When I quit my job, I realized that there would have to be a few changes to the way we did things around here. I really want to be a “fun” mom and enjoy time with my kids, but let’s face it, some stuff has to get done around here. My kids actually expect to be fed. Yes, in addition to playtime, cuddle time, story time, music time, shopping time and sports practice time, they expect three meals and one to two snacks EVERY DAY!
Disclaimer: I do not enjoy cooking. I do enjoy eating (maybe too much…but we’ll save that for another post). Andrew has always done all the cooking in our family. I know, I am incredibly lucky that for 14 years, he has done all the grocery shopping and cooked dinner every night. But now that I’m home all day and he gets home later in the evenings, it only makes sense for me to pick up this responsibility. So I started looking for ways that would make it easy. By easy, I mean, I don’t want to spend hours looking for recipes, making grocery lists and figuring out nutrition statistics. Ideally, it would take 30 minutes or less to prepare dinner and all four of my kids would eat it. (YES – I am aware that this is a complete fantasy.) I have found a few things that help, though, and already I am saving time and money, so I thought I’d share.
First I turned to the trusty iPad. I found several apps, but the one that I started using is Menu Planner.
It allows you to download recipes from many popular online sites (All Recipes, Food Network, Real Simple, Recipe.com) and assign them to days of the week. Then you can use the ingredient lists and make a grocery list based on the date range that you’d like to shop for. The grocery list can get very detailed – you can even enter information about where foods are located in your particular grocery store to make shopping faster. It took me a while to browse around all the recipe sites and find things to make, but I made two complete weeks of menus and shopped accordingly. I liked taking my iPad to the store and checking off everything electronically – no need for carrying a list and pen, that the baby will just try to grab from me anyway. One disappointment was that it didn’t calculate the nutrition information for me, so I had to use a separate app to do that. Overall, I would give it a thumbs-up, my only hesitation is that I’m not sure it saved me a lot of time in finding recipes, as I was a little overwhelmed by the choices.
Then, as luck would have it, I got a Groupon offer for emeals.
This online service provides a weekly menu and coordinating shopping list. You can choose from several different meals plans, most of which are family friendly. The plan is coordinated with your local grocery store, to take advantage of weekly sales. My first week using this, my grocery bill went from an average of $150 to $98.00. I really like not having to search for recipes, and since there are seven meals included, I scratched off a few so we could either eat out or eat leftovers. They make it easy to eliminate meals from the shopping list by numbering the items to correspond to the recipes, so if you’re not going to make meal #3, you just don’t buy any ingredients that have a 3 next to them. The site says the recipes serve 4-6 people, and so far, that has been accurate. The kids have eaten most of these recipes. (Well, at least two kids have enjoyed every meal, which is probably the best we’re going to do). Ayub and Lucy even ate meat in a casserole without even knowing it! The downside to this is that we’re back to a paper list (you download a PDF, so you could use it electronically, but wouldn’t have a way to check off items). And, while I chose the Low Fat plan, I don’t feel like the recipes are really low fat. They usually just substitute things like fat-free cheese or reduced fat sour cream, but if you’re cooking chicken thighs, that’s not really much help. They also don’t include nutritional information, so I’m still stuck with figuring that out separately. Some of the recipes have taken a little longer to prepare than I would like, but I’ve been using nap time to prep and slice so everything is a little easier when the kids are running around in the evening. There is also usually at least one crock pot recipe each week, so I just assign that to a night I know we’ll be too busy to cook much. Overall, I would give this a thumbs-up, too. It costs a little more, but takes ALL the work out of menu planning and grocery shopping, and I think I will end up saving more than my subscription in grocery costs. I just wish they had an app that would make it more portable.
Both of these are great option for busy parents, and I would say especially for working parents who don’t have a lot of time to plan and shop.