Do you remember those pre-kid days when dinner was incredibly easy? It used to be such a last-minute decision for us. I’d stop at the grocery store on the way home from work, take my time browsing the aisles for ingredients that went into a new and complicated recipes, and then meander down the wine aisle before calmly making my way to the register. The time of day didn’t matter; spiciness didn’t matter. Then I’d drive home in my quiet, tiny car, and take my time preparing the meal. I had never heard of meal planning before.
Those were the good old days. Now grocery shopping is a family event (rushed many times) with a precise grocery list. Our meals are no longer the spiciest I can make, but more pleasing for younger tastebuds. And cooking the meal is no longer the peaceful experience, but more like warfare because at least one child gets upset at not being picked up. Sorry darlin’, but Momma’s not going to hold you and chop veggies at the same time!
I have recently become a huge fan of meal planning. I sit down at the end of the week with my planner and a pretty pen, and I plan out our meals for the next week. Then I know exactly what I need to add to our grocery list before we go shopping Sunday morning. If I know what to expect during the week, I know what nights I need to make a quick dinner, what nights I might have more time (when Hubs will be home to help with the kids), and what nights to not even bother with cooking.
Meal planning is a huge help when it comes to budgeting and stress-relief. I love that we’re not wasting money on food we didn’t use, and I no longer have that 5pm panic of trying to figure out what to cook while I’ve got cranky toddlers running around my legs.
However, just like with all planning, things can go awry. Hubs can work late and not be home to wrangle the circus on a night when I planned a more intensive cooking session, or sometimes we’re in the mood for something other than what’s written in my planner. And because I’m a little OCD, I hate making corrections in my planner. It’s not a huge deal, but I did come up with an easy solution: now I do adjustable meal planning.
How Adjustable Meal Planning Works
- At the end of the week I still sit down and plan my dinners for the week. I pick 7 dinners, and instead of writing them on the day in my planner, I write them on a small sticky note. (After all, pretty pens & sticky notes are two of the must-have planner accessories!) Then I put the sticky note on the day I think we might have that dinner.
- When life gets in the way of meal planning, I simply re-arrange the sticky notes accordingly. No more scratching things out and trying to keep track of what meal was skipped.
- Another option is to keep your selected meals in the notes section of your week. As you use the meals, move the sticky note over to the day. Then you have a clear view of what meals you have to choose from as the week progresses.
- When the week is over, you have two options for the used sticky notes: you can leave them on the days and just move on to the next week with new sticky notes. Or you can keep a blank paper (I’d recommend something heavier like card stock) in your planner to store the stickies as meal ideas. Then when you go to do your weekly meal planning you’ve got a bank of ideas to choose from. If you’re nostalgic or want to keep track of dinners for dieting purposes, simply record them with ink in your planner as you take off the sticky note.
- You can have different sets of stickies, one for main dishes and another for sides. Just store them in columns on your bank page. Feel free to make it prettier and color code it by using different colored sticky notes for each, or different colored pens.
- Get creative. It might be difficult to find sticky notes that fit in the exact shape and size of your planner squares. So trim them down to fit however you need them.
- Not a planner addict? No worries! This can still work for you! Instead of keeping your meal plan stickies in your planner, keep a weekly calendar on the fridge.
Since I started using this system, I stress a lot less about dinner. I have a plan, but I can still go with the flow if something comes up. It keeps the kids happier if I’m spending less time cooking, and I can plan healthier meals for all of us. I love this because I can have all the benefits of meal planning with the added bonus of flexibility.