We get so many questions over and over about meals and meal planning. While I was looking up something to answer one reader’s question about meal planning, I came across some notes I had written years ago from a class I had taken.
This statement I wrote is clear, simple and pretty much covers everything you need to know when preparing a meal.
Meal Planning 101
Meals should be planned, be regular, be on time, taste good, be nutritious, fit within your budget, smell good and be attractive.
It might help to write this statement out and keep it in your kitchen somewhere or with your coupons and meal planning things. Then, as you plan your meals, you can go quickly go over the list and see if your meal satisfies all or most of these points.
If you remember the above statement, that is all you really need to know about meal planning but I decided to add a little detail to it to give you some ideas about what that statement means.
Planned – Meal planning helps to save money and eliminates the last minute stress of wondering “What am I making tonight for dinner?!” This is the key to all meal planning and probably will save you more money than anything else. If you plan at least a week’s worth of menus. At least plan the night before or that morning what you will have.
Regular – We often know we need nutritious meals but sometimes don’t realize that having meals on a regular basis really helps our digestive system function better. That means part of good meal planning is picking a time to have dinner close to the same time each day.
Having regular meals also helps our families emotionally. We are built to like consistency in our lives, especially children. There is something comforting in knowing no matter what frustrating things happened throughout the day, when your family arrives home, there is one constant in their lives – dinner. If you don’t think this is true, try it for a week or two. Then stop doing it and see how your family reacts. Make setting a regular meal time part of your meal planning.
On time – Getting meals prepared on time can be a little tricky for new cooks. It takes a little practice but you can learn to do it. Start preparing the food that will take the longest to cook first. Then work on the next longest and so on. Also, do as much ahead of time as possible. This goes for everyone. Brand new cooks may want to set the table long before even beginning the meal because it is one less thing to deal with but later, with practice, you can usually set the table while you are waiting for something to cook on the stove. With practice, you will also get to the point where you can toss a salad while you are waiting for the potatoes to cook but this all comes with time. While you are learning, keep your meals simple and composed of just a few easy dishes.
Taste Good – Pick foods your family likes and learn to cook them. I know this can be a meal planning challenge for some of us. Some people have a harder time learning to cook than others in the same way that some are better at gardening or sewing but you really need to try the best you can to learn some basics.
It may take a little work but you need to find foods that taste good. You may have to try different brands and varieties of the food. This may mean learning things like being fresh doesn’t always mean something tastes better. Most of the time I can’t tell any difference when I use frozen or fresh broccoli in my cooked foods but I can tell a difference between the brands of frozen broccoli I buy. To save money, use frozen foods if you can’t tell a difference and use the savings to buy fresh foods where you really can tell a difference.
Be nutritious – I have touched on this a lot in other articles but basically this means you need to learn about nutrients and what your family needs. Study. We grab anything that has organic or healthy written on the label but many of us couldn’t tell you what main foods are more rich in iron or vitamin B. If you are that concerned about your family’s health and insist that you must eat organic, at least learn how many calories and what nutrients are in the food. Read a book or do some research on the Internet. Don’t just read labels.
Fit your budget – This is simple. You may want to have steak for dinner but your budget only allows chicken, so chicken it is. Staying within your budget when meal planning will help you avoid overspending.
Smell Good – You truly use all of your senses when you eat. If your family can’t get the food past their noses, it won’t make it into their mouths. Also, food smells have a strong impact on people emotionally, especially when the smells are connected with home and family. Consider how often you hear an adult talk about memories of home and half of the time they mention some smell they remember.
Be Attractive – Like I mentioned above, we use all of our senses. If the meal doesn’t look good or looks “gross”, they won’t eat it. This should be an important consideration in your meal planning. Don’t forget to use lots of different colored food. Not only does this help with eye appeal but it also is an easy way to know you are giving your family a more nutritionally balanced meal. Many different colors means well balanced. Don’t forget to use different shapes and textures of food, too.
Meal planning is one of those jobs we tend to let go because we don’t consider them as important or as pressing as other things– kind of like folding clothes and putting them away. We can get them washed and dried but not folded and put away. But doing these things and following through with them can really make our lives easier and get rid of a lot of stress and always saves us money.
Rethink some things in your life that you are letting slide including your meal planning. You might be surprised a what a difference changing a few things will make.
Photo By: Dyanna