If you were going to take the family on a trip to Disney, you wouldn’t go without a plan, would you? It’s such an investment, you’d know how long you’d be there, what you wanted to do first and how to make the most of it for everyone. Not only would you have a plan A, you’d have a contingency plan in case of emergency, right? Yet, when it comes to planning what to feed the family, we put very little time or effort into the process although it’s exactly because we eat so often - essentially dosing our body with healthy (or unhealthy) nutrition multiple times per day – that having a plan so important!
There are MANY barriers to meal planning mentioned by both our spotlight families – time, money, energy, interest or even desire – and making meal planning easier takes more tips than can be shared in one blog post but the best place to start is just by finding the time to do it.
Start with your calendar or day planner. Schedule a couple blocks of time throughout the week dedicated to this chore (like all new skills, it will become less of a chore and time commitment with practice). Think about the week ahead – how many nights will the family eat together? What nights will scheduled activities overlap with dinner time? Will the “head chef” be available every day? Is there a stretch of time where some extra meal prep or batch cooking can be done (don’t forget to consider early morning or after the kids go to bed).
Sketch out meal ideas for the number of days you’re planning (and keep those ideas for future weeks). Get some input from the whole crew. Questions as simple as “what veggie do you want with dinner” or “do you have any requests for your packed lunch” takes the sole burden off of you. Identify meals that can be eaten more than once – packing up leftovers is the same thing as packing a lunch and leftovers serve as a quick “heat and eat” dinner on a busy night.
Keep your plan simple. Taking time to plan your meals doesn’t mean you also have to try 7 new recipes, acquire a new cooking skill or make everything from scratch. If you want to do those things too, great, but don’t try to tackle it all at once. Once you’re ready for this, the Palmer’s have lots of great ideas from looking through magazines to having a cooking competition (I bet they aren’t the only family that has a competitive streak).
Have a contingency plan because – let’s face it – even the best plans get thrown off track. Have ingredients for easy to prepare dinners on hand: vegetable soup, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or a store cooked rotisserie chicken and salad in a bag, for example. My family does cereal for dinner on our busiest night of the week – each person has their very own box of their favorite kind just for this occasion!
Finally, using the Hawes’ PLAN acronym, if meal planning is your goal and meal ideas and ingredients are your tools, be sure to set the time to execute your plan – to shop, prep, cook and pack as needed. It may take a few weeks for this to feel more fluid but like all new things, it gets easier with practice!