheese or hot dogs is all bad, but a little variety is good too.