It's Thursday, which means you are probably already making plans for the weekend. Maybe you have dinner plans with friends, are participating in a local 5K run or are just planning to catch up on all the laundry that has piled up this week.
Me? Well I'm actually sitting down and making plans too... for next week's menu. In fact, I have decided to make Thursday my Weekly Meal Planning day. Instead of waiting until Monday night to think about what I am going to make for dinner to feed my family, I am going to start planning ahead. Why did I pick Thursday? Well, Sunday is meal prep and cooking day, Saturday is grocery shopping day and Friday my brain is already thinking about where I am going to have dinner and dessert with Trey for date night.
You do not have to follow the same schedule as I do here, but adjust your days to fit your schedule. There will be unexpected changes that come up, but that is okay. The key is to plan ahead so you can cook nutritious meals at home more often and not rely on the drive-thru or take-out.
- Check out local grocery store ads for sales. Usually the weekly promotional ads come out on Wednesday, so I will check them to see what meats and produce are on sale. (4 Real Tip - Fresh food items that are in season will most likely be on sale.) This past week, shrimp and chicken were on sale, so I can tell you both of these items will be on the menu for next week.
- Consider your schedule for the following week. Do the kids have evening practices, dance classes, gymnastics, etc that make cooking difficult some nights? Pick a crock-pot meal, make a casserole in advance or plan on soup/salad and sandwiches for nights when you are pressed for time.
- Browse for some recipe ideas. Check out food blogs, cookbooks and magazines but don't overlook your favorite family recipes too. Some additional internet sites include:
- Select 3-5 meals to cook, depending on your schedule. Once you have some meal options in hand, let your kids choose which ones appeal to them the most. This can cut down on complaints when dinner actually makes it to the table. (4 Real: See an example of a weekly mean plan for our family below).
- Make a grocery list from your selected recipes. Nothing is worse than starting to cook then realizing you are missing a key ingredient. Don't forget to check the pantry and fridge to make sure you have the essentials like milk, eggs, butter, canned tomatoes, pasta, oatmeal, brown rice and bread/buns.
- Go to the Grocery store. Another place to get kids involved in family meals is by taking them with me to the grocery store. I ask them to help me pick out the fruits and vegetables that are on my list. They also love checking out the fresh seafood display, including the live lobster tank.
- Prep ingredients for the entire week and begin cooking 1-2 meals on Sunday. With busy working parents, this has been the biggest key to success when it comes to getting meals cooked during the week. If I can spend 1-2 hours on Sunday prepping and cooking for the rest of the week, we have no excuse to order take-out during the week. As a result, our meals are more nutritious and we have an excuse to sit down to dinner together.
- At the end of the week, make a note of which recipes your family liked best and what was easy to get on the table fast. Add these into your regular rotation each month. You should always have 5-8 recipes that are quick, easy and nutritous that you know works for the entire family so meal planning gets easier each week.
A typical weekly menu for our family looks like this:
- Sunday - Turkey burgers on wheat buns with sweet potato fries
- Monday - Chicken, broccoli and wild rice casserole with glazed carrots
- Tuesday - Baked chicken tenders, homemade mac-n-cheese with wheat pasta, steamed broccoli.
- Wednesday - Leftovers
- Thursday - Homemade pizza with whole wheat crust and choice of cheese, veggie or turkey sausage/pepperoni. The kids get to top their own pizza.
- Friday - Date night (usually dinner out for Trey and I while the kids stay with grandparents)
- Saturday - Two bean turkey chili, salad, and grilled cheese sandwiches (mainly for the kids who sometimes don't eat chili).
On Sunday, Trey will cook the turkey burgers while I prep for the week. First I make the pizza dough and set it aside to rise. Then I bake the chicken and cook the rice for Monday night's casserole. I pre-chop the carrots (for Monday), broccoli (for Tuesday), bell peppers and onions (for Thursday), and onions, celery and other veggies for chili (which I freeze for Saturday). I also cut extra carrots, celery and broccoli for snacks throughout the week and store them in ziplock bags in the fridge. Then I assemble Monday night's casserole so all I have to do when I get home from work is put it in the oven and cook the carrots on the stove. Finally, I pre-bake my pizza crusts for Thursday's dinner then put them in the freezer when they are cool.
4 Real: A great way to get the kids involved in food prep is to let them put food in ziplock bags and label them with a marker. I also let them assist me with making pizza crust, by adding flour to the dough or kneading it. Sophia also has a lettuce knife that allows her to help me chop some soft vegetables, like zucchini and squash.
These are just tips to get you started and I hope they encourage you to make an effort to eat more meals at home. Not only does eating at home save you money but I guarantee that home cooked meals are more nutritious. Even better, making your own meals means you will have leftovers for lunch the next day!
Do you plan your meals in advance each week or do you just go to the store on the way home from work? Do you eat out more often than you cook at home? Does your schedule get in the way of family dinners?