Top view of family having dinner together sitting at the rustic wooden table. Enjoying family dinner together.

"The rhythms of family life provide consistency, the best ones also offer connections."

~Kim John Payne, Simplicity Parenting

Weekdays can feel like a whirlwind for this working mama of four kids. In our family of six, we are often rushing out the door in the morning each going our own directions during the day, then back in the door where we have just a few hours together as a family in the evenings.

One way we try to make a connection each day as a family is to have dinner together. Currently, in our family we can make this happen given our work schedules, extracurricular and community involvements if we schedule our evening meal between five and six o'clock.

Scheduling our dinner at this time leaves me (our family's chief cook), approximately 30-45 minutes each day to get dinner on the table while I am pulled in a multitude of directions attending to my children or working to find a couple of moments to decompress after a day of teaching. Long story short - if we want to sit down together for dinner as a family during the workweek, it takes some forethought and planning.

Family dinners have become a valued routine of our family life. I do want to provide healthy, home cooked meals for my family, but I can honestly say I do not enjoy the responsibility of meal planning.

In efforts to make this job a little easier, I started applying one of the strategies from Kim John Payne's book Simplicity Parenting in relation to family meals. I have followed the suggestion to create a generalized weekly meal plan, assigning each night of the week a theme, then from there assigning each night of the week a meal that I can prepare in a short amount of time.

Here are the themes/days our family is currently working with:

Mondays: soup

Tuesdays: pasta

Wednesdays: homemade pizzas

Thursdays: Mexican

Fridays: rice

*We do leave wiggle room to swap meals or improvise depending on the flow of our week.

Applying this simple strategy has worked great for our family. With the routine and predictability of the theme of each meal there has been opportunity for some experimentation and involvement from my whole family when selecting recipes and ingredients. Narrowing down each day of the week to a theme is not as restrictive as it may sound. For example, on some of our pizza nights we all make personal pizzas. We have been having fun trying different selections of creative and unique topping choices.

On the weekends I create a meal plan for the upcoming weeknights and I assign each night of the week a meal. On weekends I also do most of my grocery shopping and some pre-cooking. Then I either choose a tried and true recipe that my family enjoys for each theme, or seek I seek out creative and fresh ideas for new and different recipes to add variety to our meals.

Need some inspiration for some quick and healthy weeknight meals? Here are some ideas and recipes that have worked for us to get you started:

Roasted Red Peppers with tomatoes topped with pestoSoup Night
*I like to make a couple of batches of these pretzels on weekends to enjoy on soup night and to pack in school lunches..

Tip: I often pre-cook a whole chicken/turkey on weekends or overnight in a slow-cooker so I have the meat ready for weeknight meals.

7440588732_ea513af411_oPasta Night - Here are some of our current favorites:
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Pizza Night

This is my go-to recipe for homemade pizza crust. I usually make the dough on weekends in my bread maker, then freeze the ball of dough in a freezer bag. On pizza nights I let the dough thaw and rise in the fridge. It also helps to let the dough warm up to room temperature before rolling it out. If you don't have a bread maker try this quick pizza dough recipe.

Here are some good ideas for creative pizza toppings. Some of our recent favorites are breakfast pizzas and the sweet and savory combination of adding fruit slices (like peaches and pears) for toppings.

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Mexican
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Rice
Now it's your turn! What are your favorite weeknight meals?

Photo credits: Image: Jenny Lunde, Image: Dave Crosby, Image:Toshihiro Gamo, Image:Luke, Image: Lloyd Morgan