Ok, I really have an issue with meal planning. I can not seem to do it. I am stressed, unorganized, too busy, too poor and possibly too depressed to manage. I just DO NOT understand it. It is like I am literally missing the meal planning gene. It does not help that I do not like cooking and our kitchen is awful. I am writing all this so you might grasp what an absolutely huge issue this is for me. It is a problem every single day three times a day. It has practically become a mental health issue!!
The more practical problems are-
1) I have a 5 year old. She is not exactly picky but she is...limited in what she likes.
2) we often are not home until 4:30 p.m. I like DD to start getting ready for bed between 5:30 and 6.
3) food is very expensive where we live
I feel like I need to have meals, especially dinner half prepared ahead of time but can't imagine being that organized. I feel like I should have 7 dinner planned every week plus lunches. How am I suppose to choose what to make? I have pages of ideas of meals but never have the ingredients, time or energy. I suppose I have decision making issues too!!
I am CLUELESS, even the most obvious advice would probably help.
Hmmm, how about this?
Start with one ingredient, something your daughter likes that you can get at an affordable price if you buy a big package. For example, let's say it's a 2-pound block of cheddar cheese. Your kid goes to bed really early, so choose an evening when you are willing to make a little time after she's in bed to deal with your cheese. Slice some of it and grate the rest. If you have a food processor with grater blade, this will go really fast, but even if you're using a box grater you'll be done in half an hour or less. Measure the cheese and divide it into jars or bags for the meals you are planning. You could have things like
- grilled cheese sandwiches, and you'll cut up some fruit
- quick homemade mac&cheese, and you'll cook some frozen vegs
- burritos made by rinsing some canned black beans and heating them in oil with some diced onion or salsa, scooping them onto a tortilla, and sprinkling with cheese
- packaged soup that you'll heat up and serve with cheese and crackers
- baked fish, rice, and broccoli with melted cheese on it
- fried or scrambled eggs on toast with cheese, lettuce, and tomato, making a sandwich
The one ingredient can be used in several different meals, making sure you use it all and get your money's worth. By thinking about "What meals have cheese in them?" you have ideas for several days. Having one ingredient already cut up helps the meal come together faster.
This approach also works well for vegetables that are on sale or for grains that take a while to cook. For instance, you can cook a big pot of rice in the evening while you're doing something else (just go stir occasionally--or if you have a rice cooker, that's even easier) and then heat up portions of it for a side dish for various meals, put it in a casserole, make fried rice, etc.
I hope this helps!
Mama to a boy EnviroKid 9 years old and a new little girl EnviroBaby !
I write about parenting, environment, cooking, and more.
What helped me was having a theme for every night. It limited my options which made planning easier. I also like to cook things that require little to no recipe. Plus, I get the most bang for my buck with the meat since I stretch it out for a few days.
Monday (Meat Day)- Roast chicken or beef, baked potatoes, veggie/salad
Tuesday (Rice, Beans, Leftover Meat Day)- Burritos with the leftover chicken?beef or maybe a casserole
Wednesday (Soup Day)- I make stock from the bones then throw in whatever veggies I have laying around.
Thursday (Pasta Day)- Mac&Cheese, Spaghetti & Meatballs, etc
Friday (Pizza Day)- Homemade pizza topped with whatever veggies I have on hand
Saturday (Breakfast Day)- Breakfast for dinner.
Sunday we usually eat at my parents.
For lunches we normally do leftovers and fruit. Breakfast is usually eggs or oatmeal with fruit.
When I started meal planning, I used boxed dinners. And we only planned suppers for the first three or four years.
Wolfcat's easy step-by-step meal planning:
Step 1: Look through your pantry and fridge. Make note of any meals that come to mind that you could make right now.
Step 2: Make a list of your (or your DD's) favorite meals. Make a shopping list of what you would need to get for those meals.
Step 3: Write on the top of a paper, Sunday/Monday/Tuesday/etc.
Step 4: Using your lists from Step 1 & 2, decide what to make each night for a week. Consider if you have any events to take into account, such as going out of town, dinner date with friends, DD's friend's b-day party, etc. Those days, make something easier/faster or note that there is an alternative plan. Deciding what nights to order pizza is planning, too.
Step 5: Write down what each meal will be. Be only as detailed as you want to be. We never list sides, cuz they tend to be quick and easy, and we pick what we are in the mood for.
Step 6: Each morning, look at the meal for the day. Does ground beef need to be thawed? Should there be a chicken in the crockpot? Just do it.
Step 7: Be flexible. If something comes up, or you decide you don't want to do what you scheduled a week ago for tonight, then don't do it. Change it.
Step 8: Schedule in leftovers. We use them for lunches or for DH's suppers (he works nights), so we don't often need leftover days, but sometimes we have lots of something that can make another meal (leftover corned beef => corned beef hash).
Theme days help. We do Meatless, Poultry, Fish, Soup/Salad, etc. Some do Mexican, Italian, etc. or similar.
Other things that help: we got a dry erase calendar that goes on our kitchen wall; we can buy in bulk and buy produce knowing it will get eaten, not shoved in the back of the fridge until it rots; I've pre-made up to 19 meals in one week, which makes the rest of the month go smoothly; track your monthly groceries and watch the bill go down - we are down to $350/mo in food costs (including eating out once a week) for a family of four = motivation!
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I'm a witchy mama to DS ('06) and DD ('10) with DH, Stormie, a heathen homemaker daddy.
I do exactly the steps Wolfcat does down to the dry erase board! It works well, although our bill is nowhere near down to $350/mo. We are in a major metro area.
If you have only 1 hr. to cook and eat before your DD goes to sleep, I would say pick quick meals like Envirobecca said. I make stuff like that all the time. Pasta and a jar of sauce is another good one. If canned tomatoes are cheaper, throw the tomatoes in a small pot, add half an onion, & simmer for 10 minutes; take out the onion, finish with a pat of butter or glug of olive oil and any spices you like, and voila, spaghetti sauce.
Another option is a crockpot. It takes a little prep, but makes a lot of food, and you could easily freeze some portions for later. The easiest possible thing is making a whole chicken. Again, just toss it in with spices & cook 3-4 hrs. on high, 6-8 hrs. on low. The next easiest is baked potatoes. Wrap clean, dry potatoes in foil and put in crock (no water). Cook for same amt. of time.
Seeing as how you are stressed about this, though, I would start with the easiest meals you can think of that you guys like and then get that down pat before you start with anything more complicated. Cheese and crackers is a meal! :-) No harm in really going simple for a while.
Mom "D" to DD1 "Z" (14) and DD2 "I" (11) DH "M"