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Meal planning and meal prep have always been my mortal enemy. It’s not because I don’t like the idea of having everything planned and organized for my week or because I don’t like leftovers. But rather, the actual planning and preparation that stresses me out. But instead of going another year of having the what-would-you-like-for-dinner conversation 30 minutes before our child needs to eat and then panicking and having something not-super-healthy, we’re giving it a go.
In the first week back to work, I prepped a schedule of meals, picked up all the groceries we’d need on Sunday morning, and was pumped about the days to come. Immediately, I found that something as small as meal planning made me excited for a Monday morning and ready for a busy week because it was one less thing I’d have to worry about.
By no means was I strict or calculated with my planning, but there were a few things I did to make an agenda filled with meals.
I spent about an hour reading through some of my cookbooks, scrolling through all of the food pins I’d saved on Pinterest in months past, and took a look at the level of difficulty and the cost of the groceries needed for each recipe that caught my eye. If the meal could go in my slow-cooker, I had a majority of the ingredients aside from fruits and vegetables, and they wouldn’t take a ton of time to prep or cook, they made the shortlist.
Once I had some ideas for what types of meals would work and what kind of grocery list I’d be looking at, I made the final decision based on our schedule for that week.
I knew that we’d both be home Monday but probably wouldn’t want to cook because it’s the first day back to work, that I had soccer Tuesday evening and my husband had coaching, that I had the dentist and my husband had volleyball Wednesday evening, that we’d both be home Thursday evening and that it would just be my daughter and I Friday night. Weekends were a free for all because we never typically know our plans until the day of, but I did keep a couple of ideas on the back burner that I could push forward to the next week, or that we could indulge in on Saturday and Sunday.
I wrote down all of the meals and assigned them to their dates and stuck them on the fridge. This way, both my husband and I knew what we’d be having for dinner, and my daughter could pretend she knew how to read and enjoy the process of how organized her family is (lol).
Always consider a backup plan. Before the week started, I also bought some easy meals – like a frozen lasagna or boxes of Kraft Dinner – just in case something changed or there was a night that didn’t go exactly as planned.
I found this recipe in a slow-cooker magazine I was gifted for Christmas. It had few ingredients, was low cost and wasn’t going to take much time to prepare. On Sunday evening, I set everything next to the slow-cooker so on Monday morning before work, I could toss everything into the slow-cooker. My Masterchef ass messed up the recipe almost immediately by tripling the garlic. My house erupted in the scent, my nostrils were burning, and I knew I had made the ultimate mistake. Had it been later than 6:30 in the morning I may have forgiven myself. But alas, I, unfortunately, had to start over and get rid of batch one. The second batch smelled amazing and I couldn’t wait for the end of the day to arrive.
Time to make: I did it twice, so too long. But for you, probably 5 minutes of prep and 4-6 hours in the slow-cooker.
Tasty: So good.
Kid-approved: Not by my child, but she is v picky
The homemade pizza idea came to mind right away because I knew it would just be my daughter and I making dinner that night and I wanted to choose an easy, quick meal that I’d be able to include her in. I know she loves cheese and that she would be pumped to do anything that involved her standing in her toddler tower. We bought pre-made pizza dough, pizza sauce, canned pineapple and a small amount of ham from the deli. It was affordable and fun! Also, it tasted so much better than a frozen or takeout pizza. 10/10 would recommend.
Time to make: 10 minutes prep (double that if your toddler is putting on one shred of cheese at a time)
Leftovers: We made two pizzas so that we would have enough for lunch the following day
Kid-approved: Duh. It’s pizza.
