I think all moms have been there. It's Wednesday and you've just gotten home from work and picking up your kids. Your husband is due home soon and the kids are starving, you're exhausted, and everyone wants to eat in five minutes. You open the refrigerator and start to feel mild panic, then reach for the phone to order out. Stop! Meal planning to the rescue.
Planning your meals for the week is a time, money, and stress saver. Plus you can control the nutrition of your family's meals. All it takes is a few minutes, your calendar, and a glance at your cupboard to see what you have on hand. Pick your dinners each night, write them down, write your grocery list and your plan is done. Here are a few easy steps and you will be on your way to making your weekly dinners a time to relax with your family - all it takes is a little time and thought to prepare:
1. Grab your calendar to see what your week entails.
See what your family has going on each night and plan accordingly. If you know that one night your kids have activities, pick a meal that can sit on the stove and family members can eat at different times like soup, stew or sandwiches. If you know you are home all day Sunday, go all out and plan a true Sunday supper.
2. Take a look in your cupboards, fridge and freezer and choose meals that use some ingredients you have on hand.
Avoid buying items you already have on hand and make sure you choose dishes with items in your cupboard. If you stocked up on canned tomatoes and ground beef the last time you went shopping because they were on sale, use them up by preparing pasta with meat sauce or chili one night.
3. Keep the Sunday circular.
Save even more money by checking out the grocery store sales and coupons for that week. If it's summer and there's lots of produce in season, you can take advantage of the discounts and plan a barbecue night with grilled vegetables chicken and transform the leftovers into a new meal the next night of pasta or pizza topped with the grilled chicken and vegetables from the night before.
4. Involve your kids.
Ask your kids what some of their top dinner choices are for the week and choose one or two so you know they'll be happy. When you serve some of their favorite meals some nights, you can alternate with meals that incorporate something new you'd like them to try - everyone wins. If your kids are old enough, you can even give them a night every few weeks where they plan and prepare or help prepare the meal. Traditions may even form as your son may realize he makes a mean pasta sauce which quickly turns into a family favorite. Also, post your meal plan for the week so everyone in the family knows what to look forward to.
5. Keep it fun - try theme dinners.
Avoid getting into a menu rut and going back to the same recipes over and over. Theme dinners are a great way to try something new and make dinner fun for everyone. It doesn't have to be complicated - a taco bar with lean turkey, whole beans, brown rice and veggies is a healthy and easy Mexican night. Prepare a chicken and veggie stir fry for your own Chinese "Take-in" made at home. Theme meals are also a great opportunity for a lively family discussion at the dinner table where you can talk about the country you are "visiting" that night. However, don't be afraid to bring back favorites over and over again. You don't have to reinvent the wheel every night!
Rachael's magazine, Every Day with Rachael Ray, has a great weekly planner that you can tear out of the magazine and keep handy. Here's a link to the online version.
So give meal planning a try - your family will thank you!