Passionate About Boston
and the Moms Who Live Here

Meal Planning: The Key Ingredient to a Stress-Free Dinner

If you had asked me a few months ago, “What is your least favorite time day?” I would have quickly answered, “5:30 p.m.” See, 5:30 p.m. is when I decide I’ve had enough. It’s when I give in to TV time. It’s when I am suddenly starving. Which brings on the worst part of 5:30 p.m. — the dreaded question:

“What should we do for dinner?”

shocked

This is the “I-just-remembered-I-have-nothing-in-the-fridge, not-even-milk” face.

Just the thought of those words brings a knot to my stomach and a clammy sweat to my brow. It’s not that I don’t like cooking — I actually love it, as long as I know what I’m making.

So why is the question so traumatic? Because who wants to stress about dinner? That’s not fun. And if there is one thing I’ve learned about being a mom, it’s that you’ve got to let things be fun.

So how did I make cooking fun again? I owe it all to a girl I’ve never even met.

Her name is Liz, and she is a Godsend. I stumbled onto her blog, “The Monthly Lineup,” through acquaintances on Facebook, and she has changed my life.

Imagine with me 12 months of an online calendar, with meals listed on four of the seven days each week, hyperlinked, so when you click on the meal it takes you directly to the recipe. She gives tips for cooking and freezing meat in bulk. Not only that, but each month she lists all the ingredients for you, including spices! They are normally categorized by types of items, and some lists are even organized by where the ingredients are found in the average grocery store.

Are your eyes popping out of your head yet?

It isn’t all rainbows and glitter. I had to personalize the schedule for me and my family. So I got the Food Planner app (available for Apple and Android) and made my own calendar, based on hers. Liz doesn’t list meals for Wednesdays, Saturdays, or Sundays. My resolution for this was to always do breakfast for dinner (yum, pancakes) on Wednesday nights, which are typically busy for me. Saturdays are a special day when I mark “Out to Eat” on the calendar. I rotate through some more labor-intensive meals for Sundays.

And guess what? Since I started planning my meals, I have saved $100-200 dollars monthly on grocery bills.

Repeat: ONE HUNDRED to TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS.

That's for my trip to Target. High Rollin'.

That’s for my trip to Target. High rollin’.

But that WILL NOT HAPPEN if you shop exclusively at Stop & Shop or Star Market. Those places are big fat money pits. To make meal planning worth it, you must go to places like Wal-Mart, or my personal favorite: Market Basket. By planning out my meals four weeks out, I do one big grocery shopping trip for all the dry ingredients I’ll need for the month, plus the produce for the first week. This normally takes me one hour in the store.

ONE HOUR!

I don’t know about you, but to me that is a really fast grocery trip. Then I go to the Money Pits for weekly produce, milk, and bread.

Voila! My life became so much simpler since I started planning what we would eat for dinner, every day for four weeks. And when the four weeks come to an end, I sit down and do it all again. And the Type A Lynzi inside of me rejoices.

Is the system perfect? No. But I don’t hate 5:30 p.m. anymore.

And that, for me, is a big win.

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