Meal Planning Marathon

I've been a stay at home mom for five years now. While I'm certainly no expert on kids, except maybe my own, my number one mom lesson has been that my kids behave best when they are both rested and fed.

The sleep part is hard and way too controversial for me to attempt a blog on. But food. I love food. I love to bake especially, but cooking comes in a close second place. Feeding my kids is my love language (much more than it is theirs most days!). Meal planning is my claim to fame in my circle of friends. I find planning dinners out, even in a flexible way makes the after-school rush time easier on everyone. Here's how I do it:

I meal plan a month at a time. Yep, the whole month. I used to do a week at a time, but the past 12 months I've realized getting all the menu planning done at once is actually an easier way to visualize my family's plans and make sure the menu is varied to my liking and includes the stuff my kids eat the best. Having my dinners planned out and a rotation of 3-4 staple breakfasts and lunches makes weekly grocery shopping a little easier too. I'm also able to look ahead at the month and decide what to buy in bulk or when it is on sale.

First step in my meal planning marathon, grab a hot drink and sit down with my favorite cookbooks (America's Test Kitchen, Skinny Taste, Vegenomicon), and monthly fridge calendar. I'm sure there's an entirely easier way to do this on a computer, I'm just technologically inept.

Next, I pick a "theme" for each day of the week, again with flexibility, because life happens. Here's how my calendar looks:

Monday- kid favorite: Instant Pot mac and cheese, bean and cheese quesadillas, pasta fagioli soup, sloppy joes

Tuesday:- fast and easy: tomato soup and grilled cheese, Instant Pot rice and beans, breakfast for dinner, hot dogs and oven fries, refrigerated ravioli

Wednesday- bean/soy based main (the adults in our house are vegetarian, though I cook meat fairly regularly for the kids): chickpea fajitas, three bean chili, grilled tofu, tempeh wraps, baked beans and corn bread

Thursday- leftovers, I always have at least one day a week dedicated to eating what's left in the fridge.

Friday- pizza: for a long time it was just crust/sauce/cheese, but lately my kids have finally decided adventurous pizza eating is fun and we've been adding all sorts of new toppings to the mix

Saturday: something that takes a while to cook and/or makes a lot- spaghetti and meatballs, tamale pie, moussaka, my favorite dried bean chili, quiche

Sunday: dinner with family or friends/carry out/left overs

As for sides, I try to keep it easy and rotate through the same vegetables each week. In my house that generally looks like steamed broccoli, cauliflower or carrots, roasted sweet potatoes and stir fried brussels sprouts or green beans.

Meal planning at my house is down to a science. Of course, my kids don't always eat what I cook. And sometimes we get stuck in traffic and grab a pizza on the way home, but we more or less stick to the plan. Eating at home is a priority for me and I'm so glad I've found a way to make it a little more manageable for my family.