A post about meal planning on a website about homeschooling may seem odd, but if you’re like me, that’s where you spend a good portion of your day. Do you need fresh ideas? Help planning menus that are quick, easy, and healthy?
Menu Planning 101
There are just so many ways to go about this. What works the best for you? Really, the goal here should be to get ideas down on paper, because often the hardest part is thinking what to make. If you have a master plan, even if you don’t always follow it, meal prep from day-to-day will go more smoothly. When I was in culinary school in San Francisco, we were taught to always have a mise en place, which is simply all of our ingredients measured and ready to go. Consider your menu plan the first and most important ingredient, and then go from there. Ready?
Pull out a notebook and begin to poll your family about their favorite meals. If you can glean two or three meal ideas from each person, you have a good start. What other dishes are family favorites? Write those down, too. Build a menu around the dish… if your husband says he loves your spaghetti and meatballs, then write down the veggie and other side dishes next to it on your list. Hey, why re-invent the wheel the next time you go to plan your menus?
This doesn’t mean you have to serve the same exact side dishes every time, it just means you have a plan. You might also want to assign a different meal category or type to each night of the week. Here’s how a friend of mine does it:
Thursday- salad or soup, depending on the weather
Friday- homemade pizza
Sunday-casserole or grill
If you choose to go this route, spend some time going through your recipes and make a list of all the chicken recipes your family loves, then all the beef, then the fish… you understand. It will take some time initially, but then it’s done. You aren’t re-inventing that proverbial wheel every time you sit down to plan.
Next, what works for you in terms of planning ahead? A week’s worth of menus? A month? I have gone back and forth on this, doing what is good for me in a particular season. Currently I plan a whole month’s worth, and as I pencil in the menus (keeping our calendar for the month and activities in mind) I also write a correlating shopping list. I shop my local grocery store once per week, and then Costco just once a month, so I make those lists as well.
Voila! In one evening’s time, I have a menu and shopping lists for the whole month and I don’t have to think about it for 30 days! Even better, I am saving this year’s monthly menu plans for next year. Who’s going to remember it’s the same menu from last year???
Breakfast and Lunch
I’ll just admit it right here: I HATE making lunch, and I could live my whole life without ever eating another breakfast. But my kids can’t, and I’m the one who has to see that they eat!
Again, if you think through this once, you won’t have to think about it again. Make a master list (this is our master lunch list) of all the potential breakfast menus or items you can prepare. If you have older children, make a note of which child can prepare which dish, and then assign them to that task on a particular day. You can do a rotating breakfast list like the meals above: cereal on Mondays, granola and yogurt on Tuesdays, eggs and toast on Wednesdays, etc.
In addition to the items mentioned above, my master breakfast list includes: oatmeal, Cream of Wheat, muffins and fruit, bagels and cream cheese or peanut butter, English Muffins and peanut butter, banana or lemon poppyseed bread, Dutch Babies, pancakes, waffles, and French Toast.
TAKE HEART! 5 years ago, I was the sole meal prep in our home. Today, with teens who love to cook, I am no longer required in the kitchen for breakfast preparation. It’ll happen sooner than you think! Lunches can be approached in the same manner, assigning a lunch per day. Just remember that these lists are tools to help you, not something by which you must be bound indefinitely.
Where Friends Come In
We need to bear one another’s burdens. For the homeschooling mother with preschoolers and sometimes also a baby in the home, getting out to run necessary errands can be terribly tricky.
Over the years, my friends and I have discovered that we shop the same stores sometimes with the same frequency. I have a friend who also shops Costco once a month and so we have learned to bear one another’s burden by trading off shopping trips.
If you and a friend or two can get in the habit of calling each other and asking if there’s anything she needs since you’re going there anyway, you can help lighten the load for each other.
Sometimes grandparents don’t know how to help. Is this something you could ask them to do for you? My mom is fabulous about running errands for me, even though she lives 60 miles away. If it’s something I don’t need right away and I know I’ll be seeing her soon, I just call and ask. It never hurts to ask!
Favorite meal-planning books in our home:
Slow Cooker Revolution - truly the best slow-cooker meals we've ever had
Paleo Comfort Foods - really great Paleo cooking
Salad People - one in our favorite series of children's cookbooks
The Way I Cook - Lee Bailey was one of the best!