From Contributing Writer, Megan:
Scenario 1: It’s 5:00pm, you’re still in your pajamas, you’ve changed too many diapers to count, you’ve nursed the baby, you’ve fed the toddler, you’ve started a load of laundry, and you realize you haven’t even thought about dinner. You want to make something that doesn’t come from a box, but where to begin?
Scenario 2: It’s 6:00pm, you pull up to the drive through window, begin to order, and the cashier recognizes your voice (and your order). He asks if you would like, “The usual,” and you embarrassingly say, “Yes.” Your 12 year old had soccer practice right after school, and your 9 year old had ballet. You wanted dinner to be nutritious, but the day got away from you and here you are.
Meal planning can be as detailed or basic as you decide, but making the effort to plan on a weekly or monthly basis can help to restore order in your home, in addition to other surprising benefits. You may enjoy:
- Better nutrition – By planning your meals you are able to control what your family ingests. You avoid eating out or choosing unhealthy options at the last minute because everyone is “starving.”
- Saving money – Planning ahead allows you to purchase items that are on sale and incorporate them into your menus. You avoid buying extra grocery items that might go to waste without a specific purpose (especially produce)
- Family bonding – Family dinners create built-in family time. As children get older, they can help prepare the food, set the table, and clean up. This allows for more time together, in addition to conversations at dinner. You can even incorporate fun conversation starters like these at “How Does She?:” http://www.howdoesshe.com/christmas-present-to-our-readers
- Stability for your children – When children (and parents) expect to sit down to eat together each night, it offers stability. Each family member is able to depend on that time together, which brings peace to the family unit as a whole.
If you feel overwhelmed, start slow. Plan one dinner per week, then work your way up to more. You can also plan breakfast and lunches in a general or specific way. Personally I’ve tried several different strategies, and found different benefits for each. See if any of these might work for you…
Strategies I’ve tried:
- Theme nights:
- Sit down and brainstorm different types of cuisine/cooking methods that your family enjoys (i.e. Mexican, Italian, Japanese, soup/sandwich, crock pot meals, breakfast for dinner, leftovers, and eat out…yes, it’s okay to plan to eat out!)
- Then brainstorm meals that fit into each category (write them down)
- Example: Crock Pot Night = beef stew, chili, pot roast, chicken, etc.
- You can search online or through your recipes for more ideas
- Use Word or Excel to create a table in which you assign a cuisine to each day. Then, simply insert meal ideas in each column to fill up the chart. Voila…you have dinners planned for an entire month (or more if you want to keep going)!
Here is an example of a chart I created for my family:
- Weekly table/chart:
- Use Word or excel to create a table with 6 columns and 8 rows.
- In the first column, label the days of the week vertically, then create individual headings that read: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snacks, and, Preparation for Tomorrow (great for soaking grains/beans and reminders to defrost items). Label each column across the top with these headings.
- Sit down with your calendar and fill in the meals you would like to prepare. Make notes in the “Preparation for Tomorrow” section.
- Some people like to transfer this to a dry erase board on the refrigerator…you choose what works best.
- You can also find charts online that are already created. Try doing a web search. I found one at The Happy Housewife that you could try: http://thehappyhousewife.com/cooking/menu-plan-free-download/
- There are many menu planner services available. I won’t try to list them all, but I will tell you what I’ve tried. I recently signed up for www.cookingtf.com ‘s menu mailer. Each week they email me 5 dinners, 1 soup, 1 breakfast, and a dessert. I’ve only been using it a couple of weeks, but I am really enjoying it. They include a weekly calendar that lists what days I need to begin soaking/sprouting ingredients, in addition to defrosting meat. There is a shopping list for each week or for the month if you shop monthly. They’ve also just released a budget menu mailer option. (I don’t receive anything for telling you about this)
- There are other services that offer 3 dinners/week or other variations for special diets. If you’ve seen your favorite blog advertise this service, it might be time to give it a try.
Now that I have given you a lot to digest (Heehee!), I hope you will consider beginning some type of meal planning for your family. If you are already planning in some way, maybe you will feel inspired to make some changes.
I pray that you do not feel like this is another “to-do,” but a way to free yourself to spend more time with your family while nourishing them in the way that you desire. Feel free to add any other ideas in the comments section. Happy planning…
Do you plan ahead? Or are you a last minute chef?
Shared at Gnowfglins