You come home after a long day. The kids are hungry and cranky. You look through the fridge and the cupboard and try and decide what you’re going to make them for dinner. Everything will take too long for the little monsters, and you are too tired to fight with them to have a healthy snack while they wait for you to make a pot of pasta (it’s the only thing you know that they will all eat, and it’s the fastest thing to get on the table at this point!). “Meal planning seems like a good idea… if only I had thought about it before this very moment!”
We’ve all been there.
We all work better when we know what to expect
Just as kids work better with a schedule (it helps them know what to expect), we can make our lives a bit easier by planning a bit in advance. Meal planning has always been a really tough one for me. I’ve gone through the “Sunday planning, shopping and prepping” phases, which usually don’t last more than a week or two. I’ve gone through the “get-the-kids-involved-in-the-planning” phases, which usually causes more arguments than it solves. I’ve also gone through the “I-don’t-care-what-you-eat-just-make-a-bowl-of-cereal” phase, which never ends well for any of the parties involved.
This fall, I started a new job and came up with a plan that worked a lot better than any of my past attempts. I like to call it “Themed Meal Planning”. It is a plan that gives wiggle room for crazy nights, but is easy to remember without having to write it down.
I usually plan out Monday to Thursday night dinners. Friday night is Shabbat, so that will be its own menu (a blog topic for another day!). Each night has a “theme”, but nothing specific associated with it. Open to interpretation, what is on sale, the moods of the minions, or the amount of prep-time available that day.
My current weekly meal planning themes:
Side note: When you plan to have pasta, you feel a lot more responsible than when you are having it as a last resort. Just saying.
When I started this plan, I posted the above version on a board for my kids. They then knew a general idea of what to expect, and could always put in a request (which I could accept or ignore at my whim).
Fish Monday – Whatever is on sale that day will be what is served. I will also pick up the chicken or meat on Monday to be cooked on Tuesday.
Chicken/Meat Tuesday – My youngest has a meat day at school on Wednesday, so leftovers will be used for his school lunch. Also, I work from home on Tuesdays, so I have a bit more time to prepare dinner.
Pasta/Vegetarian Wednesday – Wednesday evening is a bit crazy in our house. This is the night that I will go for easy.
Pizza Thursday – Pizza can be anything from homemade to pita pizzas to takeout. Whatever works for that week is the way to go. I’m still trying to think of a good dairy free alternative. If any of you have good ideas, I’m open to suggestions!
What you need to remember for meal planning:
Basically, when you lack planning skills but still want to get dinner on the table with some sense of ease, remember these 3 important things:
- Create a system that works for you and your family.
- The system should give you a framework for dinner with minimal brain effort at the end of a long day.
- The routine of the system will ease your stress level, and the stress level of your kids, so keep it up!
To help you out, I have created a simple PDF Meal Planner (with shopping list) for you to print out and use. You can write YOUR theme by each day and then just quickly mark down a meal that works for you and your family for this week. Add the foods you need to the shopping list on the side. The shopping list can then be ripped off to take with you to the store. You can download your Weekly Meal Plan Printable
I’d love to hear your thoughts about the system and the download. If you found this article helpful, please remember to share!