Monday, January 15, 2018

What's Cookin': Family Meal Planning

Standing in front of the refrigerator or pantry asking myself or worse yet, my children “what should I make for dinner?” is never a good feeling--at least not for me.  My crew is on the go with school, dance, play practice, etc so planning ahead is a must for me.  I began weekly meal planning with a reasonable amount of regularity a few years ago.  I was trying to regain my health (after 4 children and a minor bout of cancer), as well as some sense of organization and control over our daily routine.  So I looked to my friends and various internet sites for advice and ideas.  

What works for me is a traditional paper and pencil approach.  I purchased a day planner with plenty of room to write.  It is so low tech that I actually draw a line down the center of each day, everyone’s appointments and after school events on the left and dinner plans on the right.  

People might wonder if it is really worth the effort...for me ABSOLUTELY!  The girls can all read, so they rarely ask me “what’s for dinner” anymore.  Craig and the older girls are able to help get things started on specific days of the week depending on each person’s schedule.  There is less wasted food.  It forces me to pay attention to how often we eat specific things and prompts me to increase variety and healthier options.  

So what’s the plan for this week?  

Monday: since we are all off for Martin Luther King Jr Day, I’ll bake homemade bread and put tomato sauce in the crock pot.  This goes beautifully with a fresh lettuce salad.  One of the twins requested this and is hoping there will be leftovers for her lunch at school on Tuesday.  

Tuesday:  Pasta with sauce and veggies.  Not everyone in my house likes alfredo sauce but since we will have bread with red sauce on Monday, I’ll do alfredo sauce and broccoli and they may choose which sauce they want.  Of course there will be salad too.  

Wednesday:  Quinoa with Roasted Veggies (butternut squash and balsamic brussel sprouts).  Craig (who is just as picky as the kids and the only meat eater in the house) will have pork chops to go with it.  

Thursday: Is always the most difficult day for family meals.  The timing of the girls’ various commitments just doesn’t work out.  So this is typically our day for leftovers.  On the off chance that there aren’t any, sandwiches or salads are always on hand.  

Friday: This week we will not have a family meal on Friday either.  I try not to let that happen more than once or twice a week, but the twins will be working the Spaghetti Dinner Fundraiser for their Band Trip and one of the the other girls has an appointment so….  I have to be flexible.  I’m told this will continue to happen more as my kids get older, but I plan to fight it.  Family dinner time is important to me and my family.   

Saturday: Oven rice with veggies and Chicken for the man.  I laugh as I type this because Oven rice sounds like a silly name for a meal but that’s what we call it.  I typically use Arborio rice with vegetable stock and veggies.  There are two versions my kids like, carrots, celery, and peas or broccoli with garlic and parmesan cheese.  This week I plan to use the first option.  

Sunday: Craig and I have date night (it was supposed to be Saturday but we have a Band Concert instead.  We will let the kids have their favorite: “Veggie Chicken” (Morningstar Farms) and box mac and cheese.  This is one of those go to meals that we used to have a couple of times each week before I started planning.  It really isn’t very good for you, I have quit eating it almost entirely, but allow the kids to have it once in a while when I am an not home.     

I have to admit that planning ahead is only half the battle.  The other half is preparing what I can ahead of time.  Working full time, running the kids and following through with my other chosen and imposed responsibilities doesn’t leave much time to cook, especially on weeknights.  When I plan the weeks meals, I have to keep in mind who has to be where, when, and who can help get dinner on the table.  I also do whatever I can ahead of time.  Sundays (or this week Monday) I will spend an hour or two in the kitchen.
So what do I do on Sundays?
  • Wash and cut veggies for lunches and snacks
  • Check the supply of veggie dip and make more if needed (the kids go through this in spurts, sometimes it lasts a week or two, other times only a few days.  
  • Boil eggs for salads
  • Wash and cut lettuce for salad.

This week specifically, I will peel and cut the squash for Wednesday--that will keep well in the fridge until then.  Tuesday I will go visit my grandparents after work which means Craig and Patience will have to start dinner.  I will make the alfredo sauce this weekend.  The red sauce will be leftover from Monday so Craig will only have to put them into crock pots early in the afternoon.  Patience can boil the pasta and put the broccoli in the steamer--it’s a team effort.

I will also make crockpot french toast Monday night.  Fresh hot breakfast (for everyone except my egg allergy kid) Tuesday morning.  What’s left can be reheated for breakfast or put into a thermos for lunch throughout the week.  

It’s not perfect, but it’s far better that what I was doing a few years ago.  I’m learning, my kids are learning, and we are all better for it.  

Wendy Bacon is a busy vegetarian mom who tries (unsuccessfully at times) to keep it all together.