Project Organize: Meal Planning


Picture this: you’re driving home from work/soccer practice/doctor appointment/desperate stab at exercise, when you feel that dull thud in the pit of your stomach as you wonder “Crap!  What am I making for dinner?”  Imagine the joy of never having to think that again.  Imagine the peace of mind.  Imagine not secretly hating your family because they want dinner Every. Single. NIGHT.



Modern Parents Messy Kids is perhaps my favoriest website in the world, because they seem to truly understand that family life is never, ever simple.

Read on for their great Meal Planning Action Plan:

Step 1: Have a System for Finding Meals
I used to just sit at the kitchen table with my favorite cookbooks, recipe websites, and meals in my head and create a weekly menu.  At one point I even started to create a spreadsheet listing all my family’s favorite chicken meals, fish meals, veggie meals and etc. to make it a bit easier.  Ultimately I switched to Relish! because I loved that it would take my chosen meals and generate a shopping list (and even conveniently categorize the items by where they could be found in the store) but that’s a luxury, not a necessity.  All you really need for this step is a system that works for you. (Editor’s note: my personal favorite is Food On The Table–it’s a FREE planning service that:
  • creates a weekly menu based on your food preferences/food allergies
  • scours the internet and ads for coupons relating to the meals
  • creates a shopping list for you

Other than rubbing my feet, Food on The Table pretty much covers everything else.  Right now, you can get a lifetime subscription FREE by clicking here.

One additional thing that I’ve found works really well for me (and that many of you have written in and said works for you) is to assign a theme to each night.  An example would be something like this:
Monday – Fish
Tuesday – Slow Cooker
Wednesday – Chicken
Thursday – Veggie
Friday – Mexican
Doing this makes it easier to ensure variation in your family’s meals.  It can also help with time management and cut down on wasted food.  For example, I work Tuesday afternoons and don’t finish until dinner time.  By making Tuesday slow cooker day I can ensure that nobody starves on those nights.  Similarly, since we grocery shop on Sunday, making Monday fish night helps to ensure that it’s nice and fresh.
Step 2: Figure Out the Easiest Way to Shop with Your Kids
This is the hardest part for me so let me just say straight off that the easiest way may be not to do it at all.  With a 20 month old and a 3 1/2 year old it seems like someone always wants a new snack, wants to walk instead of ride, or has to go potty.  There’s just no getting around it.  So for now we’ve settled into a routine of taking care of the grocery shopping during nap time on Sundays.
If weekend or night shopping doesn’t work for you then you need to figure out the best ways to keep your kiddos happy at the store.  Many of you have written in to say that snacks go a long way.  Depending on your child, distributing the snacks in a fun way may get you even more mileage out of this idea.
Step 3: Make a Habit of Thinking About Dinner Ahead of Time
Take 10 seconds every night and look at what you’ll be eating for dinner tomorrow.  Slow cooker meals are crazy convenient IF you remember to start in the morning… not so much if 3 o’clock rolls around and you realize your pot roast should have already been cooking for 4 hours.  Whether it’s setting an alarm on your phone or just keeping your weekly menu out in the open, do whatever it takes to get in the habit of thinking about dinner in advance.
Step 4: Cook When You Have Time
Let’s face it, for many parents 5 o’clock just isn’t a very convenient time to start chopping and sauteing.  There’s a reason, after all, that this time of day is known as the “witching hour”.  The kids are often starting to get tired, a bit cranky, and more than a little needy.  Instead of trying to come up with ways to pacify them and cook dinner, I’ve started doing as much meal prep as possible earlier in the day.  If I’m working in the afternoon, for example, I’ll put S down for nap and start cooking with C around noon.  We address whatever can be chopped or mixed and then sit tight for a few hours.  Obviously this won’t work for everyone’s schedule but it’s worth thinking about doing some of your meal prep in the morning, the night before, or on the weekends if possible.
Step 5: Have a Back-up Plan
I mentioned earlier this week that we’ve gotten into the habit of making one or two freezer meals with C on the weekends.  While it’s not necessary to have a freezer full of meals, it is nice to have something you can throw in the oven when the day has unexpectedly gone awry.  Having a few super simple recipes in your toolbox can also help.
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