Eating Dinner Together – Part 1 (Why I Plan Our Menu)

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Today was a day spent largely in the car.  One child began the day with a therapy appointment.  Two kids had classes at the local public school.  One daughter needed to see the orthodontist.  Someone needed to be at dance shortly after supper.

In the middle of time spent in the car shuffling kids, errands had to be taken care of around town.  Todd had early morning Bible study and then spent all day at work.  Household tasks and volunteer projects needed attention.  The to-do list was very long.

This is normal for us.  Probably for you, too.  And yet, somehow in the midst of it all, this evening the five of us sat down together for supper.  We ate a healthy meal made from scratch.  Some days we pull it all off and make dinner look like a breeze.  Some days we do not.  The biggest reason why we are able to eat together almost every night?  A while back, we made a commitment to ourselves: we almost never eat out.

When Todd and I sat down last fall to hash out the family’s 2015 year-long budget, we decided to virtually eliminate eating out.  On very rare occasions, we still find ourselves at a restaurant, but most of our food is consumed at home.  Why?  Well, we have two reasons.

First, we felt our experiences at most of the restaurants we ate at as a family were mediocre at best.  The food was often okay, but not great.  At least one child usually created some sort of stressful ruckus that garnered the attention of curious onlookers.  And unless we got to snack on free chips at a Mexican restaurant, it always seemed that the food took forever to get to the table.  Todd and I decided that if we were going to eat mediocre food in a stressful environment, it made more sense to do it in the privacy of our own home.

Especially when eating out is really stinking expensive, which is our second reason for not eating out. On the way home from a recent trip to grandma and grandpa’s house, our family blew over thirty bucks on a meal at Burger King.  Before this experience, it had been a really long time since I had eaten fast food.  I almost fell over when I saw the prices.  For a woman who can feed her entire family on less than $350 a month, thirty dollars on one meal at Burger King seems like a fortune.  We are just plain too cheap to eat out.

Would you like to be frugal with us?  Every Tuesday, for the next six weeks, I plan to share one of the strategies we use to keep our family at home during dinner, eating food we make ourselves.  Whether it is a boring, slow day with nowhere to be, or a crazy, hectic day around town with no time to prepare a meal, it is possible to eat together, as a family, at home.  Notice I did not say easy, but possible.

I have been planning our family’s weekly menu almost as long as Todd and I have been married.  My methods and meal choices have changed as our family has grown and our needs have evolved.  The basic principle has remained constant, though.  It is not hard to plan ahead, and it really does not take that much time.

Plus, it works.  We save money because we use a menu.  Without menu planning, we would not be able to adhere to the $350 budget.  When I plan our menu, I take into account the food already in our home and supplement with items I need to purchase from the store.  Most of those purchases are seasonal produce and items from store sales ads.  In addition, we rarely waste food.  If we bring something into our home, we almost always find a way to use it up.  We brown bag virtually all of our meals away from home–whether at work, school, or on vacation.  These methods only work because we have a game plan.

Menu planning also saves time.  By strategically comparing our calendar to our menu, we can incorporate food prepared in advance or utilize the slow cooker on busy days.  Planning ahead also allows us to avoid multiple trips to the grocery store because there’s just plain nothing good to eat in the house.

Want to learn more?  Next week, I will share how I create our weekly menu.  You’ll see my step-by-step method to getting supper on the table and learn why we almost always have all five of us together around the table for our evening meals.

I would love to incorporate ideas from you.  What do you do to make sure dinner gets on the table?  How do you avoid eating out?  Let me know in an email or in the comment box below!