When I started having kids, it happened fast. Before I knew it, I had 3 under 3. It was a crazy, messy, beautiful time. I was staying home full time with the three kids and that meant the budgeting of meals and meal prep was largely left to me. I hated bringing the kids to the store with me. I had to focus so much on parenting in the store there was not much room left in my brain to shop, even with a list. I would end up leaving the store overwhelmed and missing half my items. With each kid it became harder and harder, not to mention very little room actually left in the cart for groceries. I was taking several trips a week to the store, which is neither efficient or fun. Since we were a one income family, eating at home was essential to staying on budget. It was in this season I began meal prepping.
I can say with honesty, I did not research or even hear of meal prepping before I started using it weekly. As the old quote goes, “necessity is the mother of invention.” It was absolutely essential we had groceries and needed items for the week and also absolutely essential I did not lose my mind in the process. It was the out of desperation and such a strong desire to NOT bring kids to the grocery that this became almost a religious routine of mine each and every week.
When I started meal prepping there was no Shipt, online ordering of food, Wal-mart pick up or anything similar.
We are talking more than a decade ago, so much has changed to make this easier for families. There was, however, the internet and google. I began by googling recipes during nap-time. I would choose five to make for the week and write out a lengthy list of everything I would need to make the meals. I would then go around the house and add other essential weekly items, toilet paper, diapers, laundry soap and the like. I would do the shopping on Saturday or Sunday when my husband was home to watch the kids. I looked forward to these trips, they were my weekly break. I would stop at PJ’s, grab a coffee, then head to Wal-mart and leisurely go about my shopping. My husband would joke that with each kid we added, I also added time to my weekly grocery trip ( this was probably accurate, add 30 mins per kid!). I was strict about my routine and if we ran out of something during the week, it had to wait, unless it was diapers or milk. You cannot have a baby/toddler household without diapers or milk, so my husband would pick that up on his way home.
Things have changed, my kids are older now and all in school. The one thing that has not changed is meal prepping.The kids may be older but life has not slowed down. Over the years I discovered meal prep saves me stress. For me, it frees mental space and energy. I know exactly what I am cooking every night of the week, I have all the ingredients ready. Even on a day where nothing goes as planned, I know that we have something available for dinner. A little bit of planning ahead makes the week run smoother. I am not stressing about what will be for dinner and when will I have time to run to the grocery. It also helps us to stay on budget, eating out for a family of 5 can really dip into the funds.
These days, I utilize the ease of grocery delivery and pick up.
I love Wal-mart pick up and use the grocery app on my smart phone. I still lay out my menu ahead of time and simply add all the necessary ingredients to my “cart”. I can also see how much I am spending before getting to checkout, stick to my budget, and make adjustments as necessary. The Wal-Mart pickup also has limited impulse buys that I was prone to when shopping in the stores, win-win. I typically meal prep on Friday, order my groceries and pick up on Saturday or Sunday and I am ready to go for the week.
Meal prepping is going to look different for each family, you have to find what works for yours. A break down for us is as follows:
I choose five meals a week to cook/prepare for my family. Five meals will give us enough for lunch leftovers and maybe one night of leftovers for dinner. We typically eat out at least once a week, usually on the weekend, so that makes all seven nights accounted for. All five of us eat breakfast at home everyday, and my three kids bring lunch to school everyday as well. Therefore my meal prep will always be five dinners and breakfast and lunch items for seven days a week. I typically spend around $150-$160 a week on groceries, including household items and incidentals. I cannot seem to get it less than that, no matter how hard I try, it costs about $160 to feed us all our meals for a week. When I take that number and divide it by 7 (days a week) that is $22 dollars a day, not bad. Considering one meal out will cost us at least $45.00 (on the cheap end).
A typical menu for us will look like:
Meal 1: Turkey Burgers with Hawaiian Buns, Corn on the Cob, Green beans.
Meal 2: Insta Pot Roast with Carrots, Mashed Potatoes and Peas
Meal 3: Coconut Shrimp with Cauliflower Rice and Veggie
Meal 4: Orange Chicken with Brown Rice and Edamame
Meal 5: Baked Eggplant Parmesan, Zoodles, Brussel Sprouts with Grape tomatoes, Garlic Bread.
Again, this is going to look different for everyone. Where you like to shop and how much you spend is based on your personal preferences, dietary needs, restrictions and budget. The one thing I hope families can take away is, no matter where you shop, a little planning ahead will save a lot of time and stress for any family in any stage of life.
I have some friends who not only plan out their meals weekly, but cook most of them on the weekends as well. This is fantastic, I do this sometimes, but not often. I take my weekends easy and enjoy the break. As long as I have the menu and ingredients I need, whipping up dinner in the evenings does not take me very long. Of course things come up and there is room for flexibility. If we end up going to a friend’s for dinner or eating out unexpectedly, I throw the meat in the freezer and use it for the next week, not a big deal. There is a learning curve and it can take a little getting used to, but it becomes habit soon enough and I think you will enjoy the freedom it provides.