Nicole Pierson wanted to flip the narrative when it came to meal planning and grocery shopping, so the former School District 112 educator and Chaska resident launched an Instagram microblog to offer readers and followers tips to making life healthier, easier and more cost effective.
“I have heard so many of my friends and acquaintances say that they can never have a clean house, save money, live debt free or cook homemade meals for their family,” Pierson says. “It has almost become the norm for moms with young families to be constantly frazzled. I deeply believe that life, even with a young busy family, does not have to be so chaotic.”
Pierson now lives in Maple Grove with her husband, Todd, and their children, Henry, 4, and Luke, 2, and she’s put her words into action with her version of Full Fridge Friday, which includes menu planning, grocery shopping and meal prepping for the week ahead—all on Thursday and Friday. “I was finding myself spending hours on Sunday [doing all those tasks],” she says. “I wanted my weekends back for family time and knew there had to be a better way. On a whim, I decided to move my whole process to Thursday and Friday for the week ahead, and it was a great success. I have received great feedback that this is working for others, as well.”
Pierson relishes the upside of the plan. “Implementing Full Fridge Friday has deeply benefited our family,” she says. “If it’s on our meal plan, I know I’ll have the ingredients ready to go in the fridge. This eliminates the conversation of, ‘What’s for dinner?’” With a plan in place, the family also avoids unplanned dinners out, which helps the family budget.
Eliminating excessive food waste is also an important benefit. “Our food waste is nearly zero at this point,” Pierson says. “If I do have any remaining produce from the previous week, I make sure to incorporate it into my meals for the upcoming week.” She admits to previously tossing out a fair amount of food. “We would have good intentions to eat produce or meat, but it would be forgotten and, eventually, thrown away. Now, I can’t remember the last time we threw away an unforgotten ingredient,” Pierson says.
Another advantage includes ridding the need to hit up the grocery store more than once a week. “It wasn’t uncommon for us to go to the grocery store two or three times a week,” Pierson says. “Now that we have a plan, we stick to once a week.”
Planning also equates to more intentional food consumption. “Preparing (washing and chopping) fruit and vegetables on Fridays means there is always a heathy snack or meal component to grab from the refrigerator,” Pierson says. “We’ve eliminated the friction of, ‘Oh, I’d like some carrots, [I] but don’t want to peel and cut them, so I’ll grab chips instead.’”
Pierson’s Pro Tips
- Use What you Have: “Before meal planning, I look in the refrigerator and pantry with the goal of letting nothing go to waste. I use the remaining ingredients in our fridge and pantry as a base for our meal plan. This is the reason we achieve zero food waste nearly every week. It’s also budget friendly to use up what you have on hand first.”
- Check the Calendar: “If you have an activity night, plan for a quick and easy meal. Check on days that you know you’ll be eating out, [so] you won’t buy food that won’t get eaten.”
- Don’t Assign Meals: “I write out five meals that I will make throughout the week. [Each day], I decide what to make based on our schedule. That way, I don’t feel tied down to making a more labor-intensive meal when we get home 15 minutes before dinnertime, and I have two needy children calling my name.” (Decide what works for you. Maybe cook less and have leftovers more often.)
- Prepping is Key: “[In the past], I’d chop the veggies needed for the recipe as I cooked ... It made cooking seem to take a long time and feel stressful. Now, the day that I grocery shop, I carve out time to component prep. If fajitas are on our menu, I’ll slice up bell peppers right away ... Does a recipe call for sliced chicken? I slice it after coming home from the grocery store. I wash most of our snacking and side dish fruits and vegetables immediately, so we always have fresh produce ready.”
- Stick to the Plan: “I cook five nights a week. (We eat out once a week and have leftovers or something simple once a week.) If it’s on our meal plan, I know I’ll have the ingredients ready to go in the fridge.
- Plan for Produce: “Plan to eat the produce that goes bad the quickest first. For example, if we buy raspberries, we make sure to eat them within a couple of days. Grapes, on the other hand, can last a bit longer in the refrigerator. If I buy a rotisserie chicken, we plan to eat or freeze the meat right away.”
- Focus on One Dish: “I typically focus on planning the main dish for dinner. I’m not too picky about side dishes. We always have fresh fruit and vegetables, along with frozen vegetables, to use as sides.”