Like many things, meal planning isn’t a one size fits all thing. What works for me may or may not work for you so what I find is best is to just do what works well for you and your family and just stick with it and make tweaks as needed.
When my now 15yo (who I lovingly call the boy teen) was born, I then had a newborn, a 8yo, a 11yo and I also had custody of my then 13yo brother. Do you see those ages? Life was an absolute ZOO at times. In order to try to stay on top of all the kids, the chores, the homework checks, the meals and volunteering, I ended up working from home and I would pride myself on creating a state of the art chore chart for myself and the kids along with a extensive meal planning process. I don’t mean just the meal plans you create in your head as you are walking up and down the grocery aisles — I had it all down to a science. I would scour the sales pages early each Sunday morning, clip coupons then design my meal plan around the coupons and sales. I would hit the store like a soldier on a mission with my coupons in hand and my list (which I kept on my phone, or back then was it a palm pilot)? After the meal plan was created on paper, I would also print it out and place it on the refrigerator so that the entire family could see what deliciousness I’d be serving up for them. Not just for that week but for the entire month! Yes, I planned a full month in advance. I always factored in a take out night at least once every other week and during every week, I had a “leftover night” where I would just pull from the fridge and reheat. The fact that I have OCD truly did help with this meal plan process and while it took a lot of prep work to pull it all off, I don’t think my family would have had healthy and cost effective meals without it.
Fast forward 15 years – it is now just me, my boyfriend and the boy teen. My ex-husband and I share custody of our son and he is with us every other week. The weeks that the boy teen isn’t with us, my meal planning is a bit lax but even if he was with us for full time, I doubt I would be using my old method of meal planning. Now, I am much more laid back about the meals and since I have a teen that is picky (he wont eat meat for weeks on end, eats eggs only if the sun is shining just right and God forbid if you put anything that lived in the sea on his plate.. eye roll) – I create meals that I know the adults will eat and then I cook a pot full of pasta that I know the teen will graze off of all week.
Luckily, my boyfriend absolutely loves to grill. He grills year round — yes, even in the winter months. I remember plenty of times watching him shovel a path from the back patio door out to the grill on the patio in order to cook his masterpieces. He is such a trooper and it is so appreciated because each and every Sunday he grills a smorgasbord of meats and we use that as the main course for meals throughout the week. It is so easy to heat up a starch and veggie or whip up a quick salad to go with the meats that he cooks.
One of my favorite ways to meal plan now is to the use Multi-Recipe method. Using this strategy requires you to cook many main course meals in one day. For instance, yesterday, I whipped up the following: 1 butter herb roasted whole chicken, crock pot BBQ country style ribs, cheese & broccoli ravioli with sauce, scalloped potatoes, boiled seasoned potatoes, a large pot of rice and steamed veggies. PHEW!! While it took a few hours to get it all done, look at how many meals that I have to last us the entire week. What I love about bulk cooking is that you can eat one of the meals that very evening and you can freeze or refrigerate the rest of the meals to eat later in the week. I don’t use this technique half as much as I used to but on weeks like this when the boy teen is with us and the boyfriends 18yo daughter is also with us, it really works wonders. I find that the key to really making this technique work is to make every meal you cook count! When you are going to prepare a family favorite, double, triple, even quadruple the recipe if it will keep in the freezer. The ravioli and sauce dish that I made was tripled since it freezes really well and hello… have you seen a 15yo boy eat?!?
Some supplies that I find that are helpful while bulk cooking are: labels, freezer bags (all sizes) freezer-proof containers (gotta love my Tupperware) . Using the labels and clearly marking what is inside the freezer bags and/or containers is a life saver. Also, the lovely crockpot! Ahhhh I have such a great relationship with mine — heck we actually have 2 of them. This handy appliance is my best friend in the kitchen. When using a crockpot you literally prepare the meal, place it in the crockpot, set it & forget it. It is a hands free cooking experience. I cook whole chickens, macaroni & cheese and roasts in my crock pot. The beautiful thing about tossing a whole chicken into the crock pot is that you can turn that 1 chicken into various meals: sandwiches, enchilada’s, chicken salads, chicken soup, chicken stew.. as you can see – the possibilities are endless. My only complaint about the crock pot is that over time they seem to have made the crockpots to cook faster and at a higher temperature. I remember the days of setting the crockpot up on the counter, placing your food inside and setting the temperature on low then leaving the house to go to work and come back home 8+ hours later to a tender & delicious meal. Now the crockpots cook so fast that they actually burn the food! UGH — I now use them by setting them on a low setting early in the morning on days that I am home or setting them to cook when I get home and then letting the meal cool and place it into the refrigerator before I head to bed.
While my household may be totally different than yours, I bet we do have one thing in common — we love to save time!!
Let me know what your meal planning tips (or questions) are? I can’t talk about this stuff all day.