Family Meal Planning

I wrote recently about my seasonally-inspired need to reflect upon, and normalize, some new rules in our family. With school well underway, our schedules have become less forgiving and the calendar is suddenly full of visits, classes, birthday parties and dentist appointments. Spontaneity feels like a fading summer memory. I’m not grieving though, because I’ve had an epiphany: limits are good. Structure is great! I’ve noticed how the adults and children in our family can relax into routines in a way that we simply can’t when the day is completely up for grabs. By the time summer rolls around again, I know we’ll be more than ready for empty days full of unknown possibilities. But now, after a season of trips and impromptu activities, we could all use some clear expectations about what today will hold, as well as what bedtime, after-school time, and dinnertime will be like. There is a certain freedom from anxiety – and freedom  for creativity and a peaceful family rhythm – in limits.

Meals are the part of family life that I have been focusing on the most of late. My picky children, ages three and six, must endure dinner with two vegetable-loving parents every single night. It can get stressful. Truthfully, my own feelings about feeding picky eaters range from lighthearted acceptance (whenever I find the wisdom to take the long view) to disappointment and sadness. I love to cook and I love to eat. I cannot pass a farmer’s market without salivating; our small vegetable garden brings me disproportionate joy. So when I lovingly saute a batch of ratatouille or toss a gorgeous spring salad, only to then see my children’s crestfallen faces as they climb onto their chairs at the dinner table…? It can be a bitter pill.

My feelings were only complicating the challenge of dinner. It was time to negotiate: to seek input from everyone in our family and talk about what we all wanted dinnertime to be. We discussed what we thought the rules should be, and the next day my husband and I formalized our talk and presented it to the kids: you have to try a bite of everything. You don’t have to like it. And to address the reality that there will inevitably be meals that the children don’t want to eat: There will always be a “fruit course” after we have cleared the table together, and anyone can have any fresh, frozen, or dried fruit available in the kitchen.

I also wanted to solicit the kids’ input on what we were eating together. No, we cannot have pizza every night. Yes, I would like to know what vegetables they do enjoy, and what new recipes they would like to try. This has been the most successful innovation in our family eating life by far: meal planning. I sit down with my kids at some point over the weekend and we talk about what we’d like to have for dinner. I’ve even engaged my six year old in flipping through recipes together. (Chop Chop magazine, a cooking magazine for children and families, is a fantastic source of kid-friendly healthy recipes if you’re also interested in trying this kind of collaborative planning). She writes down what we’re going to eat, and helps me create a shopping list. Her little brother pipes up from time to time with suggestions. (We’re also doing this for school lunches, using a lovely chart from Cynthia Lair’s Feeding the Whole Family). We’re well into Week #3 of this approach, and so far, between the new agreed-upon rules and the family meal planning, dinner has been far more peaceful and pleasurable. The way it should be!

What about you? Do you plan meals in your family? I imagine many of you eat the way we do in our house: low on the food chain, using whole foods as much as possible, aspiring towards thrift. So I enthusiastically invite you to share with all of us the meals you intend to cook and eat together this week. I love hearing about what others are cooking, gleaning inspiration and ideas. Please provide links or recipe sources when possible. Let’s make a little resource page full of ideas for next week’s meals!

I’ll go first.

Monday: leftover sorrel soup, salad, whole wheat crackers and hummus.

Tuesday: zucchini fritters (from Martha Stewart’s Living, August 2011 issue – I found the recipe here), bulgar wheat, roasted peppers and onions

Wednesday: basmati rice and red lentil dahl, salad.

Thursday: veggie sausage, kale “chips” (roasted), pasta, the last of the salad

Friday: noodles with tofu and mixed frozen veggies covered in peanut sauce (which I make by blending peanut or almond butter, soy sauce, rice vinegar, honey, garlic, sesame oil, and a splash of hot water).

I’m looking forward to reading about what you’re all eating for dinner. Please do share, and then come visit my blog, Homemade Time, for more on the nitty gritty of family life.

About Meagan Howell

Meagan Howell is a freelance writer and social worker who loves art, books, yoga, friends, music, being outside, and helping to build communities of all sorts. Meagan lives in Maryland with her husband and two children and writes about motherhood at Homemade Time.

11 thoughts on “Family Meal Planning”

  1. This was so helpful to see written out. Since I have Diabetes and am trying to prevent it in our son, it really helped to read a week of vegetarian meals. To address some developing health issues we are looking into eliminating gluten from our diets as well. Sometimes keeping a sugar-free diet is overwhelming and thinking about more eliminations such as animal based proteins and gluten, dairy or eggs defeats me. Thank you for giving me some good ideas!

    Our dinners have been mostly leftovers from our son’s epic 16th birthday party and easy things.

    Monday-Beef Burritos with Sharp Cheddar Cheese, Refried Beans and Avocado, Spanish Rice and Green Salad with Tomatoes and Cucumbers

    Tuesday-Pork Applewood Tenderloin, Brown Rice and Dark Leafy Green Salad with Tomatoes and Cucumbers

    Maybe tonight we’ll try something without meat based on your menu!

  2. Well, you’re a girl after my own heart because I too love meal planning! We are hunters, fishers and farmers so our menu reflects that.

