It's been a nice break, eh? Just fixing dinner at the end of the day, no squeezing it in after homework and soccer practice, before bath time and reading and perhaps more homework. During the school year, dinner sometimes takes on a life of its own - figuring what it will be, what I have, what did I defrost (or more likely, what did I forget to defrost) and yes, we then fall into the following rut: chicken tenders and mac n cheese, pasta, chicken tenders and brown rice, pasta, pizza.
I'm vowing to change it up this year with the help of meal planning. Figuring out what I'm going to do each night ahead of time. Knowing what you are fixing ahead of time not only helps with shopping and managing that food budget, but it's a good way to tackle some different recipes and put a stop to the endless battle of "What am I going to make for dinner?" versus "I don't want that for dinner!".
-- Pick one day and time when you do the meal plan. Whether it's Friday night after the kids are asleep or Sunday morning as cereal is munched, have a set time when you plan out the upcoming week. While you do this, make out your shopping list so you know exactly what you need to grab at the store.
-- Have lists and templates. Spend a few minutes now to gather a list of go-to easy recipes, as well as some new ones to try and keep it handy so that you aren't hunting through recipe books each week. Print out a bunch of meal planner calendars...you do have those, don't you? Just Google "meal planning calendar" and you will find a gazillion templates all made for you. A few of my faves: this chic one from LifeOnPaper, a monthly one from FrugalLiving, and I "heart" how the gals at We Love Being Moms keep their recipes handydandy in a magnet on the fridge. Another idea -- put it on a white board you hang on the fridge (easily erasable every week, eh?). However you do it, fill out that template or calendar and hang it up so everyone can see what's being served up. Never hear "MOOOOM! What's for dinner?" again.
-- Use the family calendar to organize the meal planning calendar. Study when to schedule what kinds of meals. On a night when you have a doctor's appointment after school and that later soccer practice, maybe plan for a dinner with super-easy prep. If there is always a spelling quiz on Fridays, have their favorite spaghetti and meatballs on Thursday nights.
-- Take advantage of tools and consistency to make your life easier. Bust out that crockpot to set it and go at least one night a week and take advantage of a family favorite like Taco Night or veggie lasagna to have every Wednesday or Monday.
-- Include a leftover night...as well as a takeout night. It is perfectly acceptable (and encouraged) to give yourself a break once and a while. Every Friday or every other Friday, order in sushi or pizza.
-- Involve the kids. Give everyone a task they help with -- even the youngest ones can carry napkins to the table. The older kids can set the silverware on the table and trek the ketchup bottle and other condiments to and from the kitchen. Every month, ask them what meals are liking and what they haven't been digging as much. Encourage them to look over the magazines or recipe books to see what looks yummy.
Do you meal plan? Share your best recipes and tips -- I need them!