Meal planning -- it's the thing that I watched from a distance for a long while, but until recently never worked up enough ambition or energy to take it on. It felt complicated to me. More overwhelming than helpful.
And yet, I wanted to make dinner-preparation time an easier, happier time. Because, let's face it, it's a difficult time of day for us. Isn't it for all families? The kids are hangry (hungry and angry) fighting over anything and everything, the baby is not content to be put down, the hubs isn't home from work yet, and all I want to do is sneak away to a dark closet where it is quiet and eat a box of oreos. But instead, I am searching the fridge, cupboards, and freezer for what's on hand and what can quickly be thrown together to nourish my family amidst the chaos.
I wanted to feel organized. Scratch that . . . I needed it.
And then I found a cute $3 menu chalkboard at Target and decided it was time to give it a try. I'm sometimes amazed at the things that motivate me. On that particular day, it was a cute chalkboard!
With that, my meal planning journey began. From the start, I committed to taking a simple approach. This is nothing fancy, friends. There is no logging information into the computer, saving recipes, creating online grocery lists, and so forth. That may be what the next level of meal planning looks like, and for those individuals that are there - awesome! It's just not for me. My approach requires a pen and notepad to jot down a grocery list, chalk, and my cute menu chalkboard.
It's uncomplicated and it works (for me!).
Every Sunday, I spend about 15-20 minutes planning. That's it. I make my grocery list as I go. And on Sunday or Monday I do all my grocery shopping for the week. That's it.
Here are the tips that make it work.
I plan side-by-side with a weekly calendar. Knowing what's going on for the week, and who needs to be where on what days, is extremely important to meal planning. Quick and easy meals, or leftover days, go into the slots where time is crunched or dinner time will be late.
Leftovers can be every other day, if needed! I always cook more than we need, so we can either freeze or repurpose meals the next day. Some foods we even PREFER the next day. 2nd day Chili - YUM! And other leftover foods can be made into an entirely different meal. Pulled pork sandwiches one night can easily become pulled pork mac n' cheese the next day!
I know our go-to meals, and use them (often)! I know what my family loves. So as I sit down to plan, I use those staple meals. And I know the ingredients for these meals off the top of my head (and, often have them in my cupboards / fridge already), so it saves time overall. Awhile back, I taped a sheet of paper on the inside of one of my cupboards with the title "our favorite meals". Anytime I would make something the family loved, I would add it. I know our staple meals off the top of my head anymore, but this is a good option if you are just getting started with meal planning.
Variety in life AND food is a grand ole' thing. Chicken, pork, veggies, beef, fish, mexican, italian, american, etc. I intentionally plan for variety across the week. I also like to try new recipes for this reason. Not too often where it becomes a complicated mess, but I throw one in there to keep it interesting. And yummy!
I incorporate fish into our meal plan almost every week. OK, if you don't like fish, then you can skip this one. But if you like fish and it's not currently something you make on a regular basis, start now. Why? Because it is seriously the quickest meal you can prepare. And it is delicious. My family prefers catfish or tilapia. Here's a yummy (and spicy) blackened catfish recipe. I wait to add the cayenne and heavy chili powder until after I have the kids' filets ready to go. http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/guy-fieri/not-lackin-on-the-blackenin-catfish-recipe.html
I hang up the menu prominently in the kitchen. This keeps it front and center -- both for me and my family. Everyone knows what to expect. And, it helps me to be better prepared each day.
I am strategic with meal preparation so that it's not as stressful in the evenings. My crockpot is a magical thing. If I can get a crockpot meal thrown together in the morning or during nap time, it makes the evenings a breeze. Or, if I can cut up veggies during the lunch hour to save me time later on for a recipe, I will.
I take the kids outside (or some place where they can be active) prior to starting dinner. I let them run around, shake out their wiggles, and scream out their frustrations . . . in the hopes that things are a bit calmer while I am making dinner. Of course, this doesn't always work.
If nothing else, good music can always help. My kids and I jam out in the kitchen while I put the finishing touches on our meal. And I *may* just sip on a glass of wine too.
This is what works for me. Would love to hear what works for you! What's on your weekly menu? And what are some tips that make dinner planning at your house successful?