    Here’s what the rest of our week looks like, I was really craving comfort food, because our weather just turned cold!

    Monday: Homegrown chicken in a pot pie with quinoa/spelt flour crust.

    Tuesday: Venison Lasagna

    Wednesday: Venison backstraps, roasted potatoes, spinach and broc salad

    Thursday: Family Pizza night, aunts and grandma are coming over for homemade pizza!

    Friday: Leftover lasagna and chicken pot pie

    Saturday: Big lunch after chicken butchering (Chili and Cornbread), just oatmeal pancakes for dinner

    Sunday: Grandma’s birthday party…not sure what we’re having!

  3. Love meal planning. We try to eat seasonally/locally when we can. This weeks menu is;

    Monday: grass-fed beef chili with homemade corn bread

    Tuesday: chicken stew with parsley biscuits on top

    Wednesday: omlettes with cheddar & broccoli and toast

    Thursday; leftover night

    Friday: homemade grilled pizza night

  4. I meal plan every week…need to for sanity sake and to stay on budget! Still struggle to keep our picky 3 yr old happy… 1 day he’ll be eating what the rest of us are, but for now it’s usually 2 out of 3 items!

    This week:

    Lemon thyme chicken w/rice and grilled veggies

    Tuna melts w/ceaser salad & bean salad

    Broiled sea scallops w/couscous and green beans

    Chicken nuggets w/sweet potato fries and veggies w/dip (dh gone and need something easy!)

    Homemade veggie pizza

  5. I love this! What great menus; I wish I could visit some of you for dinner this week. It is high time I tried venison backstraps.

    Tonight we’re making Golden Spice Rice, from the Feeding the Whole Family cookbook (we’re on a roll with that one and romaine salad with a silken tofu/basil dressing.

    Anyone else??

  6. Not necessarily in this order…but these are our family favorites and weekly staples.

    1. Super strips (chicken breast cut into strips, breaded in almond meal, coconut, salt and pepper and fried in coconut oil) with brown rice and kale

    2. Brown rice and lentil bowls with avocado, plain yogurt and nutritional yeast

    3. Annie’s mac ‘n cheese (with capers added) with all beef hot dogs and broccoli

    4. Chicken breasts baked with coconut butter and pink sea salt, brown rice and something green

    5. Whole wheat pasta with spinach and walnuts

  7. Oh yum! Thanks for all the inspiration! Here’s what’s on our menu this week…

    Monday-Veggie chili (HUGE batch, but I froze the rest for a night when I need some fast foo!)

    Tueday-TACO tuesday!!! Black beans with homemade seasoning with lots of tomatoes and peppers from garden:-) Crunchy AND soft shells

    Wednesday-Indian spiced whole roast chicken with curried potatoes and cauliflower

    Thursday-Chicken and cabbage soup with leftover chicken

    Friday-Zucchini cakes with kale and brown basmati rice

  8. Thanks for this treasure – I’m going to print these and try others’ meal plans! Way to encourage solidarity – albeit virtually.

    Meal planning is now part of my Sundays. I love perusing the inventory and then creating meals based on the cupboards. Staying on budget and reducing stress – yay for that with the abundance of working mamas!

    This week at our place – It’s clear which days we get home late!

    Monday: Grilled cheese (Gruyere and Cheddar) on Ciabatta, sliced cantaloupe, and green salad

    Tuesday: Lemon chicken breasts with thyme (sauteed and finished in oven), couscous with sliced oranges and parsley, roasted red peppers and zucchinis

    Wednesday: Homemade meatballs, pasta orrechiette, steamed carrots and broccoli

    Thursday: Trader Joe’s quiches with sliced fruits and green salad

    Friday: Grilled salmon with panko, lemon zest & dijon + quinoa and boiled asparagus with shaved parmesan balsamic, and olive oil

  9. Everything sounds so good. Somer, I love your super strips – for the vegetarians among us, I wonder if it would work with tofu cut into rectangles? Anyone ever try that kind of breaded-and-fried technique with tofu? And Erica, do you have a veggie chili recipe you like to use?

    Next post has to be on the picky eater issue…I wonder if any of you have picky kiddos in your house, and how you deal with that issue around all of this fantastic, nourishing food.

  10. We’ve just gotten into this and are on our third week of our seasonal menu. I’ve had to make a few adjustments for our kiddos to not make those not so happy faces too, but I think we’ve got it now 🙂

    We’re vegan, btw.

    Monday: bean chili with whole wheat crackers

    tuesday: taco salads made from left over chili with lots of yummy toppings

    wednesday: baked potatoes with broccoli, “cheese” and peas

    thursday: pasta with pasta sauce (heavy on the veggies) with chick’n patties (our version of chicken parmasean, without the cheese)

    friday: alternating african beans with pita and chickpea, cauliflower, and carrot curry with pita both with basmati rice

    saturday: vegetable stir fry with rice or noodles

    sunday: make your own pizza with hidden veggies in the dough 🙂

    We also keep breakfast and lunch simple to help with organization. Breakfast is always oatmeal with blueberries and sprouted bread, lunch is always grilled “cheese” and spinach sandwiches with tomato soup. Lots of fruit snacking throughout the day as well. It has really helped simplify my life with 4 kiddos!

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