Meal planning is my nemesis!
Prior to kids, food consumption looked a whole lot different and dreamier than it does today.
We used to go out to eat a lot. It was so relaxing!
I also used to love grocery shopping. I would stroll through the grocery store, trying to recall my favorite episodes of The Food Network’s, Everyday Italian, and purchase ingredients on a whim.
After shopping, I would choose the longest checkout line so that I could spend time in line looking at foodie magazines.
Fast forward, like a giant smack across the face, through 3 kids and 13 years of marriage. I no longer live in that fantasy world. Many things have changed.
A long checkout line is no longer an opportunity to catch up on my reading. Rather, it’s an opportunity to master my ninja skills by swiftly moving the grocery cart with my elbow so my 2 year old can’t reach the candy while unloading eggs with the other arm. Meanwhile, I’m simultaneously using my foot to
kick gently coax my daughter out from under the cart, all while shooting eye darts at my son who is now using the lane chain as a swing.
I’ve even changed grocery stores to avoid these long lines. God bless Aldi and the record speed at which they move people through the checkout. It really is a work of art that deserves a standing ovation.
I still do love to cook, but young children can kind of suck the joy out of it. I mean, they have to eat… all the time…it never ends. Seriously, can’t they just skip lunch now and then without complaining?
Take the zoo for instance. There we are, having fun, being a family, savoring the moments, and before you know it, lunchtime is upon us and the few snacks I managed to toss in my bag aren’t cutting it.
I just wanna say, “Here’s a stick of gum. Shove it in your mouth and chew it! Chew it with a smile. Just look at the bears and chew your gum. We’re being a family!”
Don’t they know I’m pretty much hungry all the time?
Time For a Plan
Since becoming a mother, I have been trying to become a crazy, meal planning, crock pot wizard.
Every time a meal planning expert spoke to the church mom group I attended, there I sat, smoke coming off my pen, as I frantically listened and took detailed notes. If only I could actually figure out how to implement all of her brilliance!
Despite my mad planning and list-making skills, I can honestly say, I’m officially the worst at meal planning. I was constantly wasting food. I even gave my crock pot away as a white elephant gift after consistently burning every meal I attempted to make in it.
About 6 months ago a lightbulb went off and I discovered a “meal plan” that saved me.
So, I’ve decided to share my embarrassingly easy family meal plan. The meal plan that revolutionized the way we eat meals and released me from the shame of my incapabilities.
I ditched my Julie and Julia expectations and came up with a meal plan that works for us. If you are a mom who is bad at meal planning, meal prepping or just simply in a frantic season of life, this just may be for you too.
STEP 1: Stop Calling it Meal Planning
I stopped calling it a “meal plan” and referred to it as a meal rotation.
Rather than writing all the meals out in the order I intend to make them, I now just have a list of meal options available to me. The day, mood, or rapidly approaching expiration dates dictate which meal I make on which day. This gives me more freedom, but mostly removes that feeling of failure that would hit every time I veered off of my “meal plan.” Which was often.
STEP 2: Start by Making a List
Did I mention I love making lists?
Then make a list of all of your family’s favorite meals and side dishes.
For example, our favorite meals would be:
- Baked chicken legs
- Spinach and ricotta stuffed shells
- Instant Pot (<–affiliate link) chicken tacos
- Turkey tacos
- Turkey burgers
- Perfect Roast Chicken by Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, (Simple. Amazing. Here’s the recipe. Try it. I promise, you’ll thank me)
- Brinner (Waffles/french toast)
- Homemade Pizza
- Wildtree grilled adobo chicken kabobs (recipe)
- Grilled herb pork tenderloin
- Parmesan chicken
- Creamy baked rigatoni (recipe)
These are the main meals that everybody in my family eats without complaining. Just simple, foolproof meals I can insist everyone eat because I know they like them (even if they decided they don’t like it today…eye roll).
Now, do the exact same thing with healthy side dishes.
Step 3: Shorten the List
I then chose the three biggest winners from each list. By that I mean, I picked three meals that are healthy, but relatively easy family favorites.
For us that would be tacos, spaghetti and turkey burgers.
I then picked four side dishes every one likes.
The ones I chose were, sliced avocado, corn, homemade fries (sweet and white potatoes), and green beans.
I consider things like chips and salsa, garlic bread and salad to be more like optional condiments typically served as well, but not required.
Step 4: Repeat
I started making those exact same three meals every…single…week.
You guys, every single week, I make turkey burgers, spaghetti and tacos.
By keeping such a simple rotation I always know what to buy and I always have it in stock at home.
It makes my trips to the grocery store more efficient, I’m saving tons of money and my pantry is more organized than ever before. That’s right! A more organized pantry!
My family is always getting fed healthy foods they love.
I no longer spend my time overthinking the meal planning process because I created the most simple meal plan of all time.
Step 5: Mix it up (optional)
Now, you may be thinking, that’s only three meals a week. There are seven days. What do you do the rest of the week?
Well I don’t necessarily think about it in terms of “days of the week” because it’s a rotation, not a meal plan that designates which day I cook which meal. I just rotate through as needed. Our life, and occasional children’s growth spurts, determines how long it lasts.
Typically, with leftovers, we have two days of spaghetti and two days of tacos. So five days are taken care of. If I wanted to, I could stretch those tacos to three days, or I could fill in the gaps with pizza or grilled cheese. Some weeks we are granted a date night. Chicken nuggets and sliced avocado or corn are my go-to meal for babysitter nights.
I don’t feel bad about it at all, because I know my family is regularly eating healthy meals.
However, I usually make one unique meal a week. ONE meal! I’m simply planning ahead for one meal per rotation. The rest are already planned. It’s like those three meals are made on auto pilot. It’s become as second nature to me as loading kids into the car or cleaning up a glass of spilled milk.
Now, there are occasional weeks where life allows me the time or desire to plan a second meal, but I certainly don’t feel like I have to.
Step 6: Receive Your Praises
So here’s the BEST part! Are you ready? When I say, “Tonight I’m making that perfect roast chicken,” or “spinach and ricotta stuffed shells,” or announce, “I’m making baked chicken legs and mashed potatoes,” I’m the family hero!!
My kids love me, they hug me, they flail their arms around, they THANK ME for all its deliciousness and uniqueness.
For those rockstars out there who have mastered a meal plan that keeps their families eating a different meal every day for an entire month or two, I commend them, I tip my hat to them, but I no longer aspire to be them!
I’ve found what works for us and we are thriving in it. Simple, sustainable, small steps keep this family running smoothly, with greater peace, stronger bones and satisfied bellies.
Click on the image below to receive a FREE downloadable Simplify Your Life Meal Rotation CHEAT SHEET
*Disclosure: This post contains links to different products. Some are affiliate links and some are not. The affiliate programs help to curb the cost of running my blog. Always feel free to shop around for better prices and brands. I try and suggest products I either have or that have great reviews and I would purchase myself.