What’s for Dinner? How Meal Planning Saved My Sanity

I work a full-time job and have two little ones at home. I’m busy. My closest friends are stay-at-home moms with multiple little ones. They are busy. My sweet mentor has kids in multiple after-school sports and activities. She is busy. It does not matter what a mother’s day consists of: we are all busy. A common conversation and complaint no matter what the day looks like is “What’s for dinner?” Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet solution to this conundrum. However, I have discovered by devoting some weekend time to meal planning I feel a little less hectic throughout out the week.

Figure out What Works for You

I have spent a few years mastering the art of what works for our family as far as meal planning is concerned. There have been seasons where our grocery budget was way too high because of overly ambitious meal planning. Conversely, there have been times when our pantry was bare because of under planning. There have been months where my meal planning was spot on, but our schedule was too crazy to stick to the menu. I am here to offer a few of the lessons I have learned along the way and hoping to come up with more ideas from readers!

Weekly Menu…with Flexibility

For a while, I stuck to a pretty open-ended menu which provided variety and consistency at the same time. Each night of the week had a theme. I planned the main dish and a vegetable of some sort on the side. I searched online for recipes, made a shopping list, and saved them to a Pinterest board.

Monday had a Mexican inspiration

  • tacos
  • enchiladas
  • nachos
  • quesadillas
  • arroz con pollo
  • burrito bowls
  • Tex-Mex casseroles

Tuesdays were for traditional American food

  • BBQ
  • chili
  • casseroles
  • hamburgers
  • pot roast
  • baked chicken
  • beef stew
  • red beans and rice
  • jambalaya

Wednesdays were a soup/sandwich night

  • chicken noodle soup
  • white chicken chili
  • taco soup
  • potato soup
  • broccoli cheddar soup
  • minestrone
  • cheeseburger soup
  • tomato soup
  • Cuban sandwiches
  • Monte Cristos
  • Philly cheesesteaks
  • buffalo chicken sandwiches

Thursdays featured an Asian-inspired meal

  • fried rice
  • curry
  • orange chicken
  • Pad Thai

Fridays for Italian (ahem pizza)

  • spaghetti
  • baked ravioli casserole (my go-to easy/healthy meal!)
  • pasta e fagoli (this could be for soup night too!)
  • alfredo

Saturdays usually consisted of leftovers or breakfast for dinner, and Sundays we had a pitch-in meal with friends.

This worked really well for a while. However as my weekend schedule filled up, I found it harder and harder to diligently plan ahead. One day my hero of a husband suggested we try an online meal planning platform.

Online Meal Planning

I know there are so many options when it comes to meal planning and prep online: Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, and more. We settled on Emeals where you receive a weekly menu and shopping list catered to your preferences. Emeals has a feature where you can switch your meal plan if the menu of the week does not meet your fancy. The weekly meal plan consists of seven balanced meals. We have found that we use five out of seven each week (due to dietary restrictions and taste preferences). They have many options for menus: clean eating, quick and healthy, Paleo, low carb, heart healthy, low calorie, budget-friendly, classic meals, kid-friendly, 30-minute meals, slow cooker, vegetarian, gluten-free, vegan, and diabetic.

Emeals (Try free for 14 days!) 

Weekend Meal Prep

When schedules are packed and cook time is non-existent, a little meal prep on the weekends (or at night) can go a long way to prevent unplanned trips to a drive through. Over the summer I try to prep a few freezer meals. Crockpot meals are the best and require the least amount of food prep. Throw a whole chicken in the crockpot and use it for multiple meals, and freeze the broth for soups. Cook ground beef in bulk and freeze so it is ready to add to a meal. Wash veggies and fruit ahead of time, cut if possible. Put freezer items in the refrigerator on Sunday night so they are ready to go. On days you do have time to cook prepare double the amount you need and freeze the rest. And, if all else fails, cereal for dinner is novel every now and then!

When it comes to meal planning I know there are different strokes for different folks! I highly recommend finding a way to free up some thinking space at 3:00pm every afternoon. When you decide what is for dinner each night ahead of time there may be a little more peace in your home when your hubby or kids ask! I would love to hear your ideas for meal planning- successes and fails.

Not included here are the number of restaurants we have visited monthly due to failed meal planning. A special thanks to Avers pizza for always being ready to help me answer that harrowing question of what’s for dinner.

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