The Holidays are fast upon us. With the end of year deadlines, finals, school musicals, work and church parties, family gatherings, friendly get-togethers and the quest to find the perfect gift for that special someone, this is a time of year that quickly goes from HO-HO-HO to GO-GO-GO to OH NOOOOOOO!!!
And then enters that dreaded question,
“MOOOOOM, WHAT’S FOR DINNER????”
Even if you love the hustle and bustle of the Holiday season, it can wreak havoc on your food and financial goals. I know the busier I get, the harder it is for me to eat the way I want on the budget that we need. I end up exhausted at the end of the day or on the run during the dinner hour. The last thing I want to do is take the time to cook. But, everyone still has to eat. Without a plan in place, I resort to unhealthy convenience and fast food or budget-busting take-out.
I know what it is like to be sick of cooking – to not have the time or energy to cook. This happens to me too!
Over the years, I have developed a few strategies to help me feed my family a frugal, whole food diet when I don’t have the time or energy to cook – without busting the budget. I thought now would be the perfect time to share these strategies with you.
1. Make a Plan
This is a really boring way to start this topic out! I know that when you read “make a plan” you might be tempted to tune out. I mean, we all know that we need to make a food plan! You thought I was going to teach you something you didn’t already know! Give me a moment and I will try – hang with me here!
Making a food plan is the #1 way I know to save on the amount of time and energy I spend on food.
When I can save time and energy on food, I am able to cook more. Here’s why making a food plan is so powerful:
Cut back on time overall
When you make a weekly food plan, you have effectively made all of your food decisions 1 time. You have made 21 decisions at one time – in one sitting. Then, for 7 days, you have no more food decisions to make. They’ve all been made for you. On Monday, we are having this. On Tuesday, we are having that. Done. Decisions made. When you skip making a food plan, you have to make a food decision every day, 3 times a day, 7 days a week. 21 times during that week, you have to make a food plan. THAT… IS… EXHAUSTING!!! Ask me how I know? Cause I have done it!
Yes, it takes time to sit down once a week to make a food plan. But, trust me when I say that the amount of time and energy you will spend in that time on planning food is a fraction of the amount you will spend, over the course of a week making 21 separate food decisions.
Meet all your family’s needs
When you make a weekly plan, you pull out your calendar and plan your food around your schedule. Doing this ensures that you will meet all your family’s needs that week while saving loads of time, money, and energy.
I make my meal plan with my schedule in front of me. So I know when we have extra hectic times. I know that during those times, I must plan for very simple meals. Being proactive and buying ingredients to put together ultra-simple meals saves me from spontaneously buying convenience foods in a pinch.
When I look at my calendar while planning our food, I know when Sally has to stay after school for band practice and will need 2 sack lunches for that day. I know when Bobby has a doubleheader and we need an on-the-go meal for the whole family. I know when I have a writing deadline and need to plan for a-la-carte meals that anyone above the age of 8 can put together for the family in my absence.
When I look at my calendar while planning our food, I also know when Billy needs 28 nut-free, store-bought, individually packaged snacks for at school. I also know when my kid with allergies needs an allergy-free treat to take to a birthday party he has been invited to. Knowing this, ahead of time, ensures that I buy these in my 1 trip to the store. This saves me from the dreaded extra grocery trips mid-week – which KILL my time and my budget.
Taking this time to look at our schedule and plan our food around it saves me tons of time, energy, and money in our day-to-day lives.
2. Simplify what constitutes a meal – without compromising your food values
Did you know that every meal doesn’t have to be an official breakfast, lunch, or dinner? I honestly didn’t know this for the longest time!!! HA! You just need good, quality food that meets your needs on a budget you can afford. During hectic times, if you can simplify your food plans and expectations, it will help remove the stress of dinner time and help you feed your family when you are just “all cooked out”. So, what do I mean when I say simplify what constitutes a meal?
Hard-boiled egg (or 2) + raw carrots + half an avocado = a meal
Can of tuna + half an avocado + apple + crackers = a meal
Prepared bag of lettuce + rotisserie chicken from the grocery store = a meal
Deli meat + handful of nuts + celery and hummus= a meal
Now, do I want to eat like this all the time? No. I don’t. I personally like traditionally cooked meals. But, there are times when I cannot or will not cook.
Simplifying what constitutes a meal allows me to feed my family the food they need on a budget I can afford with the energy I have available.
Without relying on take-out to fill the gap.
3. Double, Triple, or Quadruple whatever you can…. whenever you can
This might be my absolute favorite tip for how to handle cooking fatigue. I use it all the time in every way possible. Whenever I possibly can I double, triple, or quadruple whatever food prep I can. I wrote a post all about this, check it out here!
Let me show you what I mean:
If I have time and I need to cut an onion, I pull out my food processor, and I chop 4-6-8 onions. I bag them individually and put them in the freezer for future use. Next time, in the middle of the week when I am in a hurry, I pull a pre-chopped onion out of the freezer and dump it in the meal.
If I have time and need carrots or celery sliced for a soup, I slice extra and portion and freeze them. Next time I need them for a soup, they’re ready to go.
On the weekend, I will cook 4-8 times the amount of meat we need for a meal. I then portion it out – freezing some and keeping some in the fridge for the coming week. I plan to re-purpose the meat into 3-4 distinct meals, so the family doesn’t get bored. Having meat pre-cooked and ready for meals, SLASHES my mid-week meal prep.
I try to double every dinner I possibly can and serve the leftovers the next day to whoever can possibly eat leftovers in the family.
Remember this when you are in the kitchen:
Double, triple, or quadruple whatever you possibly can…. whenever you possibly can. Then, when hectic times come (and they surely will) you can more quickly and easily get food on the table.
Hopefully, you have seen that, with a little bit of extra effort planning on the front end, you can save loads of time, money, and energy in the middle of the week. That time, money, and energy saved means that – even in busy times of maximum FA-LA-LA-LA-LA’ ing, you can still feed your family frugal whole foods. If you liked this, you can find all my tips on how to save time, money, and energy on a whole food diet here!