This Family Plans Meals a Month Ahead to Save Time and Money

©. Kristin D. – Getting kids involved in meal prep is important.

In week 2 of our new series, "How to feed a family," you'll meet mom Kristin, who is committed to cooking in large batches.

Today brings the second instalment of TreeHugger's new series, "How to feed a family." Every week we talk to a different person about how they approach the never-ending challenge of feeding themselves and other household members. We get the inside scoop on how they grocery shop, meal plan, and food prep to make it go more smoothly.

Parents work so hard to feed their children and themselves, to put healthy meals on the table, to avoid spending a fortune at the grocery store, and to fit it all around busy work and school schedules. It's a feat worthy of more praise than it commonly gets, which is why we want to highlight it – and hopefully learn from it in the process. This week's interview features Kristin, a mother of three and committed home cook. (Responses edited for clarity.)

Name: Kristin, husband Dave, son Hunter (10), daughters Annabelle (8) and Kathryn (6)

Location: Ontario, Canada

Employment status: Dave works full-time. Kristin stays home with kids and works part-time hours in various volunteer positions.

Diet: Omnivore, with minimum 2 vegetarian or vegan meals per week

Weekly food budget: CDN $200 + 1-2 meals out per month

Favorite meals: Sesame chicken/tofu with rice noodles and toppings (create your own bowl), soup (every week I make a big pot of soup), Taco Tuesday (could be ground beef, black bean burritos, or fish tacos), build-your-own pizza (usually with naan bread)

1. How would you describe your diet?

We eat meat, but we aim for a minimum of 2, if not 3 or 4 vegetarian or vegan dishes per week. This helps reduce the grocery bill and our carbon footprint. I don’t believe meat at every meal is healthy. I try to buy local when I can, and I have a big garden in the summer but I’m a sucker for discounted produce!

2. How often do you shop for groceries?

I try to stick to once a week but sometimes I make a second trip if we run out of basics like milk or bread.

3. What does your grocery shopping routine look like?

I’m not sure I have a routine. Ideally, I plan our menu for the entire month, then make a trip to a discount grocery chain to do the bulk of my shopping for the entire month. Then I make one trip a week to pick up any perishables that are needed. That’s ideal but doesn’t always happen. We have early morning before-school activities, so sometimes I find myself killing time doing my shopping early (between 7-8 AM). I always check out the discount produce first.

4. Do you meal plan? If so, how strictly do you stick to it?

Yep! Ideally I like to plan for a month ahead of time. Often when we’re busy, I do a week ahead. I spend way too much money on groceries when I don’t. It’s pretty flexible, though. For example, this week we had black bean burritos on Tuesday and ended up with enough for two meals, so Wednesday’s meal got bumped and we ate leftovers instead.

It’s also helpful for us to have a plan so that whoever is home first can start supper. Soon, our kids will be part of that as well.

chopping vegetables

© Kristin D. – Kids are expected to get involved with meal prep.

5. How much time do you spend cooking each day?

That’s a good question. I’m not really sure because I love to cook. My average supper meal would probably take 30 minutes to an hour, start to finish. I do sometimes enjoy spending an afternoon cooking something more complex. I batch-cook every couple of months, which takes an entire day but fills the freezer with 15-20 meals. Some days I may spend several hours cooking but then take 20 minutes to heat things up for the rest of the week. I also try to make a pot of soup every weekend that we all eat for lunches for the rest of the week.

6. How do you handle leftovers?

I’m very intentional about leftovers. I try to double nearly every meal I make. This is getting more difficult, though, as the kids can already eat more than us some meals. The extra food is either used later in the week for a quick meal or I freeze it. For example, we love shepherd’s pie, which is rather labour intensive. I would never make less than 3 or 4 at once (it doesn't take much more time or effort to make a big batch). We would eat one for two meals that week and I would freeze the others. Cooking like this makes it easy to give a meal to someone who needs it (new baby, sick, etc.) because there’s always something home cooked available.

7. How many dinners per week do you cook at home? How often do you eat out or take out?

Generally all but one or two meals a month are eaten at home. Sometimes, if we're in a rush, we grab grilled cheese or pepperettes to go. When we do eat out, it is more of a treat than part of our regular routine.

8. What are the biggest challenges in feeding yourself and your family?

Time. We are lucky to have no allergies to contend with. One of my kids is pickier than the other two but excusing them from eating a meal isn’t an option for us. On days when I’m out all day I try to use the crock pot or we have something quick, like grilled cheese or salad. This is where the menu plan really helps. It’s a lot less tempting to get fast food if I don’t have to think about what to cook.

Read about last week's featured family, the Smiths.