Meal Planning should be a college course, or better yet, a high school class. Why it’s kept a secret until we’re forty is a mystery. Ok, so maybe you mastered it before the onset of your fifth decade, but I did not. I really only started doing it well within the last year. And, let’s celebrate the small victories here: prior to that, none of my people ever starved to death, so there’s that.
Amanda and I approach meal planning much differently but we agree wholeheartedly on one thing: having a plan, is the best plan. Ooh, write that down, that’s a keeper. The following story is my (Rachel’s) approach to meal planning but I urge you to read Amanda’s approach to meal planning to get two different perspectives. I won’t give it all away but her rendition is chock-full of tips on weekly meal prep and freezer meals, and she’s even included some of her crowd-pleasing, go-to recipes!
Back to Rachel’s approach and how to tackle your chaos using the Meal & Activities Planner from the Spring Chaos Survival Kit . . .
Do you remember back in my Date Night story I mentioned the Purposeful Family Manager course that we took? Well, another really helpful thing that came out of it was the notion of a weekly family meeting. It has been a game-changer! Now, I realize that some of you have really little kiddos. Don’t underestimate the idea of getting them started on this early! Your family meeting will look different than mine, but in any form, it has the power to improve communication, reduce frustration and instill ownership in and among all your people.
Our weekly family meeting consists of five agenda items that we cover in under 30 minutes on Sunday afternoons:
- Check-in: High/Low – In the past week, what went well and what left room for improvement?
- Calendar review (a look at the week ahead)
- Meal planning
- Chores list
- Check-out: What are you looking forward to in the coming week?
We LOVE meal planning as a family. Why? Because there are no more surprises. No one complains because they “didn’t want (x)” or they “don’t like (z)”. It’s also been helpful to consider the meals in relation to the calendar. It’s not rocket science, I know, but I’m only now really appreciating this!
Once upon a time, I would meander through the grocery store searching for recipes on my phone while looking at food items, wondering what we should eat. If you read Are you a Chaos Coordinator? you know I sometimes went to the store without a (bra) grocery list. I was a serious offender Mamas. I would make it up as I went and I’d feel victorious when I got home with grand plans for some fancy new entree. It would take me hours to pull that new recipe together and it was always inevitably on a night when we needed to go in seventeen directions.
Now, we create the grocery list while we make the meal plan (based on the calendar). Are you following me? Just in case you aren’t, I’ll lay it out for you:
- We look at the calendar for the upcoming week.
- We decide what we’re eating for dinner each day based on our calendar (planning easier dinners on busier nights) and write them down on the Meal & Activities Planner along with the time we’ll eat each night.
- We make the grocery list as we plan.
And here’s the other change we implemented: I’m not allowed to go to the grocery store anymore. My husband goes (because he doesn’t need a bra). I know some of you are cursing me for that but the truth is, he’s more efficient, he sticks to the list and he’s a coupon-guru so in the end, keeping me out of the stores saves us serious money. Okay, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration. I still go to the store on occasion, but Steve manages the bulk of it.
And wait for this next diddy: we also use a meal delivery service. Yep, that’s right. Three nights a week, we make and eat Hello Fresh. That’s our current service of choice, but we’ve been talking about exploring other avenues. Do you use one that you like? If so, comment below! Meal services aren’t cheap, but the time-savings offsets the cost for us. Have you ever calculated how much time you spend on meals? It’s extremely time-intensive and I for one don’t love the process. If you do, more power to you. Share your secrets with us!! Until then, we will wait in excited anticipation each week for the UPS driver to roll up to our house to deliver the gift of ready-to-make dinners.
So, the other thing that we refined in our meal planning reboot was getting intentional about breakfast and lunch. We’d really only planned dinners in the past. Breakfast and lunch were game-time decisions. Why would we do that to ourselves when both meals are typically prepared at the same time in a window of about 11 minutes every morning before school? It was stressful every day! It may seem funny to have to write down: toast on Tuesday, but friend, hear me when I say to you that some kids do not feel decisive on Tuesdays or other days that end in ‘y’ and so knowing that he’s already planned for toast on Tuesday is helpful to all parties involved.
On the topic of food, it varies tremendously from family to family, but, here’s a tip: make a list of 10-15 meals and rotate them. Keep the ingredients simple and be sure you can whip them together in under 30 minutes. If you use a digital grocery list, keep the basics on repeat so you’re not reinventing the wheel every week when you make your grocery list. We start with the recurring master list and cross things off if we don’t need them that week. The recurring list consists of half & half, bagels, bread, milk, fruit, salad-stuff/veggies, deli meat, soup, and yogurt. We use those things every week.
Here’s another tip – within those 10-15 meals, pull them from five categories. Here’s what I mean and some ideas for each:
Meatless Mondays – salad, vegetable soup, meatless chili, rice bowls, loaded sweet potatoes, breakfast for dinner, egg salad, grilled cheese & tomato soup.
Taco Tuesdays – mix it up with shrimp, fish, beef or chicken or change it up and do enchiladas, burritos or taco salad.
Pasta Wednesdays – lasagna, spaghetti, gnocchi, ravioli – and change up the sauces: marinara, meatball, pesto, alfredo.
Fish Thursdays – salmon is our go-to but there are endless possibilities here.
Pizza Fridays – carry out, heat a frozen pie, make it from scratch – it’s a slam-dunk crowd-pleaser. You can even trick them into eating cauliflower crust and convince yourself that pizza can be healthy!
Restaurant Saturdays – give yourself grace and take a night off from cooking! Go out or order in.
Left-over Sundays – keep the grace rollin’ and finish up the food from the week; it doubles as a way to clean out the fridge!
I just gave you 20+ meal suggestions and that’s without getting creative. Take a minute to brain-dump your ideas and within minutes you’ll have a plan!
If you’re using the meal planner from our Spring Chaos Survival Kit, you’ll notice that we have a spot for evening activities. This is admittedly unique for a meal planner but was born of the aforementioned family meetings. As we’d go through our digital calendar and jot down which meals we’d eat on given nights based on the nightly activities, we started writing the activities on the same planner so we could post one page for the whole family to reference all week long from breakfast to the final sports practice of the day. Less surprises = less chaos!
What do you think? If you’re looking for a new plan, give the GracePace Meal & Activities Planner a try and see if it works for you. If it doesn’t, create one of your own. Consider having weekly family meetings and see what your family comes up with based on your needs. One last tip: we laminated our planner and use wet-erase markers to fill out the plan each week. It cuts down on waste and allows us to make edits on the fly when there’s a call for grace.