Entering the month of August, (Here I will throw up my hands and try to excuse a lengthy hiatus from this blog but such is June and July in our little world, busy with a capital “B!”) a parent of three or more kids begins to sweat. Or perhaps panic is a better word. Their minds race plotting out fall schedules, back to school shopping and how to keep delightful children entertained for another four weeks. If you are back to work after some vacation time you are desperately trying to catch up while juggling various camp options.
If you’re like me, with three young school aged kids (or more!) you still glance at the huge amount of articles and Facebook posts hitting your computer screen. “Plan now!” “Set your schedule!” “Get on track for Fall with these tools!” You may or may not have learned to weed through the crap and bookmark the ones you will read later, maybe. Most of the guilt you used to carry about being super prepared vanished over the last five years. But yet, you still make a half-hearted attempt to plan. To at least have a map to follow when the days get dark and you can’t stand seeking out the perfect backpack for your eldest child because the one she was given earlier this year just isn’t the right one.
Then the messages from the mom’s group you joined a while back start. Women in similar situations with multiple kids pleading for advice on how to manage lunches and back to school shopping and still keep your sanity. You realize you are not alone.
From one of these boards one mom posted this question:
“Okay I’m going crazy with menus and grocery shopping. How do you plan your meals. Any good websites that post weekly or monthly menus. Ughhhhh please help!”
Lots of ladies started posting links to multiple websites, suggestions on how to manage a meal plan. All great advice and resources. But one post caught my eye.
“I plan backwards from most people. The grocery store plans for me. I look at what’s on sale in the meat department, then see what’s on sale I can add to that to make meals. I save a lot of money and stress this way.”
I couldn’t believe what I read. Someone else bucked the trend of being utterly prepared at all times? An alternative to the huge amount of time and work that is menu planning? No way!
You see I realized something the last few years. No matter how much I try to plan ahead, something always buggers it up. It’s like an unseen force makes things a touch difficult to mess with me. Then I feel like a failure at this whole domestic stay at home mom deal, wallow in self-pity and get right back on the crazy train. A vicious cycle.
With specific attention to meal planning, I tried different apps on my wonderful device tethered to my hip this past year and combined it with a written monthly menu board. Not surprisingly, I made nothing that I planned for. Out of pure frustration, I attempted a whole different approach. I picked a day of the week where, unless there is an emergency, I go grocery shopping. The same day. (Yeah, yeah. My grandmother did it this way too..but it must have worked. She had four kids.) My kids were all in school so I spent an hour or so wandering the aisles, (No coffee cup in hand. Remember, I was meal planning.) and let the grocery store decide my menu. I based my weekly meal plan on what was on sale that day combined with what I already had in my pantry.
I did one other thing, I stopped trying to plan every day of the week. I planned only for four out of seven days. One day off to do whatever I wanted. (Leftovers or pasta but I had to use what was in the fridge.) One day I asked the kids what they wanted and ensured I had most requests in the freezer. (Usually tacos, hot dogs, chicken nuggets.) One day for spouse to make decisions.
Each Sunday night I wrote down my tentative weekly menu with just main ingredients, (No fancy quiches dishes) on a dry erase board based on what I bought at the grocery store and our weekly schedule. (Knowing each week is slightly different and how much time I have to prep and make simple or more complicated meals shifts each day.) I asked the kids what they wanted on one of the empty nights and filled it in. Having chicken nuggets one night a week is a treat for them and takes pressure off me. I can buy organic, locally grown, frozen chicken nuggets if that’s what I prefer. Most grocery stores carry a decent brand.
This system worked the best out of any I have tried the last few years. There is less stress trying to manage a list or app. Grocery store shopping is more relaxing without having to manage multiple recipes or the overwhelming list of ingredients I may or may not use. The best reward is that I use up most of the food in my fridge. Less waste. If I need a recipe, with the abundance of websites it is easy to find one that includes ingredients I have on hand.
I mentioned the above to my sister, a person who is a shift worker, and she rolled her eyes. “Well for those of us who work shifts we need to have a plan.” Fair enough. If having a detailed weekly or monthly menu plan works for you, great. But for those of us parents of three or more kids drowning and overwhelmed with menu planning, perhaps switching perspectives will work. Stop trying to over plan and let the grocery store be your guide.