I love to cook from scratch with fresh ingredients and it’s important to me to prepare good food for our family. I do it all the time. So why then, do the words, “what’s for dinner?” seem to reduce me to an incompetent mush that can not, for the life of me, recall a single recipe or meal? Anybody relate?
I work full time outside the home, with a near 3 hour commute a day, so to get home and then figure out what is for dinner is very at risk of looking like cereal or nachos every night. But here’s the deal, I hate meal planning.
At it’s root, I gristle against meal planning, feeling it far too constraining or inflexible. I mean what if I get to Tuesday and don’t feel like spaghetti? Perhaps it is some deep seeded rebellion in me that doesn’t want anything else in life to boss me around. “Take that meal plan!” I declare as we eat nachos on hump day. I only partly jest here.
But, I think I have finally found an approach that works for us. I have downloaded every kind of tool, planner, and hack, but found just a list works best. This one is from the $1 bin at Target.
Here are five steps to planning meals that have worked for me:
1. Start with your calendar. Be realistic on what you can do based on life commitments, events, etc. I know that we have guests on Saturday and one of them is a vegetarian, so I’ve planned a quinoa and veggie dish that night. We are at a concert Friday so I get a vacation day. Common sense, don’t try to prepare a high touch meal on soccer practice night, that’s a good night for crock pot. Put the cape away, save your super hero for another opportunity.
2. Give yourself a break. A healthy meal doesn’t have to be four courses and gourmet every night. Let’s be real, how many of our families really like that anyway? Quick story, when we were first married, I found and made this recipe for porcupine meatballs….yeah it tastes like what you are thinking. My husband of 2 months, in his sweetest voice says, “um, can you never make this again?” That is still a good laugh years later, but truth is, those meatballs were a pain in the back end to make, set dinner back to like 8pm and tasted awful. He would have been waaaaay happier with just plain ol spaghetti and meatballs. So bottom line is, plan what your family will eat. Be realistic. I save my complex or new recipes for the weekends when I have more time.
3. Shop for the weeks ingredients all at once. This step was forced by our move to acreage in the country, but saves us a lot of money and time. After I decide what I want to make, I get a list for the “stuff” needed to create them, then head to the store. This also is where flexibility is introduced. If I get to Wednesday and have steak salad planned but we had a client lunch out today with beef, I can make Thursday’s meal because I have everything I need on hand. It sounds so simple but it’s these little shifts and changes that make it workable for me.
4. Cut veggies once for all meals. I have discovered a great way to prep onions and veggies for the week so I’m not crying every day over my meal prep (literally). If you’re anything like me, just the thought of prep time can be enough of a climb when I am tired after work to have me dialing for delivery. Check out my onion and veggie hack that saves me so much time (coming in next post). With this prep out of the way, I can get most meals on the table quickly.
5. Have a few standbys….just in case. There will be days when you just aren’t feeling it and that’s ok. The goal of nutrition should be looked at globally. I plan a week at a time and consider the full week of nutrition, not one meal at a time….because, well that could make you crazy, but sometimes all the kids will eat is macaroni and cheese. So, again, I live by a gospel of grace in the meal planning world. An egg frittata (read a baked egg casserole that tastes like a quiche) which is filled with leftover veggies and cheese is still a very good meal with lots of health benefits. And it’s not cheating that it takes 15 minutes to make and 30 mins to bake. That’s brilliant and we need a few “emergency exit” options on the dinner planning.
I’ll share some of my emergency options for 30 minute dinners in another post. I hope these steps help you with meal planning. I know that for the first time, I am really making it work and knowing there is an idea ready is very helpful to success!
Go get ’em, you’ve got this,