Having to figure out dinner every single night is one of the hardest tasks we face as parents (right next to raising good humans, and never ending laundry). Here’s how I personally go about making it easier on myself and my family:
Every Sunday morning you’ll find me at our kitchen table with a cup of coffee, meal planning for the week ahead. In our family, we grocery shop once a week, and before I head to the store with my son I sit down with our whiteboard calendar and my notepad, and start writing.
First I write out each day, Sunday through Saturday. Then I’ll take a look through the cupboards and fridge and see what we already have – if there are 2 extra pieces of chicken in the freezer from a prior week, that’ll save me having to buy another entire package.
When it comes to figuring out the meals, certain nights are easier to plan, as we consistently have the same thing – for example Friday is always Pizza Night in our house! Then I’ll think about “Family nights” – My husband’s nights off are Mondays and Wednesdays, so we do a larger meal those nights. Tuesday night my son has piano at 6, so a meal that’s easier to get on the table (one he’ll eat quickly) is best. I make sure to get family input – My husband will give me ideas for the family nights, my son gets to choose dinner for a night when it’s just him and me.
A sample week menu for us would look like this:
Sunday: Ham and Cheese crescent roll-ups and salad
Monday: Whole chicken, with sides
Tuesday: Bolognese and salad
Wednesday: Crockpot chicken ‘pot pie’
Thursday: Pork chops, baked apples, and mash
Friday: Pizza (frozen or delivery, depending on the week)
Saturday: Loaded nachos (load up with veggies and black beans so “fun” is also healthy!)
For things like the bolognese and nachos I use a meatless crumble like Quorn. I keep a bag in the freezer, and it lasts about 4 meals in our house, while keeping 2 dinners a week vegetarian. I also buy a slightly larger package of the meats we will be eating that week , and then save what we don’t use in the freezer, for a future dinner.
Besides the fact that everyone in our house will know what the dinners are for the week, it’s a fantastic teaching opportunity for my son. It’s a time for him to learn about budgeting and weekly planning – ‘life skills’ every person should have for when they’re adults. On top of that, having to come with me to the store teaches him basic things like waiting in line, speaking politely to the hardworking grocer, and how to bag groceries so that your bread isn’t under your cans.
However, teachable moments and knowing dinner plans aside, the biggest advantage of meal planning is SAVING MONEY. So much money is saved! When you’re not over purchasing because you didn’t know you already had something, or under purchasing and having to go to the store in the middle of the week, you can start shaving money off the grocery budget! With a list and a menu, you’re less likely to veer away from what you’ve already planned.
Every family is different – yours may shop every 2 weeks, or once a month – but hopefully this gives you some ideas on how to start meal planning in your own home. I’ve been known to do an entire month’s calendar of meals during busier months (ie September and December) so that thinking of meals isn’t such a dreadful task, and I know of a mom who has meals written on index cards, and lets each member of her family choose a card each week.
Whatever your approach, please share it with us! Every tip and trick helps meal planning become just a little easier on all of us.