I love to cook. Even if I’m running around like a crazy person trying not to burn dinner, there’s something inherently therapeutic about taking the individual pieces from my fridge and turning them into a tasty, if not gourmet, meal.
What I really don’t love, though, is trying to cook two or three meals a day while I’m keeping up with my kid and my husband, working and desperately hoping that I’m not forgetting about gymnastics or some other extracurricular event that probably should be on my calendar but inevitably isn’t. That leads to me pulling my hair out, burning dinner and ordering pizza. At least it did, until I discovered meal-planning.
Now, we all know what meal-planning is and why it’s so life-changing. I’m not going to sit here and tell you how to meal plan for your family — there’s thousands of pages out there like that already, and if I’m being honest, I’m probably not adding anything new to them.
Instead, I’m going to tell you how meal-planning made me a better mom — and maybe it will convince you that meal-planning is the right thing for you, too.
How Meal Planning Can Make you a Better Mom
My normal schedule before meal-planning looked something like this:
6 a.m. — Wake up. Poke, prod and cajole my husband until he got out of bed, because he’d never get up on his own. Make tea.
6:30 a.m. — Drink tea. Maybe bathe.
7 a.m. — Wake up my threenager. Get her started on her morning routines. Feed her toaster waffles or peanut butter toast. Get husband out of the house, probably after feeding him the same thing.
7:30 a.m. — Hit the road. Drop child off at child care.
8:30 a.m. — Work.
Noon — Eat lunch – likely frozen meal.
5:30 p.m. — Work is over. Time to pick up the kid from care, where hopefully she had a snack.
6:30 p.m. — Try to cook dinner from the meat I forgot to take out to defrost. Get frustrated and throw a box of pasta on the stove. Mix it with some pasta sauce and call it a day.
Now, we didn’t have pasta every day, but I’m pretty sure if I kept eating pasta multiple times per week, I was going to turn into a plump rigatoni myself!
Between my carb-heavy diet and all the processed food I was eating, I felt terrible — and that spread to my child and husband as well. We were tired and we didn’t want to do anything, so every family outing turned into us eating pizza and wings while watching the latest Netflix original. Frankly, it was getting too much and needed to change.
I started looking into easy, healthy half-hour dinners I could throw together in the small window of time between when I got home and when I collapsed into bed. I was flustered and ready to give up and look for a lifetime membership at my local pizza place when I stumbled onto the idea of meal-planning.
Meal Planning – Not as Easy as It Looks!
I’ll be the first to admit that my initial attempts at meal-planning were epic failures. I’d sit down and try to plan out what I was going to make for the week and spend an hour staring at a blank page before I was ready to give up and put the pizza place back on speed dial. Once I’d finally come up with a plan for the week, I had to contend with picky eaters, weird schedules and unfamiliar recipes.
A few tricks that kept me going:
- Using a template for meal plans became my very best friend. Blank templates are useful once you already have the basics down, but if you’re just getting started, templates that have meal suggestions or grocery lists are a godsend.
- I started out trying to do all my prep and cooking on the night of a meal, but I’ve found over time that there’s a lot of stuff I can do ahead of time. All my grains, for example, can be prepped at once on a free weekend day and used all week. Precook all your rice and beans so they’re ready when you need them.
- Don’t Buy Frozen or Ready to Eat Meals. They’re bad for you, full of sodium and preservatives, and don’t fill you up anyway. Instead, plan for healthier meals. If you eat better, you’ll start feeling better.
A Change, Just In Time
Dinnertime at my house meant one thing — the kid and the husband knew to avoid the kitchen because trying to cook would turn Mommy into a raving madwoman. Meal planning and even the most basic prep helped to change that.
My daughter loves helping me cook dinner now. She’s no longer afraid to enter the kitchen when I’m cooking — instead, she dives in head first and participates in making dinner.
I’ve found more time to work out, play with my kid and even enjoy my hobbies. Spending a couple of hours on a weekend doing prep for the week helps reduce my stress levels tremendously.
We’re happier, we’re healthier and we’re more involved in each other’s lives. Meal-planning took away one of the biggest stressors — trying to pull together a healthy and tasty meal at the last minute. If you haven’t tried it already, what are you waiting for? Pick a template and try it for a month or so. You might be amazed at the difference!
Jennifer Landis is the editor of the parenting and healthy living site, Mindfulness Mama. She is also a freelance writer who has articles published on sites like The Mighty, The Huffington Post, Finer Minds, and Elite Daily.
You can get in touch with her at [email protected]