My Simple Tips for Meal Planning
Before having kids I was never much of a cook. We often ate at home because it was less expensive but I had a very limited repertoire. Since having our twins four years ago, I still cook the same 5-10 meals every month on some kind of rotation but I have changed the amount we eat at home and when and how I do my meal preparation.
With two small children who have early bedtimes, it does not make sense to us to eat out for dinner as a family. We instead save most of our restaurant spending for times when we hire a babysitter and have a date to ourselves. We do often go to coffee shops and occasionally breakfast spots as a family as well enjoy getting out early on weekend mornings. We also enjoy eating at home because we can typically eat healthier and at more convenient times.
So, how do I do it? How do I cook for four people most nights of the week?
1) Don't cook every day. I cook typically 3-4 days a week and we fill in the other 3-4 days with leftovers or “simple” meals, such as grilled cheese, eggs, lentils and quinoa, pancakes, or white bean and tomato pasta. We supplement these dishes with some kind of grain, fruit and/or vegetable. These meals tend to happen on Thursday and/or Friday nights when we run out of leftovers or my husband and I get take-out for an “at home date night.” When this happens we serve a “simple” meal to our kids earlier in the evening.
2) Cook When It's Convenient for You Nighttime cooking is almost entirely limited to reheating in the microwave or prepping one of the “simple” meals listed above. I cook almost every dinner meal early in the morning. My daughters have always been early risers but for the first two years of their lives, they were often up before 4:15. Yes, BEFORE 4:15am. They would then take a “nap” around 7am. I would often get up with them, give them their milk and then get to work cooking dinner. When I laid them down for “nap” I would then restart my day with a workout or shower, satisfied that dinner was complete for the next two nights at least (we almost never eat something just one night if it’s not a “simple” meal). Though my girls have long dropped this nap, I have continued with this early morning dinner prep. I have more flexibility on dinner times if my daughters seem hungry and all I need to do is dish it out and heat it up later in the day. This is especially appealing as both of my daughters are tired at the end of the day and therefore grumpier and more likely to have meltdowns. (The same may be true for me…)
3) Keep Some Meals Consistent Daily: 98% of the time we all eat the same things for breakfasts and lunches. For breakfast, this means cereal or peanut butter waffle for my daughters, and eggs, fruit, and toast for my husband and me. At lunch, I always eat “beanoia,” that is quinoa, black beans, sweet potatoes, and cheese and crackers. For my husband, I will often pack “beanoia” or he will cook rice, ground beef, and vegetables to eat at work. My kids will eat a sandwich, cracker/grain, cheese stick, and fruit. I enjoy eating the same things both for simplicity’s sake and because it helps me to eat healthfully at least 2/3 meals every day.
4) Have Some Favorites Always Prepped and Ready: We typically always have the following components ready to go in the fridge or freezer: hard-boiled eggs, sauteed peppers and onions, roasted sweet potatoes, sauteed black beans, quinoa, healthy frozen muffins. This makes our go-to meals easier and makes it simple to "complete" a meal with an extra side.
4) Keep Your Meals Simple. Like I said, I typically cook the same 5-10 things. My typical meals include: spaghetti, lasagna, egg salad, baked chicken with sweet potatoes and vegetable, crockpot chicken tacos, crock pot chicken chili, chicken and sweet potato quesadillas, quiche, chicken sausage with peppers and sweet potatoes, fruity chicken salad, and split pea soup. I then add frozen vegetables, applesauce, grains, etc., as needed.
-Sunday/Monday: Fresh meal and then leftovers.
Tuesday/Wednesday: Fresh meal and then leftovers.
Thursday: leftovers or small batch of pasta with protein.
Friday: Takeout or date night for Mom and Dad, “simple” meal for kids.
Saturday: Joe will cook, often something new or different.