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Welcome to The Smart Mom Manual. I'm Winnie Yu, mom blogger at CompletelyYou.com. My daughters, Samantha and Annie, are 14 and 12. Like most moms, I'm still trying to perfect the balancing act that we all know as motherhood in the modern world. Please don't hesitate to write to me as you read my blog. You can also tweet me @Completely_You. I look forward to hearing from you!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Power of Meal Planning

By Winnie Yu for Completely You

Nothing is worse than realizing at 5 o’clock in the afternoon that you’ve made no plans for dinner. That’s what happened to me one day: I had nothing in mind to feed my family. Nothing. Nada. Zilcho. Now what? I asked myself. Do I call the local pizzeria? Order Chinese? Heat up some canned soups?

OK, we weren’t exactly going to go hungry. My pantry is always packed with food, and my freezer is so full that waffles and frozen chicken land at my feet whenever I open the door. But it’s not as if anything comes together to form a real meal. (It’s a bit like my closet, which is full of vibrant clothes, few of which form great outfits.)

At that point, I understood why my more organized friends touted the idea of meal planning on Sunday. It not only eliminates unnecessary trips to the supermarket -- and saves money -- but also spares you the trouble of figuring out one more thing on days when life is already too busy.

So now, on Sunday afternoons, I sit down and look at my week. On nights when we’re heading out for music lessons, basketball games and yoga class, I know to keep dinner simple. That’s when crockpots come in handy. On nights when we’re home, I can make a more complicated meal (e.g., a Chinese dinner with multiple dishes, or a new recipe that allows for some adventure). And by the end of the week, I’m certain to enjoy what I call “Leftovers Night.” That’s when everyone forages the fridge and eats whatever they can find. (As you might imagine, I love Leftovers Night.)

So after a bit of planning, I hit the grocery store with a list of items I need for the week, complete with coupons and a pen to tick off the items as I put them in my cart. Neat, right?

Planning my meals ahead of time has made life so much easier. I shop only once or twice a week -- the second trip is usually for restocking produce and milk -- and I never have to pull together a last-minute meal that is typically less healthy and often less tasty. Planning helps me avoid health hazards like eating too many meals with cheese or red meat. Good planning also allows me to use what I buy in a timely fashion: pork chops on one day often leads to a stir-fry with slices of pork the next.

Creating a weekly menu makes it easier to accommodate everyone’s taste buds too. While Samantha favors pizza and other cheesy meals, Annie prefers vegetables and Asian food. Sound planning means everyone’s palates -- including my own -- are taken into consideration during the week, and we never go all-Italian for Samantha or stick to a strictly Asian lineup for Annie.

Now I just have to figure out a better way to plan my wardrobe.

What are your favorite recipes? Share below or tweet me @Completely_You
For more great health & lifestyle content, visit the parent site of my blog, Completely You!

Winnie Yu is Completely You’s mom blogger. She has two daughters and is the author of seven books, including New Mother’s Guide to Breastfeeding and What to Eat for What Ails You. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including Woman’s Day, AARP Bulletin, Prevention and WebMD.

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