I’m a planner. I like to plan things. Maybe it’s the Leo in me, but planning helps me feel like I have a little control over parts of my life and gives me something to look forward to. Parties, business strategies, dates, shenanigans, rendezvouses, meals and everything in between. If you’ve ever envisioned a scenario and replayed it in your head about all the ways it could go, you know what I mean. Plotting is planning, too.
Meal planning became an essential for my sanity once I had kids. Life with kids can be chaotic and unpredictable, but the predictability of meal planning gives me calm. It helps me make my grocery lists, maximize what’s already in my house, prevent multiple trips to the store, and give consideration to everyone’s tastes and schedules. (BONUS: It prevents me from doing frequent drive-thru trips, which has a significant impact on my budget and waistline.)
If you’re looking to add a little calm to your chaos, meal planning might be worth a shot. Here’s how I approach meal planning:
Consider the next week’s schedule.
Any big events (tests, meetings, etc.)? Will the twins be spending dinner time elsewhere? Anything that is outside of our norm affects my mood to cook and my kids’ mood to consume, and determines how quick or leisurely our dinner can/needs to be.
Assess what’s on-hand.
We have an upright freezer in addition to our fridge. It enables me to buy in bulk and keep larger quantities of certain foods on-hand, particularly meat, poultry and frozen fruits. I like to think of dinners that will maximize what we already have, and from there I write out what we don’t have and that becomes my grocery list.
Consider each person.
I think through some of our favorites and try to incorporate something for each person. For example, my kids love pasta - my son loves spaghetti and meatballs with a lot of sauce, but my daughter doesn’t like meatballs and prefers light sauce. It’s easy enough to make spaghetti with sauce and meatballs on the side, so each person can get what they want. (And meatballs freeze well, so it’s the gift that keeps on giving.) I also run the menu for the week by the kids and offer them input. They like being part of the process and having them onboard makes dinnertime easier.
Our menu for the week typically includes a night for: pasta or comfort food, Mexican food/tacos, sandwiches and pizza. Having these categories helps me narrow my focus and come up with ideas. I get inspiration from Pinterest, menus of our favorite restaurants, cookbooks, social media and more.
I commit to making 3-4 meals for the week, then consider that we will order pizza on Fridays and leave room for leftovers and other times we may dine out. And if we decide we aren’t in the mood for what’s on the menu (or if I don’t want to cook), I roll with it. Because if we pass Popeyes on the way home, I can’t really be responsible for that detour.
A little planning in advance saves me a lot of time and energy in the end. You can do it, too. Here’s a sample menu.