As a busy working mom of two, one of my biggest frustrations is getting a healthy dinner on the table every night. Seems these little people in my house need to be fed again and again, day after day! (Not to mention the fact that they have these OPINIONS about foods they like and dislike…sheesh.)
Mastering meal planning comes and goes for me. Some weeks I am on it, and dinnertime hums along smoothly all week. Other weeks? All hell breaks loose, I’ve not planned a thing, and we’re guiltily moping through the drive-thru once again.
Dinnertime comes around every single day…but why does it always take me by surprise?
When I discipline myself to do it, meal planning takes a ton of stress off my shoulders. I can shop according to a list, making that exciting task shorter and less of a hassle. I don’t have to scramble to defrost anything from the freezer, or stand there in front of the fridge, hoping some delicious dinner will somehow materialize out of the mish-mash of ingredients I have left.
Taking the time to sit down and sketch out a week’s worth of meals is always the toughest part. Subscription-based meal planning services can do all of the heavy work for you, from planning out a week’s worth of dinners and even tallying up a grocery list. One in particular that I have used before, emeals.com, offers a huge variety of meal plans, from budget-friendly or portion-controlled plans, to diet-specific meal plans such as gluten-free and Paleo
If you prefer to sketch out a meal plan yourself, simplifying from the start can help you get a handle on the task. One way I’ve done this is to use nightly themes. For instance, we do Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, Crockpot Thursdays, and Fish on Fridays. (Wednesdays are a mid-week break…we eat leftovers or head out to a restaurant.)
I’ve found that keeping our themes pretty broad in scope leaves plenty of room for variety, but still narrows the thousands of choices out there down to a more manageable scale. Taco Tuesdays at our house, for example, can include any Mexican-style dish. Your own theme nights could go in any number of directions. You could add in a soup night, a breakfast-for-dinner night, or even an everyone-fends-for-themselves night. Tailor your themes to your family’s schedule and tastes.
Once I decided on a few basic themes, I organized my favorite recipes according to theme into a 3-ring binder. Now when I sit down to plan out our week, I can pull out recipes that fit the themes and write out a meal plan and shopping list within just a few minutes. (Of course, enlisting your partner to keep the distractions at bay while you work on your weekly plan is a no-brainer!)
Having a game plan and sticking to it equals success in many areas of work and life, and meal planning is just one of them. Figuring out a strategy that works for you and your family can free up a lot of time and anxiety. I’ve never enjoyed cooking before, but I find myself looking forward to trying new recipes and techniques during weeks when I am working my meal plans. And putting delicious, healthy meals on the table – rather than tipping the pizza delivery guy again – is such a great feeling.
Christy Johnson has two amazing little girls and a rock of a handsome hubby. She photographs Raleigh’s most adorable families and blogs her photography work and personal stories at Be True Image Design. Email her with your own struggles and triumphs with work/life balance at email@example.com.