I remember a trip we made to the mountains of Colorado a few years ago. We were sharing a cabin with some good friends, and I was the main cook. So I sat down and did what I always do when I'm going shopping for food: I made a menu plan. When my friend saw what I'd done, she chuckled. See, she is one of those born-organized people who never has to plan her meals, because she can walk in the store and remember what she has at home and what she needs to feed her family that week. She can also resist impulse buying, which is a big money pit for many people, myself included. My menu and grocery list were foreign to her . . . and quite funny too! ;)
I've been planning menus since shortly after my husband and I married more than 23 years ago. I'm not an expert at it, but I can't shop without it. This week, Leanne sent out an essay through FlyLadyMentors on laying out our food, just like we lay out our clothes for the next day. Her essay struck a chord with me because I've found that planning our food helps me in several ways.
First, with my being diabetic, planning our food helps keep me (us!) on track with the way I'm supposed to be eating. By planning what we'll eat, I make sure that there are the kinds of food that I need to stay healthy, along with the less-healthy things my husband and children can enjoy; planning allows me to include both. Planning also helps me keep things in balance - enough of the right kinds of carbs, enough protein, enough veggies. You get the idea! Planning what I'll eat - and sticking to it - helps me keep my blood sugar in control, which means fewer extremes of highs and lows (still working on those highs!). The best thing about making sure that I eat well is that the way I have to eat is how everyone is supposed to eat; it's good for everyone to plan for good food, have a good balance of the food types, and keep their blood sugars level! Therefore it's good for my family.
I would be lost when it's time to cook if I didn't have a menu plan! I don't (usually) have to worry each morning about what I'll fix for dinner that day; I can just look at my menu. I don't have to dig in the pantry or freezer to find something to slap together at the last minute. Because I know what I'm going to fix, I have the luxury of preparing the various components of the meal ahead of time. I can chop veggies, mix up bread dough, make a salad, or put an entire meal in the crockpot early in the day, freeing me to do other things during the hours leading up to dinner time. Then, when it's time to cook, I can pull the meal together quickly. I love this part! I don't necessarily like fixing things ahead of time, but boy do I love having it ready to throw together when the time comes! That ease of preparation motivates me to prepare early . . . because I have a plan that tells me what's on the menu for the day.
Not being independently wealthy, menu-planning saves us money, plain and simple. We shop for most of our groceries once a month. My menu plan for the month allows me to see what we need, including ingredients for any new or special dishes that I don't normally fix, so that I get what we need without getting things we don't need. This leads to less waste, which saves us money. We have little need for impulse food buying, such as running out for fast food, because I've planned our meals and I have the ingredients in the house that we need. Incidentally, having all our ingredients also keeps me from having to run to the store for a forgotten ingredient, which saves time and money. And now we've come full circle - not as much junk food. That saves us money and doctor's bills! ;)
Like I said, I don't always execute my plans perfectly. I still forget ingredients at times, and we still end up with food we don't necessarily need. My husband shops with me, and sometimes he vows that things just jump into the cart that I don't see till we get to the checkout. Things like Pop Tarts and chocolate milk and cookies - my man is a junk-food magnet, I tell you! ;) Those Pop Tarts just don't have a chance when he walks by. The point is, I do so much better when I have a plan, which is what FlyLady teaches us all the time. Even if I don't always follow the plan perfectly, I have it in place as a guide, helping me take better care of myself and my family.