If you’ve been following us for awhile, you know that we’ve offered up some family meal planning advice in the past. There are several blog posts in the feed, but two that I think hit on the hardest areas to manage. “Will they eat it?” and “How Can I Stay Ahead of the Tidal Wave?”
The first is addressed in a collection of some great tips, centered around the 30 meals (but honestly, start with 3, or 5, or 8 meals) that you know your family loves when it hits the table. Another was about how to implement weekly strategies for getting and staying organized to avoid last minute panic at 5:30pm. Both have some real ideas that the members of our team use regularly…or semi-regularly. We recently even talked about some very quick meal ideas to help you with that last minute panic. That seems to be a reoccurring theme, doesn’t it?
So, what is the big deal about dinner? Is it the hungry children? The hungry mama? The pressure that we aren’t doing it well enough? The pressure to meet a standard of nutrition that we are afraid we fail at daily? The stress of hearing “I’m not eating that” when it hits the table? Maybe all of the above.
My sister offered some great advice to me when I was freaking out, caring for two newborn twins 5 years ago. “If it’s stressing you out, make it less complicated. If you’re not happy, no one is happy.” Great advice in caring for newborns, making dinner 5+ nights a week or planning a birthday party.
Here are my 5 tips for simplifying family meal planning:
1. Get out in front of it. Pick a day that you can dedicate to the grocery store. Sure, you might be back there again (and again?) during the week, but figure out the best day that you can go regularly. This will help eliminate the “we don’t have any food” on Wednesday crisis and stress of last minute scrambling.
2. Plan your meals. My friends and neighbors who have been in my kitchen make fun of me for my weekly chalkboard meal plan. “Do you seriously make this?” The answer is usually yes. At least 80% of what is on the chalkboard gets made. A day or two before I hit the grocery store, I flip through my cookbooks and find the meals that I want to make for the upcoming week. This might sound like a lot of work, but I’m never at a loss for something to make. I wake up and the thought process is done for me. If I decide that day that I don’t have time to make whatever is on the board, I skip it (remember: make it less complicated). But at least I have all the ingredients I need if I decide to go for it.
3. Ask friends for recipes. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Anyone with kids knows what it feels like to make a meal and hear,”what is that SMELL???” five minutes before dinner is served. Ask around for recipes that work in other households. Chances are, they might work in yours too.
4. Find a couple cookbooks that you like. Go on amazon and spend a few minutes reading reviews of popular cookbooks. Do the reviews and sample recipes look appealing? If you have resources that you like, you will be more likely to cook from them. I recently got rid of some cookbooks that did nothing by sit on my shelf. I never used them but felt bad letting them go. I have no idea why. But now I have a collection of recipes that I know I like. Check out our pinterest board for some ideas.
5. Use your freezer. On any given day, I have several glass jars filled with soup and bags of muffins in my freezer. These are quick, go-tos for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I’ve turned to frozen lasagna, homemade chicken nuggets, soups and other store-bought goodies (frozen tortellini, vegetables, pizza) for nights that I’m unprepared as well as nights that I am prepared. What a great feeling to know that the work is already done. Reheat and enjoy.