By Amanda Smith of Mom’s 8 Limbs
Here’s The Scenario:
You’re standing in front of the fridge after a long day at work staring at all the unprepared food wondering, “What the heck am I going to make? What was I thinking when I bought all this?” In the background, your toddler is screaming because he’s hungry. The stress of trying to be a “short order” cook coupled with it being late, having no energy or motivation, and a hungry family makes you buckle and decide to pack everyone up and go out to eat. And with a toddler, this is no small feat. You know if you had a plan this wouldn’t have happened. You wouldn’t be subjecting your family to subpar fast food that costs more than the food you could have cooked at home. Not to mention the fact that the food you did buy is rotting in the fridge.
How do you make a plan? Better, how do you make it a consistent practice you’ll stick to? And why does this have to fall on only your shoulders?
Here’s 1 simple solution: Let’s get the family involved! There are so many benefits to this scenario. You get to spend quality time with your family. They get to learn life skills like: how to plan meals so food isn’t wasted, how to eat healthy (barring you aren’t feeding them cake as the main course), how to prepare meals, and how to spend time as a family. You get help making decisions and preparing the food. And, in my opinion, one of the BEST benefits is that they have some stake in what is getting made, giving you a higher percentage of everyone eating what was cooked.
Here’s the formula: Plan Together + Prepare Together = Everyone Eats Together! What’s cool about this strategy: You can apply it to more than just cooking! It works with cleaning the house, too!
The process can be used with kids of all ages. There are only two criteria that must be taken into consideration: Can your child make decisions and can they use a knife? If they can’t make decisions because it is beyond their cognitive abilities (and not because they are stubborn or indecisive), this will make meal planning a little easier and faster. I’ll go into knife skills in Part 2 of this 2 part blog post (look for it in June on naturalmomhub.com)
Ready to get everyone involved?
Get the Family Planning Together
Choose the best day everyone in the house can get together. Preferably before grocery shopping (My assumption is that you shop once a week). This meeting will also provide an opportunity to jot down all of the coming week’s activities so you can make a cohesive plan for food. It will help you realize what nights you need quick meals, what nights are good for leftovers, and what nights might be good to eat out. I suggest having this meeting after a meal or with a yummy snack so the decisions being made aren’t driven by hungry people. Having a yummy snack is also a great way to get everyone to the table. Who can deny dessert?
Gather Your Materials
I have compiled several of the materials you need into Mom’s Ultimate Meal Planning Sidekick. This .pdf includes this entire article (for you to refer back to or read at your leisure) as well as the highlighted materials below. Now is a great time to head over and get your copy!
Week-at-a-Glance Calendar: This is a 1 week calendar where you will gather weekly events and all the meals necessary to cook that week. I’ve created the one at the week for you.
The Grocery List Guide: This is where you’ll capture all the ingredients you’ll need to buy at the grocery store. It’s easy to cut into smaller pieces to give to each member of the family that is able to leave your side to get the necessary items on their list. I’ll break this down later.
The Quick Meal Planning Checklist: This will help you stay on track and make it unnecessary to read the whole article to figure out what step you’re on.
The Master Recipe List: This list will give you ideas of what you could make. Think of it like a cheat sheet for planning. Add to it as you think of more common meals you cook to keep building your personal guide. The more you hone this list, the more of a time hack it will become.
Recipe Options. You’ll want 2 options per meal. You can reuse meal choices. Any new or uncommon recipes should have a picture so it’s easy for your family to understand the meal. There are a myriad of locations you can get your recipes: Pinterest, a gazillion internet options, family recipe cards, cookbooks, etc. When it comes to the never ending barrage of recipes online, I like to store them on Pinterest in several boards. You can see my Pinterest collections here. Another thing to keep in mind if you want to save some money is compiling recipes with common ingredients. Don’t toil over this if it isn’t intuitive, but practice it. This prevents food from spoiling as well as saving money.
Clear plastic sleeves to put everything in. You can write on the Week-at-a-Glance Calendar sleeve with a dry erase marker so you don’t have to print it off every week. (I’m uber-green and like to minimize the amount of paper I use.) The other sheets will be protected from spills and splashes that are inevitable in the kitchen.
You’ll also want to find a prominent place to post The Week-at-a-Glance Calendar, so when someone asks you, “What’s for supper?”, you have a place to point them. It also provides a nice visual for activities for the week.
Gather Your Family
You’ll want to make sure all bellies are full or you have a snack to provide. You don’t want decisions being made on empty stomachs. Plus, having a yummy snack to entice everyone to the table makes gathering everyone much easier. At my house, dessert after dinner or dessert as a snack always does the trick. Who doesn’t love cake?
