Tell me if this happens at your house too… it’s 5:30 pm and you’re about to leave the kid’s soccer game when those sweet little angels come up and ask you… “Mom, what are we having for dinner?”
You’ve been a zillion places already today, done several loads of laundry, taught multiple grades school and this is the first time you’ve even thought about what you’re going to eat tonight…plus, now that you think about it, you’re starving too!
As you head home and take your exit off the highway, you see the blaring fast food restaurant signs, tempting you to pull in, just for tonight.
And even if you don’t give in to the temptation of not having to cook dinner tonight, when you get home and unload the car and everyone starts the bathing process… it’s hard not to justify ordering pizza or Chinese takeout.
I get it. I know it’s really hard to resist. Especially when you’re thinking with your stomach.
But let me share with you from a recent past of eating out too much and realizing it could easily be costing our family $7,000: dinner doesn’t have to be hard!
I spoke about this topic on my Savings Segment on Fox. Watch the replay video here:
So, your right, planning is the key. But I also know that you need a super simple meal planning method that takes all the stress outta preparing dinner. One that’s SO stinking easy, it rivals stopping off for fast-food or figuring out your login for placing an online order for Papa John’s Pizza.
But first, let me tell you that truthfully, there’s nothing really wrong with eating fast food. I mean, within reason, of course. It’s obviously not the healthiest choice for you, and no one is proud to find rock-hard french fries buried in between the seats of their mini-van. But if you enjoy an occasional trip to Chick-fil-A or Panera, I am not going to shame you one bit!
Fast food becomes a problem when it becomes the quick fix every weeknight.
It’s also a problem when you’re trying to save money (see note about $7,000).
And then it’s also a problem when you’re trying to eat healthier.
And fast food is definitely a problem when you’ve got a fridge full of food going rotten, but you’d rather drive-thru because it’s faster.
I’ll be honest, not long ago we struggled to avoid the fast food line too. The convenience made it really hard to resist when you’re hungry. But then I discovered a simple plan that got me out of the fast food line, helped me save money AND eat healthier at the same time!
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These four meal-plan options will help make sure you’re always prepared for dinner each night. Having a few stress-free meal plan options was the key to changing our future dinner stress and is currently helping us save so much money (which could be upwards of $7,000 for some!).
In fact, during the month of July we only ate out at a restaurant ONE TIME (and that was for a birthday celebration), that’s a HUGE victory for me, friend! Isn’t it time for YOU to stop eating out and not dread making dinner, too?
Here are four simple meal planning methods that have worked to save my sanity and keep my family eating at home!
Reverse Meal Planning
Reverse meal planning is what I do when I’m in coupon mode every week. This is when you shop first buying the best deals and then come home to plan a meal around the ingredients you have in your pantry.
This also works when you want to use up the ingredients in your pantry or freezer to save some extra money. While reverse meal planning will definitely save you money, it can be challenging because the meals take longer to choose.
You will need to research which ingredients can be used in certain recipes. If you choose this meal planning method, just plan about 2 hours of time on the weekends to plan out what meals your going to eat that week.
Since you already have the food on hand, and you have made a decision which days you are going to eat it, when you are tempted to stop off at that drive-thru, you’ll remember the plan you made and that’ll keep you on track!
Pro-Tip: Write what you plan to eat right in your planner or electric calendar and hang it on the refrigerator so everyone in the family is on the same page and knows what’s for dinner each night! Knowledge is half the battle. Go, Team!
Freezer Cooking Meals
Freezer cooking is a really good option for the organized personality that likes to get it all the meals cooked at once and then you can just heat them up as the week goes on.
This was the first successful meal plan option I did.
The freezer meals can be heated up quickly on the stove or oven, or slow cooked in a crockpot.
All the prep is done ahead during a day over the weekend, so you can create a whole week (or even a month) of meals in one fell swoop.
You can even use items from your pantry to reverse engineer your freezer meals to include sale items. The nice thing is that most freezer meals take about an hour to make for the entire week and then very little time to cook when you go to eat them.
Again, when you are about to leave the sports field, you know dinner is only gonna be about 20 mins when you get home because you only need to heat something up.
Pro-Tip: Have one of your children help when you make the meals over the weekend, they will feel “ownership” over the meals and be excited to eat them. Then, they’ll see their meal on the fridge, further helping to push you away from that drive-thru lane!
Slow Cooker Meals
Slow cooker meals are another option to have something hot and ready for dinner.
You put all the ingredients in the crockpot before you start your day in the morning.
Turn that bad-boy on and dinner’s ready when you get home at night. There are zillions of easy slow cooker recipes on the internet.
I found a meal planning service from a fellow blogger, Sarah Robinson of SideTrackedSarah, that does all the meal planning for you, and provides the shopping lists also, so all you have to do is buy the ingredients and make sure your crockpot is clean each morning.
By spending 10 minutes in the morning, you’ll have the food in the crock cooking and then when everyone is hungry from a long day the food is already ready to go!
I really had no idea that so many different types of meals could be made in a crockpot. It’s not just for soups and chili. We now make meatloaf, casseroles, lasagnas and even desserts too!
I broke down the actual time I spend using SideTrackedSarah’s meal plans once a week to prepare the 6 meals she sends you each Friday morning and it only took us 30 minutes. When you break that down across 6 meals, it equals 5 minutes per meal. Even if you live right around the corner from Taco Bell or McDonald’s, there’s no way you can get in and out in five minutes. It’s simply not possible. Or, you can set them up each day and it will still only take you 10 minutes. Much better than the 1 hour it typically takes to prepare a meal when everyone is already starving!
The SideTrackedSarah Meal Plan service costs a little less than $2 per week. I’ve found that it saves me 2 HOURS of meal planning work with coordinating the recipes and creating my shopping list. I know my time is well worth $2 per hour!
Thematic Meal Planning
The last super simple way to meal plan is to create a “theme” night to take the “planning part” out of the equation. This is where the Taco Tuesday concept comes in!
And there are two basic ways to do this. The first way is to assign a “type” of meal each day of the week, such as Burger Mondays, Taco Tuesday, Crockpot Wednesday, Pizza Friday and Subs on Saturday!
The second way is to identify what focus you want each night of the week, so Monday is ground beef, Tuesday is chicken, Wednesday is pork, Thursday is tofu (hey, I grew up a vegetarian), Friday is chicken again and Saturday is steak night 🙂
The trick to thematic planning is to makes sure you choose varying things each week. For example, if you have Italian every Friday then you’ll get bored really quick if you eat pizza every single week, mix it up with meatballs & pasta one week, lasagna the following week, Alfredo the next and then pizza to end the month.
BONUS: Less Mess In The Kitchen
The one complaint my children always have is cleaning up after dinner. When you only use your crockpot, you are only dirtying one pot. Only one pot! We eat on paper plates (ask me to tell you about my cost-benefit analysis one day) so we seriously have virtually nothing to clean up. We used to use our dishwasher twice a day (homeschoolers who are home all day, you know) and now we only use it once. Imagine no more dirty pots and pans on weeknights?! Plus your sink and stove will stay clean too.
It is so much tougher to say no to eating out when you don’t have an easy, simple dinner solution in mind (or already cooking at home). With just a little tiny bit of pre-planning (or the meal plans from SideTrackedSarah) you’ll have an easy answer for your kids when you on your way home from your children’s sports event. And the best part is that you can have it on the table in less time than you could wait in the drive-thru line at McD’s!