Monday, June 3, 2013

5 Benefits of Budgeting and Planning for Meals

Oh, hello. Remember me? I'm slowly but surely emerge from the fog of having a newborn while wrangling a three year old and not living in our own place. We've been busy around these parts...up to our ears in diapers, house-hunting, three-year-old adventures, and living the daily grind. I won't make excuses as to why I haven't been blogging (because the Lord knows no one probably even cares), and I'll do my best to get back into the swing of things.

My "contribution" to our current living situation with my parents is that I plan and prepare a majority of the meals we eat each week. This has been a good practice for me, since before we moved we basically were in limbo between the post-college-we-eat-frozen-pizza-most-nights-or-go-out phase and the responsible we're-33-years-old-and-have-children-who-need-to-eat-something-remotely-healthy phase. In my mind I had built up meal planning to be some sort of skill that took practice and was certainly a hidden knowledge of which I was lacking. Budgeting for meal planning was something I had repeatedly told my self I didn't know how to do as well.

Here's how to successfully budget and plan for meals: Get an envelope and put cash in it. Get a piece of paper and write down each day of the week and what you want to eat (don't forget your veggies). Go to the store and buy what you need with the money you have. It's really not that complicated and it's actually quite a competence-inducing activity. Some of the benefits I've observed include the following.

1. You will eat and be able to prepare a variety of foods. Meal planning has given me a way to use tried-and-true recipes and at the same time has given me the space to force myself to try new ideas. All those recipes you have pinned and waiting to be used can be put to the test. The cookbooks making your kitchen shelves look pretty while they collect dust can stop whimpering each day that goes by while they remain untouched. When you live in a small town like we currently do and the Thai, Mediterranean, and (___insert any food besides pizza and subs you like___) restaurants are non-existant, you learn how to make some pretty good ethnic dishes of your own. I'd venture to say our house is one of the best places to get Thai food in at least a 50 mile radius and I'm not kidding. Necessity is the mother of invention.

2. You will waste less food. I can't even begin to try and count the pounds of food that have spoiled and been thrown away over the years because of good intentions I had on a whim at the grocery store. When you plan for meals, you buy what you say you're going to buy and you eat what you say you're going to eat. It's that simple. We usually plan a night of leftovers as well to make sure food that was bought is eaten and doesn't go bad. If we bought too much, we eat leftovers until they are gone...if that's not enough to force realistic expectations of what to spend and make, I don't know what is. Once I got excited, went overboard, and made way too much chicken chili and we were eating it night and day for nearly a week. Lesson learned and now I know how much to make in the future.

3. You will eat healthier, more whole foods. Now this does require planning for food that is somewhat healthy, but even if you're making unhealthy meals chances are you are eating real food that is not full of preservatives and that has less calories, fat, and sodium than you would be eating at your average restaurant. Meal planning on a budget will force you to eat less pre-packaged food as well. Less fake equals just does.  

4. You will save money. Keeping a budget allows you to know exactly where your money is going. This might seem like an obvious point, but to so many clowns (myself included) in my generation this is not something we really "get." I don't know why, but we don't. Knowing how much cash you have for food and what food you'll buy means you're not flippantly spending money every day figuring out what to stuff in your face. You'll spend less money on gas making last minute trips to the store and you'll spend less on impulsive buying once you're there. You also will have groceries in your home that need to be eaten (since you planned meals around them) so you'll be less likely to eat out as well. To stick to your budget, get an envelope and put the cash in it you plan to spend...not complicated.

5. You will feel competent in the kitchen. I'm no 50s-wanna-be-housewife but I'll admit I feel a sense of competence at a home-cooked meal that I made for my loved ones with only a small amount of stress included. I think anyone would! Planning your meals on a weekly basis allows you to know what is in your fridge at all times (aside from the random Matchbox car or toy train your toddler hides there), it allows you to know what to expect for the week, and it allows you to become a better cook (see #1). All these things combined enable you to not find yourself grasping for ideas at the last minute and either a) making a hellish meal concocted of random ingredients where you're second guessing your every move (i.e. "green onions can go with syrup, right?") or b) throwing in the proverbial towel and just going out to eat because you "don't know how to do anything in the kitchen." With meal planning, you will be the master of your kitchen instead of feeling like a foreigner who doesn't belong there.

Growing up, instead of "practice makes perfect," my mom always said "practice makes better," and she's right.  If you believe that meal planning and food budgeting would be helpful for your roommates, family, or yourself, I encourage you to just start! It's not complicated. You'll learn tricks along the way for what works best for your home, but you won't get better at it if you don't do it.

Now that I've droned on and on, I'll let you go. As a parting gift I'll link you to a great menu planner/grocery list all-in-one from Real Simple. Here it is, but you don't really need it. All you need is a piece of scrap paper and something to write with. Just do it. Go forth!

1 comment:

Amy and Andrew said...

Well if those aren't five great reasons, I don't know what would be! It's true though. Discipline in this area really pays off, and I have no excuse but laziness.