One of our hardest obstacles since we began our journey of marriage is to remain disciplined in our spending habits. It’s sad to actually admit to this, but one of our weaknesses is to give in to the cheap, quick fast food meal when we are on the go. My husband is a high school basketball coach and so especially in the winter we spend several nights a week in a crunch to scavenge for food in the time between school and games. Needless to say that it is during basketball season that I become besties with my 4 quart- Crock Pot. However, it is still a struggle for us to maintain a healthy habit of eating at home every night. Not to mention that in my short five mile commute to work I pass four fast food restaurants. I am not claiming to have conquered this weakness, but I have learned a few tricks to skip the fatty, oily, drive-thrus so I thought I may share some of those tips. Feel free to comment and share some of your own tips for being a working mother on a budget and pressed for time when it comes to cooking healthy meals for your family.
1. Plan ahead: Looking back at the early stages of our marriage it is obvious that it was so much easier to choose a drive-thru option when I wasn’t well organized and had not planned meals ahead of time. Back then, if I was going to cook that also meant I was going to have to go to the grocery store. When pressed for time that was usually not an option and so a meal on the go was the only justifiable choice. I have luckily since caught on to some pretty easy meal planning habits. I keep a journal of the meals I plan to make and I tend to plan in two week increments so that one trip to the grocery store can replenish the necessities for at least the next two weeks and I can save the time it used to take me daily to run to the store for one or two small items.
2. Create themed cooking nights: One fun and easy way to make meal planning go quicker is to create themes in your meal planning. An example might be our family’s “Meatless Mondays”. I have a set of recipes that I keep in my recipe box that are good Monday recipes as they lack meat. I’ve also heard about and experienced other theme nights like: Pasta night, Soup nights, Taco night, and Chinese night. Using themes on a weekly or rotating basis can make meal planning and organizing easier and makes you less likely to throw up your arms in surrender to the golden arches.
3. Crock-pot: It has been my routine over the past two years to become quite acquainted with my Crock-pot. I try to make 1-2 meals a week in the Crock-pot. When planning I always look at our family schedule to see which days will be busiest and choose to make those nights Crock-pot meal nights. Many Crock-pot recipes can be made in advance and frozen so that when the day of chaos arrives all you have to do is thaw the pre-frozen meal and put it in the pot. I am blessed to have a baby-sitter who comes to my house so we have an understanding that a couple of times a week she may need to plug in my Crock-pot and occasionally stir the contents. This works out well. It is virtually a stress-free dinner on my end. I do the prep ahead of time and I strategically plan the meal to be done at exactly the time I know we will be available to eat that night. There is no waiting for water to boil or the oven to pre-heat. Plus, so many of the Crock-pot recipes out there are healthy and delicious. It’s like a 2 for 1. I get the satisfaction of serving my family a home-cooked meal and it is generally pretty healthy and packed with vegetables and protein.
Many of my favorite Crockpot recipes come from this book. I purchased it 2 years ago on Amazon.
4. Don’t be afraid of left overs: This option is a little easier if you have a smaller family, but one thing I usually do is I double the serving amount of most dinners so that there will be leftovers galore. My husband and I both pack our lunches at school (we are too afraid of the cafeteria food) and so I like to be sure that just about every night I will be making enough to supply our lunches for the next day. Additionally, I tend to pick one meal a week (usually a soup or a pasta because it isn’t as expensive) and I double that recipe. This way we not only have enough for lunches the next day, but that there may be extra left overs for another dinner. This idea is optimal on days where one of us is working later than the other like parent teacher conference nights…or double header basketball games 😦 It has taken me a long time and I’m still not totally sold on the idea of serving leftovers as a dinner meal, but it beats the alternative of hopping in the car to waste some money on clogged arteries and soda.
5. Know what’s for dinner: Lastly, one way I’ve stayed on top of meal planning is checking every night before I go to bed what the meal will be the following day. I don’t do this because I’m obsessed with eating (although that isn’t too much of a stretch), but that way I can plan ahead in my mind how I will accomplish meal prep and know whether or not something needs to thaw overnight. I’ve all too often been the victim of good intentions and planned my meals in advance, but once the week gets started I don’t stay on top of it. I succumb to my busy schedule and rush home after work to prepare a meal that I can’t recall until I check my journal. This is dangerous because so often I would come home to a menu that required a pre-thawed chicken or prep that I didn’t have time to complete. That’s when I ended up defeated… when I failed to know what’s for dinner. And defeat always landed me in a long drive-thru line. Every night after completing the clean-up of that meal I try to verbalize with my husband what to expect tomorrow. It’s a good reminder.
I’m still in the market for a good app for my iphone to help keep meal planning organized and streamlined. I’ve tried several apps, but nothing that I’m totally impressed with so until the day I find an app to save my sanity these are a few ways that I try to stay on top of healthy meal prep and avoid the toxicity of regular fast food habits. I am resolving to completely cut out fast food from the diet of myself and my family. I’m setting realistic goals, but my ultimate goal is to cut it out completely. But phase 1 is 6 months no fast-food. I’ll keep you updated on how we’re doing. Please feel free to share tips that work for your family!