Meal Planning SOLVED!
I am the worlds biggest meal-planning loser.
I have read for many years that meal planning is the best way to eat healthier, reduce stress around meal planning and meal time, and reduce food waste. It appeals to me on so many levels and I have honestly attempted so many times to get into the habit, but no matter how many different methods of meal planning I tried I could never stick to one. I easily fell back into the habit of day-to-day last minute panic fueled by anxiety, which included my grocery store avoidance strategy. Daily I’d stare at a full fridge of mixed ingredients which made me even more confused about what to cook for my family.
Does any part of this sound familiar to you?
I don’t make good last minute decisions around food, or otherwise. When our door bell rings at lunch time and those three hungry mouths walk through the door, I better know beforehand what’s on the menu. Meal planning is, of course, the ultimate solution! But why is meal planning so difficult for me to stick with?
One day I sat down to try and get to the bottom of my meal planning issue. Maybe it goes deeper than just the meal planning thing, I reasoned. And so I set out to explore my passive aggressive meal-planning sabotage behavior and here’s what I have discovered.
For those of you who know me, you know that we’ve already made great progress in slowing down as a family and living a more intentional life. I’m really proud of our home—it is truly looking great. We are living only with the things that we need, things that are useful, or things we just plain love—for the most part. And that’s good enough for me.
The next step in our journey is tackling the little every day stresses that make me want to sell up everything and buy that camper van and live that nomadic life. Meal planning, for me, has been an every day stress for years. But where could I fit it in? We have such a full weekly schedule and there are few things we could cut out. There are three kids with various interests, a husband who works full time who wishes he had more time for his own hobbies, and my own activities and interests. Add to that the all important family time and we’re pretty much full up.
I can so relate to Brooke McAlary’s book “Slow” where she refers to Bele Mastermend’s sponge idea. The analogy she makes is that our busy minds can become like a saturated sponge. If we have too much going on, just one extra thing is like a drop of water too much—both the mind and sponge become useless. At times I feel like my own sponge is fully saturated.
So during one of my mini meltdowns, sorry I mean, frustration sessions, where I felt yet again paralyzed and further from where I wanted to be in life, I gave this meal planning thing one long hard think. I stopped myself in my tracks and thought, how can I make this work? Just the simple act of meal planning could really reduce the stress in my life.
So I took my own advice that I often give my kids: “don’t look for the problem look for the solution.” And I so I set off to do just that.
The idea of the weekly Family Meeting was (re)born.
I had read about the idea of having weekly family meetings many times and it did seem like such a sensible thing to do. However, the first time we tried we went about it without a plan, direction, or purpose and so (no surprise) it didn’t really work. However, I was willing to give it another shot. My kids are a bit older and all have diverse schedules, so I felt like it could be the right time to try it again. Spoiler: I was right!!!!
What does our family meeting look like?
We chose Sunday evenings because everyone is home and already mentally preparing for the week ahead. We decided to hold our family meeting after dinner while everyone was still around the table. We keep the meeting short, simple, and stick to specific action items.
What do we talk about?
1. We sync our calendars.
This way everyone knows where they have to be (and where everyone else has to be) for the week ahead.
2. We meal plan.
Yay! Now it’s not just me having to do it. With the help of my family we figure out our meals for the week and I write two shopping lists for two separate grocery trips (one for Monday and one for Friday) . And then I put those meals on my homemade menu board for the week ahead.
3. We check supplies.
This is a great time to double check if anyone else needs other stuff to be bought during the week like printing ink or school supplies, for example.
4. We discuss anything else that we didn’t have time to chat about during the week.
For example, if during the week one of the kids comes to me because they want to change one of their chores, or wants some other special thing to happen, I tell them to raise it at the family meeting. This works for us on three levels. First, it helps them to prioritize emergencies vs. special requests. Secondly, I can avoid having to make decisions on the spot by myself (which I believe is their strategy sometimes!). And finally, and perhaps most importantly, they like it because they will have our full attention on their issue.
As with everything I do, improving our family life is a constant goal for me and I will often experiment to find better ways to do things. While this family meeting strategy is working well for us now, things can change so I always keep an open mind in case I find a new way to keep us on track. I’m happy to report that so far, I love how meal planning has reduced my stress because it is now a family effort during our family meeting. The added benefit to the family meeting is that we all know what’s going on in the week ahead and there seems to be a lot less last minute panic. Most importantly, everyone has a chance to be heard.
How do you keep family working? Have you ever tried a family meeting? Which topics do you discuss?