A couple Sundays ago, my wife and I sat across from each other at brunch discussing the upcoming week and what nights we'd both be home for dinner. We were looking at the calendars on our phones, and I had papers strewn on the table with previous weeks' meal plans and recipes. The waiter came over - a friendly young guy with a wild mop of sandy blond hair.
"Looks like you got some work here," he said.
"We're meal planning," I told him.
"Meal planning??" He looked at me, incredulous and amused. He tilted his head and asked again. "Meal planning?"
I laughed and told him it makes things a lot easier.
He raised his eyebrows, shrugged his shoulders, and smiled at me before asking if we were ready to order.
When he left the table, Navah and I looked at each other and nodded.
"We're old," I said.
Old our not, my disorganized meal planning has been really good for us.
Since I started the process a little over 2 months ago, I have created a weekly meal plan six times. So I've missed a couple weeks - for no real reason other than my level of disorganization keeping me from using even a meal planning process designed for disorganized people.
Also, developing a habit takes a bit of time. The first few weeks were the most difficult, the ones where I was most likely to remember the whole idea of meal planning at 9:30 on Sunday night.
But for those 6 weeks that I planned our meals, there were three major benefits:
1. We ate healthier food.
When I'm not meal planning, my 5:00 pm self is making the dinner decisions. She's hungry and tired, and all she wants are some carbs and a hunk of cheese. Not inherently horrible, but also not great for many nights in a row. By planning out our meals, I ensured (with relatively little effort) that we would consume some vegetables and a little protein most nights.
Ironically, having a list of "in rotation" easy meals has also diversified our dinners. I started with a list of 12 meals that I could make without a recipe. I now have 20 meals on the list, some of which require a quick look at a recipe but are still very simple and familiar. With a growing list of meals to choose from, I'm more apt to plan a week with some variety as opposed to the frequent carb and cheese meals we were having before.
2. We took fewer trips to the grocery store.
Hallelujah! I stopped going to the grocery store 3 or 4 times a week. On the weeks that I meal planned, I put my plan and list together on Saturday or Sunday morning and did the grocery shopping on Sunday afternoon. Then no more grocery store until the next Sunday! There were a couple times that one of us had to stop to pick up something specific that didn't make it into my meal plan (aka, toilet paper or some other staple), but even so, it drastically reduced the amount of time I spend shopping.
3. I was less stressed out.
This is, perhaps, directly related to #2 above. Fewer trips to the store meant I had more time at home and a more relaxed cooking experience. I did not come home and wander back and forth between the refrigerator and the pantry trying to decide what to make for dinner, a process that I hate. Instead, I knew exactly what was on the plan, and I knew I had the ingredients for it. My evenings were much more pleasant. Weeknight grocery shopping is the pits (at least for me).
These three things are enough to keep me going with my meal planning, but you might have noticed one glaring omission from the benefits list.
We didn't save money.
I thought we would. Each week we did the meal planning, I felt like we were spending less. But when I went back to our bank account and checked the numbers, I was wrong. We spent almost exactly the same amount on groceries in the last 2 months that we did in the 2 months before. Since I did have a bit of a financial motive for the meal planning, I was disappointed by this information.
I haven't been keeping good enough records to figure out whether there's something specific that's keeping our grocery bills high, but I'm going to keep monitoring it.
That being said, I'm sold on my disorganized cook's meal planning.
And I don't even care if it means I'm old.
Old and well-fed?
I'll take it.
p.s. Taco salad with DIY taco bowls.
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