Discuss Plans for the Week
Once everyone is at the table, find out what activities are planned for the week. Does your child have swim lessons? Does your partner know his work schedule and what nights he might be coming home later than usual? Do you have something planned after work? Need to get to work earlier than normal one day? Writing this on the sleeve of The Week-at-a-Glance Calendar will help keep everyone in the know. You’ll get fewer questions about what is going on that night and what’s for supper! Knowing everyone’s activities will help you decide if it’s a good day for a quick meal or if you can slow it down and enjoy the process of cooking with your family.
Set up Your Meal Map
Who will be chef for each meal? What category will you use for each meal? And what meals will you reserve for leftovers or eating out? You can set this up one time and use it for as long as it works. This is a GREAT hack for reducing the time it takes to pick meals!
Here is a sampling of what we do at my house:
|Sunday||B: Dad – Pancakes and Eggs|
|L: Mom – Simple Sandwiches|
|D: Dad – 1 Pan Meal|
|Monday||B: Dad – Baked Good and Eggs|
|L: Dad – Leftovers from 1 Pan Meal|
|D: Dad – Red Meat Night|
|Tuesday||B: Mom – Egg Dish|
|L: Mom – Leftover from Red Meat Night|
|D: Mom – Pasta Night|
|Wednesday||B: Mom – Slow Cooker Breakfast (set up Tues.)|
|L: Mom – Leftovers from Pasta Night|
|D: Dad – Chicken Night|
|Thursday||B: Mom – Egg, Meat, and Toast|
|L: Mom – Leftovers from Chicken Night|
|D: Mom – Slow Cooker Night (set up in AM)|
|Friday||B: Mom – Baked Good|
|L: Mom – Leftovers from Slow Cooker Night|
|D: Mom – Casserole, Leftovers, or Eat Out Night|
|Saturday||B: Dad – Baked Good|
|L: Mom – Homemade Soup or Leftovers|
|D: Dad – Fish Night|
As you can see, my family likes meat! We also try to share the load of starting meals based on our schedules. We like to make enough food at night so we have leftovers at lunch the next day, too. This minimizes the amount of work that has to be done to prepare foods for 2 working parents and a 2 year old that attends daycare. You can tailor your Meal Map to whatever works for your family (foods, chefs, no leftovers, more meals, etc.). I put this directly on The Week-at-a-Glance Calendar so it’s always there to refer to instead of on a separate page.
Decision Making Time!
I’ve provided a Week-at-a-Glance Example from our family planning as well as a Master Recipe List to get you started making decisions. Both are located here. Start building your own Master Recipe List! The time savings with this one trick is immense! You’ll quickly realize what you cook most often, what your quick meals are, and when you need to add a new recipe to the mix. It has to earn its way on the list, though.
Present the TWO Recipe Options for each meal on the Meal Map. If your Meal Map allows it, you can reuse recipe choices for other meals that week. Everyone gets a vote (that can make a decision). If there is a tie, put it aside until other meals are picked. Go back to the tie and either vote again or choose the meal that has common ingredients with other winners. Write down the winners on the sleeve of The Week-at-a-Glance Calendar. Also capture the ingredients on the Grocery List Guide. Make sure to go through your cupboards, pantry, and fridge to verify you need those ingredients.
Final Step: Grocery Shopping Together
As a family, hop in the car and head to your local grocery store. Everyone that is able gets a portion of The Grocery List Guide (the only criteria is that they don’t eat the list). Send them off into the wilds of the store to get what is on their portion of the list. If you feel so inclined, you can turn this into a competition. Picture the game Super Market Sweep. If you have no clue what I’m writing about, check it out here. Each person gets 5 minutes to gather everything on their list and find you in the store. The person who got all the correct items and the majority of their list wins. And what do they win, Bob? They don’t have to help the rest of the trip. No bagging, carrying to the car, or putting away when you get home.
The planning and grocery shopping are done! And you did it together!! No more standing in front of the fridge fretting about what you’re going to feed your family. I’m sure your fridge is grateful you aren’t staring at it any longer too! Now you know how to get everyone in on this activity. It’s less of a chore and more of a family bonding experience! Woohoo!
In Part 2, I will share the tips and tricks I use to get everyone in my house preparing the food to reduce the time it takes as well as continue building valuable life skills. Yes, kids of all ages can help prepare the meals! My 2 year old has been helping since she could sit at the table. Please let me know if you have any questions or want to share any successes or failures with me over at Mom’s 8 Limbs.
I’m Amanda and I own Mom’s 8 Limbs: Yoga for moms that want to reconnect with themselves so they can be cool, calm, and collected through the toddler years and beyond. You’re probably wondering what meal planning has to do with yoga. Well, I believe if we build up enough tools (or systems) to help manage the day to day tasks, life will get calmer like that euphoria at the end of a yoga class.I also love sharing things that have worked for me and my family. I wholeheartedly embrace the saying, “It takes a village.” If you signed up for the Mom’s Ultimate Meal Planning Sidekick, then welcome to the village! It isn’t too late to get your copy and call your First Family Meeting.