Recently, I spoke to a group of women about meal planning. Most expressed frustration with their busy schedules and trying to get a healthy meal on the table every night. Several women told me they order pizza or pick up take out three or four times a week because they just don’t have the energy to cook dinner at night.
If the thought of planning your weekly menu makes you cringe and want to cry, read on.
First, let’s talk about the importance of menu planning. When you have a plan, you are less likely to make poor food choices for yourself and your family. Especially if you have children, you know how that crazy dinner hour can be. When you have a plan, you can be prepping dinner while helping with homework or listening to the news of the day.
Having a weekly menu plan also ensures that you have all of the ingredients on hand. Once you make your menu plan, make a grocery list immediately. More on that in a minute.
Here is how to get started and how to streamline your weekly menu planning process:
• Set aside a half an hour or so to plan your upcoming weekly menu. I have always found Sunday is a good day to do this. Our Sundays, even when our children were young, were a little more laid back than our crazy Saturdays. I found I could carve out a half an hour, make our weekly menu plan, compile a grocery list and just feel so much more organized to start my week. If you have young children, this is a good time to jot down lunches and snacks and then add those to your grocery list as well.
• Gather your calendar and any other information regarding your week and children’s activities. This is critical for successful menu planning because every night is different, so what you are going to make for dinner might depend on the night’s activities. For example, if you are going to be driving children to soccer practice or ballet lessons, that might be a good day to haul out the slow cooker.
• Consider doing some prep ahead of time. Chop onions and store in a plastic bag, thaw meat in the refrigerator you plan on using, form hamburger meat into patties, mix up a few salad dressings, make a big pot of soup for dinner the next night and lunches during the week.
• If possible, try to creatively use leftovers in your plan. For example, if you cook a whole chicken in the slow cooker, let that be dinner one night, and make chicken quesadillas or chicken salad with the leftover chicken for another night. Cook a roast in the slow cooker and the next day use the leftovers to make vegetable beef soup. If you are cooking ground beef for tacos, double the amount and use the leftover cooked ground beef to make stuffed peppers or meaty spaghetti sauce.
• Have a few emergency meals planned. No matter how well you plan, things happen — especially if you have young children. Somebody suddenly gets an ear infection and has to go to the doctor.
Add rush hour traffic, a cranky sick child, and your dinner plan of making beef stroganoff just went out the window. Emergency meals are things you always keep in your pantry and/or freezer. For example, pasta, a bottle of marinara, some frozen green beans and frozen French bread — voila, dinner will be on the table in 15 minutes. Having a few of these dinners in the house ensures dinner is doable and you don’t have to order a pizza.
• Get the family in on the act — especially if you have picky eaters. During dinner one night, go around the table and let everybody suggest dinners they like. Just be ready with some suggestions and have a pad of paper to jot down ideas. This is also a great way to get the kids in on helping cook dinner. If one child suggests chicken nuggets with honey mustard, let them help you make them. Sure, store-bought frozen chicken nuggets are a snap to pop in the oven, but they are filled with unnecessary ingredients (check the label — the list is long), and homemade nuggets only take a few minutes to make. Honey mustard has two ingredients: Honey and mustard. Even a 5-year-old can make that. When children help make dinner, they are much more likely to eat it and try new things.
What are your secrets to getting dinner on the table? Email me and let me know.
South Forsyth resident Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.