Meal Planning has been a part of my weekly routines for many years now. I learned how to do it from my mom who had a rotational calendar posted on the side of the fridge. We always knew when we were having Tuna Noodle Casserole or Taco Pie (she was an ‘80s mom, give her a break!) She is also the queen of preparing food ahead of time. She has this one appetizer, Spinach Balls (also straight out of the ‘80s), that she makes days or weeks in advance so she can “be a guest at her own party”. I love planning and being efficient, so it’s only natural that I would take after her in this department.
I went through all of the food stages in my childrens’ baby and toddler years. I would buy, cook and serve a vast array of foods. I prepared the homemade baby food, I made the cute shaped sandwiches and I definitely snuck the veggies in their spaghetti sauce. The kids also went through stages… from eating everything, to eating nothing, and back to eating everything again. Although I still want them to be adventurous, I wholeheartedly agree with Rachel that busy moms should stick to 10-15 dinner ideas and rotate them. After all those stages, you now know what they like… and I’m positive you know what they don’t. So why fight it? Embrace it!
Ok, so you know what they like, now it’s time to plan. Joe and I also took the Purposeful Family Manager Course. Even though we started it a whole year before Rachel and Steve, we haven’t implemented our family meeting yet. Slackers, I know. Instead, we do individual meetings with our kids. It has some benefits such as taking more time to talk to them personally about their schoolwork, sports, and other goals. It is shorter, focuses on just them and that keeps our teenagers engaged! But similar to what Rachel & Steve do (check out Rachel’s story on meal planning), in the end, we ask them what they’d like to see on the menu next week.
From there, I take that information to my own weekly planning. I use Saturdays to look at the week ahead. Here’s what I do when I get to the meal planning part:
- I survey the calendar and decide what we’re going to eat for dinner each night. I decide this based on our evening activities, how long I’ll have to prepare the meal and whether it will have to be eaten quickly or on the go. Of course, I also include the kids’ requests as best I can, but luckily they are not picky.
- I schedule that information into my google calendar. I love our Meals and Activities Planner (found in the Spring Chaos Survival Kit) and found it especially useful when my kids were younger, but now that they have devices that are connected to the family calendar they can easily check them to see what’s on the menu for the week.
- From here, I start building a grocery list. I include the ingredients needed for the planned dinners, plus, breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and anything I’ve signed up for (sports snacks, meal deliveries for an ailing friend/neighbor, etc.) My list is built based on the grocery store I visit most frequently and is categorized by aisle. I’m in and out in no time! (Be on the lookout for some great digital tools we will be introducing to help you become more efficient in the grocery store and beyond!)
- I grocery shop on a day when I have some time to prepare meals right when I get home. It’s important for me to start the cooking as soon as I get back instead of putting the groceries away and then getting them all back out again.
I love to cook. This comes from my dad. My mom did it because she felt like that was her role, but now, years later, they have figured out both would prefer him to be in the kitchen. As a hunter and fisher, he takes pride in preparing his game. But my dad is not efficient or tidy. I’ve taken a different approach. As soon as I walk in with the groceries (or rather, as soon as my kids have unloaded the groceries for me), I’m on a mission. I try to prepare and cook as many of the week’s meals as possible when I get home. I have the list of meals on my calendar, so I decide what takes the longest to cook and start there.
Here’s an example of a week’s worth of meals:
|Breakfast Sandwiches||Prepped ahead|
|High Protein French Toast||Prepped ahead|
|Mango/Spinach/Avocado Protein Shake||Prepped ahead|
|Sub sandwiches||Not prepped|
|Ham & potato casserole||Prepped ahead|
|Bagel & cream cheese||Not prepped|
|Monday: Grilled chicken & caesar salad||Prepped ahead|
|Tuesday: Burgers & oven-roasted potatoes||Not prepped|
|Wednesday: Chicken, broccoli & wild rice soup||Prepped ahead|
|Thursday: Take-out pizza||Not prepped|
|Friday: Amazing Beef, roasted carrots & brussel sprouts||Not prepped|
|Saturday: Leftovers or go out||Not prepped|
|Sunday: Rotisserie chicken, garlic bread & salad||Not prepped|
Here’s what I prep on grocery shopping day:
- Breakfast sandwiches
- Grilled chicken
- Chicken & wild rice soup
- Ham & potato casserole
- High Protein French Toast
- Mango/Spinach/Avocado: portion out
- Cold-brew coffee
How I prep:
- Before putting the groceries away I decide what I’ll do first. In this example, I’ll take out the chicken and bake or grill enough for both Monday’s dinner and the soup.
- While that is cooking, I’ll start putting some things away and get the breakfast sausage cooking for the breakfast sandwiches. I’ll also pop the biscuits in the oven for the sandwiches.
- I’ll continue putting some groceries away, while the meat is cooking. I’ll start cooking the rice for the soup and thawing the cubed potatoes for the ham & potato casserole.
- As I’m putting more groceries away, I’ll leave out ingredients that I’ll be using.
- When the chicken is done, I’ll let it cool, put the chicken for Monday’s dinner away and cut up the rest for the soup.
- When the breakfast sausage is done, I’ll crack eggs in muffin tins. This way they’re the perfect size to fit on the biscuit! I’ll add the sausage crumbles to the egg mixture and bake.
- I’ll get the soup cooking by adding any vegetables and broth.
- I’ll assemble the ham and potato casserole and get it in the oven.
- When the sausage/eggs are done and biscuits are cool, I slice them, add the sausage/egg and ¼ slice of cheese. I store them in a large container in the freezer.
- When the casserole and soup are done, I let them cool.
- Then I’ll focus on the french toast since it cooks quickly and it needs my undivided attention.
- While that cools, I finish my prep by portioning out my smoothie ingredients into small plastic containers and put those back in the freezer. When I make a smoothie, all I have to do is add almond milk and protein powder to the blender and then dump in my frozen produce.
- Finally, I’ll finish the prep work off with making a batch of cold-brew coffee for the week.
I still have some cooking to do during the week, but I’m way ahead of the game. If I’m familiar with all the recipes, I’ll listen to a couple of good podcasts or a book on audio to be extra efficient and make the process more fun!
How do you meal-plan and prep? What do you think about this approach? Would it reduce your chaos during the week to have meals prepped in advance? ? Let us know!