Confession: I have never been much of a cook. I’m not a BAD cook… Cooking just doesn’t excite me. Both of my parents always cooked delicious, healthy, well-rounded meals for my sister and I growing up, but even after the great example they set, the whole meal planning and cooking thing just never really clicked with me. Before kids, this was never too much of a problem. My husband and I are both capable adults that can easily fend for ourselves just fine! We both worked full-time, worked out at the gym many evenings, and came home starving but with no plans for a homemade meal. Many of our dinners together in those days were simple, and often not very healthy – the types of things that we could whip up in a matter of minutes.
And then we had kids.
Things weren’t really too difficult until my daughter reached an age where she was eating the same things we were. And believe me, I resisted for as long as I possibly could. But ultimately, it was important to me to sit down and eat together as a family and to raise my children with healthy eating habits, so meal planning in order to get a *real* dinner on the table became a necessity for me.
As you can imagine, after years of “winging it,” meal planning didn’t come naturally for me. After many months of trying different things (meal plans you pay for online, scouring Pinterest for family-friendly recipes, etc.) I finally found something that worked for me.
I find some time each weekend to plan a loose menu for the week ahead. I usually try to include my husband in the meal planning fun, because between the two of us, deciding on a menu is easy. I have a whiteboard in my kitchen and I jot down the plans for Monday’s through Friday’s dinners. I try to steer clear of new recipes unless I’m feeling extra motivated, because chances are I’ll get overwhelmed with the details and end up falling back on hot dogs if a recipe is too complicated or time-consuming. Once I have my plan, I’ll make sure I have what I need (meat in the freezer that can be defrosted, the right types of produce, etc.) to make my meals a success. I make a grocery list of the things I need to fill in the gaps, and try to get to the store before the start of the new week.
Because I work part-time, we have a couple days during the week that can get pretty hectic. On these days, I try to plan for something I can make in the slow cooker, since I know I won’t have the time to make anything in the afternoon. For the other days, I use tried and true recipes for the most part. This way, I don’t have to do a lot of ingredient-measuring and instruction-following while I cook, because who has time for that? I also always try to have a few “fall-back” dinners in the freezer that I can throw together quickly if things fall apart. A couple examples: Chicken pot stickers and veggie fried rice from Trader Joe’s, mini tacos from Costco with refried beans and salads, etc.
Cooking with young kids around is a challenge. With my 3-year-old, I either try to include her somehow, or find a way to keep her busy while I work. Sometimes she gets to watch a show, sometimes she colors a picture, sometimes she whisks the eggs – whatever is going to keep her happy and keep me from getting frustrated while I work. My 9-month-old either snacks in his high-chair, bounces in his jumper, or comes along for the ride in the baby carrier, depending on his mood. If I’m really lucky, he’s napping while I cook!
This is not an exact science by any means. I am human, and I am not always an effective human… We definitely still have our fair share of chicken nuggets tossed in the microwave and frazzled trips to the drive-thru, but this method of meal-planning has made a significant difference in the number of healthy, home-made meals that we eat together as a family.
Do you do any meal planning? What methods have worked for you?