We are starting off with the tutorial first today, friends! This is one that my dear friend, Heidi Goehmann, wrote about meal planning. More than a tutorial, it’s a few tips geared to help with the process. Without further ado, here’s Heidi:
Creating a meal for my family makes me simultaneously joyful and full of dread.
It’s a spiritual practice, feeding people.
Jesus fed the five thousand. He ate with his people before his arrest. He broke bread and
revealed himself to his followers on the road to Emmaus. Long before that, the Angel of the Lord sat underneath oak trees and ate with Abraham – curds, milk, and cake. This story is my favorite eating story in the Bible. It reminds me that we eat for a reason. We eat to build intimacy, to share time together, to be nourished by both food and conversation, each a gift from our dear Father.
Read Genesis 18. What details do you notice? What prevailing attitude is present for each
individual in this account? What is the place of food in the story?
How different is Abraham and Sarah’s life from mine?
At first glance, yes, very different. I don’t live in tents unless I make a conscious decision to camp for fun. But my husband occasional comes home and says, “Quick! Knead it! Make cakes!” for a colleague, neighbor, or friend. I generally run down to Hy-Vee, our grocery store, for a box mix, but have been known to craft a scone or a Star Wars waffle for my children and their friends. I’m unashamed to say that I have also laughed at God, complained about being worn out and old, and denying anything of the kind all at once. Yes, we are different, but not so different.
When you set out to meal plan you jump on the internet and quickly become overwhelmed.
There are print off menus, binders involved, and tabs for months and days. Even when we feel like, “All right. This is the system. This is going to work for me. All systems a go!” We quickly figure out that one child won’t eat a particular ingredient, this other ingredient costs too much money, your nearest Aldi is two hours away (heavy sigh), and meal prep day just got scheduled over with a music concert and small group Bible study.
I feel a little like the writer of Ecclesiastes with meal planning, “I have tried it all…There is nothing new under the sun…meaningless, meaningless…” I have tried meal planning for an entire month and laying my year out ahead of time. I thought with this method I’d be done and after one year my life would be neatly organized and dinnertime would be bliss. That didn’t work for me. I am more spontaneous than I thought, grocery ads are slightly less predictable than I thought, and I didn’t gain zeal, I lost it. I have tried cheap plans, healthy plans, Whole30 plans, day-of- the-week plans and nothing quite stuck.
So I offer you here only a few tips for what I know does work for me in getting to a good place, being less frustrated with meal planning, and more joyful about our slim but very clear abundance. You will take some and leave some. You will add your own. These things may look different next year, next month, or next week for any of us. Just like the rest of life, we all have our own systems, and enjoying the toil demands a little bit of creativity.
Heidi’s 15 tips for meal planning with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength:
Tip 1 – I reward myself every week that I go grocery shopping.
This may be a refillable soft drink to enjoy as we walk around the store. It may be that ice cream that’s on sale. It may be meeting my husband for thirty kid free minutes for a half off local brew from the bar in our grocery store. Whatever it is, I have a clear reward in my head. It’s a mental motivator to stay the task each week and write the menu, make a plan, and carry it out.
Tip 2 – I meal plan on Wednesday’s because our grocery store ad comes out that day. I meal plan around what is on sale and anything else I buy is generic ingredients. Our store brand is called, “That’s smart!” and I’m grateful that when I pick it off the shelf it affirms my thrifty ways.
Sometimes I seem a little hardcore when child one wants enchiladas, but enchilada sauce is not on sale, but I can usually skirt around what people are requesting with something close from the ad.
Tip 3 – Because the ad comes out on Wednesday, I shop on Thursdays when they have all the deals still in the store. I despise raincheck and not being able to get what’s on my list. There is no way I want to have to run back to the store to have to get something, so there’s more motivation for me to just get ‘er done.
Tip 4 – I let kids (and my husband) shout out requests for certain foods within the half hour time period I am meal planning. After that, your request is saved for another week. I love you and want to feed you what you love. Mama also ain’t got time to dilly dally while you think.
Tip 5 – I only meal plan dinners, usually six a week with one floating “make something work” night for flexibility.
Tip 6 – We make one to two soups a week to stretch the budget and always serve it with one side like crackers, a slice of pie, carrots and dip, etc. Sarah asked me what I do when it’s hot, spoken like a true Texan, and I told her…eat soup. We have air-conditioning. 😉
Tip 7 – I buy three items for breakfast each week whether bacon, yogurt, cereal, oatmeal, etc. and we stretch that out for the week.
Tip 8 – I plan two meats for lunches either from the deli, a slab of ham or chicken breast to cut up, summer sausage, etc. Our kids mostly eat bento box lunches, which is a fancy way of saying I cut up whatever we have in small chunks and fill little compartments with them. It’s easier to mask “we’re almost out of food” with small compartments of cut up goodies, than it is with sandwiches.
Tip 9 – I am an evil person and no one gets a drink in their lunches. Then, when I make them powdered gatorade in a water bottle once a week, they think I am a rockstar.
Tip 10 – I have strict price points for different items we buy. Yours will be different, but once you figure out your price point, it’s easier to stay in budget. For instance, I don’t buy deli meat that is more than $5.99 a pound or cuts of beef, chicken, or pork that is more than $1.99 a pound. This means only produce in season, including grapes, which makes me sad, but my bank account happy.
Tip 11 – I have found that to stay in the budget at our house we have to choose between carbs and produce. It is very hard for me to stay in budget with both. We might get a box of crackers, or tortilla chips each week, but if I want to buy romaine, apples, broccoli, avocado and all the good stuff, most of the packaged stuff has to go. This makes bread and crackers just as special as cookies and cake. Our kids all got a loaf of bread in their stockings at Christmas and thought it was the best gift ever.
Tip 12 – It helps to even vaguely figure out what you are going to always buy each week, such as a gallon of milk, two blocks of cheese, a head of lettuce, two bunches of bananas, etc. This just makes the mental work lighter. Keep this list on your phone where it never goes away and just add to it.
Tip 13 – I admit, I do have a binder that has our favorite family recipes in it, but only what we have made 10+ times. It’s saying something if a recipe makes it into the binder. I look at this when I can not think of what should be on the menu to save my life. Then I jump onto my Pinterest board to try one new thing most weeks to stave off cooking boredom. Cooking is a creative endeavor for me and I found that having something new to look forward to trying on a regular basis is a big piece of finding some joy in the dailyness of it.
Tip 14 – We grill something from meat and veggies to pizza once or twice a week, mostly
because that means my husband cooks and I do not. It works for us and makes for a happier marriage. Your breed of sharing the household duties and cooking may look different, but I think it helps to find a balance in most chores.
Tip 15 – I have a pretty menu chalkboard that I spent actual money on because it makes the whole task feel more beautiful.
Last, when I get overwhelmed by the constant-ness of feeding my tiny army. I remind myself of these three ingredients:
I have them permanently written on the grocery list section of my menu chalkboard. These ingredients aren’t to buy, but to hold in my soul. They remind me that I am making something more than a meal for my family. In this weekly, never-ending toil of meal planning, shopping, prepping, sauteing, baking, and serving, I am serving up something more – laughter, conversation, a time to discern, a time to grow, a time to ask questions, a time to just be together, and to welcome the Savior to our table underneath the oaks of our family tree.
That is something I don’t mind planning for.