Servings: I eat a lot of pizza so hard to say the average, but let’s go with 8 (two pizzas)
This is one of my favourite meals to make, and it’s so unbelievably easy, good and filling. Not to mention, you have enough leftovers for a full week, which is amazing for lunches. We have had this meal before, so I knew that it was a win. I decided I didn’t want too much risk in our first full week of meal planning just in case a recipe turned out to be a flub, which happens a lot if you use Pinterest. Another slow-cooker option, but silly me forgot to prep her vegetables the night before, which has the opposite effect of the “less-work” meal planning, but it still worked out in the end, even though the onion made me cry. This ended up being the PERFECT – and I cannot stress this enough – perfect night for a slow-cooker meal. It was a snowstorm, very cold, and I had just finished a dentist appointment, so when I got home, the smell made it feel like I was being greeted by a warm blanket and a hot drink. Check out the recipe linked here.
Time to make: 15 minutes of prep, 6-8 hours in slow-cooker
Tasty: So bomb
Leftovers: Enough for a week!
Kid-approved: God I hope one day
I know you’re looking at this and thinking, seriously? The avocado toast was your big “planned event” for a Thursday night that both you and your husband were home for once? False. The original plan was to make green beans and salmon, but things changed when we didn’t get more than four hours of sleep the previous night, and we both had exceptionally long workdays. By dinner time I was left wishing I had prepped another slow-cooker meal and I honestly wasn’t interested in slaving over a meal my child would deem “disgusting” with one simple face. So, instead, we opted for a simple but delicious backup plan meal and called it a night.
Time to make: 10 minutes
Tasty: A household favourite
Leftovers: Not a lick
Kid-approved: Surprisingly, yes
One of mine and my husbands’ go-to meals when we used to eat out on the regular was Vietnamese food. One day I actually looked into how much it would cost to make the meal I was paying $13.25 for once a week and it turned out I could make it at home for so much less I was SHOOK. Price margins on food are probably the wildest controversy of all time. From that day, I have been attempting to perfect our favourite meal at home, and we continue to eat the deliciousness for a fraction of the cost. It doesn’t take a ton of time to make, and it’s easy to customize person to person if you aren’t sold on whatever your partner loves. All you need is some vermicelli noodles, vegetables of your choice, hoisin, hot sauce, peanuts, and spring rolls.
Time to make: 20 minutes
Tasty: Amazing with a capital A!
Leftovers: Sometimes (but not very good the next day to be honest)
Kid-approved: She loves spring rolls, so sure?
As someone who has a child that seemingly hates everything that I love, sometimes you need a go-to meal that comes in handy when you’re in a rush or aren’t down to play c’mon-I-swear-it’s-really-good. In our house, that meal is 3-ingredient pancakes. Not only are they quick to make, but they also are the only way I can get my child to eat egg, so we’ll call it a win.
All you do it mash one banana, mix in one egg and add a small amount of flour to get the right consistency. From there, grab a tablespoon and fry them up into tiny and delicious kiddo-made pancakes. This recipe makes anywhere from 8-10 pancakes and they are good in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Well, if you couldn’t already assume this conclusion based off of the average cost-per-serving, I’m not sure anything else I have to say will change your mind. But, I’ll try. The five meals we made cost less than we would spend on one date night out on the weekend. Not only that, but three of the recipes we made were able to feed us lunch for the remainder of the week, saving us a ton more money. The only additional expenses we had each day were homemade breakfast and homemade coffee, which are extremely cheap when you avoid takeout.
Sure, it’s easy to say that we do this all the time and that we never opt for takeout, but that’s not the case. The real reason I love meal planning is that it makes our take-out nights or weekend outings seem more justifiable when we were responsible for our expenses throughout the week.
One full day of planning, preparing the list and grocery shopping, resulted in less money spent, fewer hairs pulled and a lot more relaxing in the evenings. It’s definitely not for everyone (although it totally could be), but it’s something I’m excited to continue throughout the year, and see how big of a difference it has on our budget overall.
What are some of your favourite go-to family meals?! Let me know in the comments!
Oh no, you missed the live webinar! But, good news: Mixed Up Money is pleased to share a resource for anyone planning for a future child or family.
Mixed Up Money is pleased to share a free resource for anyone looking to cut back on non-essential spending. My most-requested product is these monthly calendars to share on your Instagram story, use as a phone background, or print off to track your spending habits.