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Women in Ag: Meal Planning Eases Dinnertime Stress

Is dinner as big a challenge for you as it can be for me?  

After working off-farm all day, including a two-hour commute, and coming home to two kids under the age of 4, the last thing I want to do is figure out what to cook for dinner. I love living in the country, but I miss restaurant delivery. 

Getting dinner on the table can be a production. Some nights, I get home from work, open the fridge, and stare at the contents inside. It’s like I’m expecting a fully cooked meal to jump off the shelf. I have to see what ingredients I have on hand, what is thawed, and find a recipe that doesn’t require any any prepreparation. It’s stressful, frustrating, and costing me extra money.

I stumbled on the ideas of menu planning and batch cooking when I was trying to find ways to cut my grocery budget.  I like to plan, but for some reason, the idea of planning my weekly menu had never occurred to me. It’s genius!

I admit I’ve gotten slack on my menu planning, but one of my goals for 2017 is to kick it back into high gear. When I took just a few minutes every Saturday to plan my menu for the week (and sometimes the month), it made a huge difference. I wanted to share with you five reasons why planning menus is going to become a habit again.

1. The closest grocery store is 20 minutes away.

I went to cook something the other week only to find out sour cream was one ingredient – an ingredient I didn’t have. Finding out I need one ingredient turns into a 40-minute chore just to get to and from the nearest grocery store.  

By planning ahead, I can make sure I have all the ingredients I need. If something is in the freezer, I can take it out to defrost ahead of time. This has also cut my food waste because I plan how I’m going to use perishable fruits and vegetables instead of just buying them on impulse and letting them go bad.

2. I want to use my freezer stockpile.

When I first started learning ways to cut my grocery budget, stockpiling was a common suggestion. I started stocking up on lots of things, including meat, when I found a great sale. Sitting beside that meat in the freezer are the corn, butter beans, and squash I put up from my garden.

Turns out I’m really good at stockpiling, but not as good at using what’s in the two deep freezers. Part of the problem is that I forget what I have, so one of my meal-planning goals is to keep a running list of what food I have on hand. This should help cut my grocery budget, too, since I won’t have to throw away food that fell into the black hole of the freezer and suffered freezer burn.

3. Dinnertime is less stressful.

If I plan ahead for the week, I don’t have to wonder “What are we going to have for dinner?” This used to be my life every night around 6 p.m. Now, I already know what I’m going to cook.

4. I can batch-cook or plan for leftovers.

When I batch-cook, that means I set aside time to cook several meals at one time. For example, I will often scratch-cook my spaghetti sauce and make up two lasagnas at the same time since they all use hamburger.

When I cook the lasagna, I know I will have leftovers. On my menu, I will actually write “leftovers” on a date when I plan to have them. This means I don’t have to cook every single night.  

5. It helps me to stay on budget.

This is probably the most important reason. No more running to the store for the one ingredient I’m missing, only to come out with a cart full of things I suddenly needed The fewer trips to the store, the better.

If you plan your household menus, what would you add to this list?

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