Meal Planning. I suck at it. I want desperately to have this be a successful area of my life. But I haven’t yet learned the quick and easy tips to make meal planning work for us.
Most nights end up being: pick up from after school care and go directly to dance classes. That means take out. And that sucks. Patrick and I eat later in the evenings when we’re home, but we get pizza a bit too often.
The girls dance til 7 or 8pm so there’s not time to create something for them once we’re home – and they NEED to eat before they go dance. You can only eat peanut butter sandwiches so often – though not at all at school or at the dance studio. I can’t count how many times we’ve packed a little cooler with peanut butter sandwiches and drinks to literally eat in the car…
There are a few things I do in my life currently that would count as meal planning:
Buy in Bulk:
We buy some items in bulk that we know we will use up in a short time frame, or will freeze well. This is how we manage breakfasts – multipacks of bagels or english muffins freeze just fine, and we thaw them out on an as needed basis. Sometimes we’ll thaw the whole bag for the week, other times we just take out one, run it through the microwave for 2 shots of 10 seconds (turning in between) and then toast as required.
Spaghetti sauce we cook up in a large batch. We’ll eat it for dinner the day we make it, then portion the rest into dinner sized containers and freeze them. I try to take one out of the freezer the night before or the morning I plan to serve it for dinner. I LOVE doing this and I’m hoping to expand to soups (that my kids will eat) or slow cooker meals that will freeze well.
I try to wash and cut up vegetables once a week (or more often if we eat them all!) to have them ready to throw in a salad or any other dish that they can be tossed into. I’ll usually cut bell peppers, carrots, and sometimes cucumbers if I know we’ll eat them up quickly. Even mushrooms can be cut ahead of time, or you can buy small ones and use them whole. I also like grape, or cherry, tomatoes on hand for snacking or salads.
My readers had some great suggestions when I asked them for their best meal planning tips:
Lisa from Lisa Tanner Writing has a great post that outlines how she meal plans. It sounds ambitious, but it also seems like a fabulous way to stay on track with your meals, and your grocery shopping. Here’s her post: How to Minimize your Decisions with an Annual Meal Plan
Tanya from Pencils and Popcans: Generally, I’m on the ball when it comes to organizing our family meals. I often put together casseroles the night before, chop up veggies and have them ready to go in the fridge. BUT – if I forget to heat up the oven – then there’s that wait-time that makes all my previous organization go straight out the window. So – I will program my oven to start heating up at a specific time – that way when I want to throw the meal in the oven – it’s already pre-heated. I sometimes even take this a step further – I put the meal in the oven, program it to begin heating up – then as I’m driving my son home from his hockey practice, I can rest assured that our meal will be just about ready to serve up and eat the minute I walk in the door.
Natasha from OMG Parenting: I actually use a local meal prep cook twice a week. It helps keep the menu from being boring. You choose the meals you want online, and they send the ingredients and recipe instructions in a cooled, recyclable box. I love that I don’t have to buy large quantity of an unusual spice or food, make the sauce, or think. All I do is chop, cook, serve. They work with local farms.
Michelle from Necessity is a Mom (and a new subscriber to my blog): I do plan out the menu for each week. Some weeks I’m better at sticking to it than others. Stress is a major factor in this. There are days when we’ve been extra busy or there is something big coming up and making a big meal is just not going to happen. I always try to keep back-up dinner options on hand. Spaghetti noodles and sauce are quick and easy. Princess is old enough to make mac and cheese (or Kraft Dinner, since I know you’re Canadian) almost completely by herself, so that’s another option. And no one objects to chicken nuggets. It may not be be healthiest, most balanced meal but the kids will be fed and I won’t lose my mind. I think it’s a fair trade-off.
Working Parent Stories is a follower of mine on Twitter. They have a great post with other parents sharing meal planning tips. Read it here: Working Parents Answer the Question: What’s for Dinner?
Claire from The Frugal Family also has a great post – Simplifying Meal Planning. She share some very basic, how to start wisdom. Check it out if you’re brand new to the idea of meal planning!
Fellow working mom and blogger Julie (Fab Working Mom Life) has a few posts on the subject of meal planning. Your Easy Guide to Creating a Family Meal Plan and My Simple Formula for Easy Dump Slow Cooker Dinners both have great suggestions to help you get those dinners on the table in time!
I would love to hear how you meal plan – or any tips for getting dinner on the table quickly and with minimal fuss. Pre-prep, big batch meal recipes, easy dinners, whatever you do/know/have read about – I want to hear it! Leave your wisdom below in the comments.
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