(We are in Chicago this week, no doubt blowing the food budget out of the water.)
I won’t lie: My meal plans are not fancy.
I’m feeding five people on a budget, and three of the people are children. We are mostly vegetarian, although Dan, Kate, and Michael are omnivores.
The actual, written meal plan took shape when Bella and I found ourselves feeding between six and 11 people a couple of times a week. Bella was constantly fretting about what to feed everyone, and calling me to see if I had ideas.
Before that, I had a general plan in my head, and usually spent some time worrying whether I had what I needed in the freezer, pantry, or crisper drawers.
Meal planning reduces stress, reduces food costs, and reduces waste. What’s not to like?
The general shape of my meal plan is this:
Monday: Pasta, protein, vegetable
Tuesday: Tacos (or other ethnic — quesadillas, sesame noodles, channa masala and naan)
Wednesday: Child friendly (think mac and cheese, hot/not dogs, vegetarian beans); or brinner
Thursday: Rice and protein; stir fry
Friday: soup and sandwiches or burgers, fries, and salad
Saturday: pizza and salad
Sunday: Sunday dinner-ish
See? Not complicated.
I usually shop on Saturday, which is one reason that evening’s dinner is something fast and easy. Ever spent the day running errands and shopping and not felt like cooking a big dinner? That’s how I do Saturdays many weekends. Shopping, errands, cleaning, soccer, and so on. Everyone likes pizza and salad! I usually get take-and-bake from Aldi or Costco, although I have been known to make pizza crust on occasion. (It’s sinfully easy, and yet.) Costco’s is better than Aldi’s in my opinion, but not by much.
Also, I tend to cook or bake on weekends if I have time. So, I may put on a big pot of lentil soup, for example, for later in the week. Or I’ll bake a batch of brownies. Instead of making another mess in the kitchen, I just pop a pizza in the oven.
Sundays, OTOH, I do like to make a big dinner. Sometimes we collaborate with the in-laws next door, and I’ll do a couple of vegetable dishes and my MIL will throw something in the crockpot. Sunday dinner usually is something that takes more time, or something I can put in a slow cooker. It’s also something that I usually want to eat, not something I’m throwing together to feed the kids. For example, I’ll make falafel and rice; or gingered chickpeas; or something that’s just a touch more complicated than the weekday dinners. The children are getting better about trying everything, which helps.
My children and I eat at home almost every night. It’s better for the budget, and we get the advantages of eating as a family, although Dan is absent Monday through Thursday. The children help with setting and clearing the table, and rinsing dishes.
They help with meal planning, too, usually along the lines of me saying to one of them, “Pick a meal for next week.” They aren’t cooking yet, although I do let them make their own dinner if they don’t like what I make. This drives Dan crazy.
So that’s how I do a meal plan: a general idea that I fill out once I go to the store or farmers market. Monday’s pasta dinner could be gnocchi with pesto sauce and beans and greens, or spaghetti, “meat”balls, and salad; Thursday’s dinner could be rice, vegetable stir fry, and tofu or chicken, with the vegetables frozen from Aldi or fresh from the farmers market. With enough foresight, you could put together a whole month of meal plans! (No, really, you can do it!)
Let’s see how everyone else did!
Do you have a meal plan?