How to jump in and reap the benefits of having a meal plan in place.
Mom, What’s For Dinner? Just hearing that question makes my blood pressure go up and my heart beat start racing!
“Ahhh, what should I make for dinner tonight?” you ask yourself. You start looking through the fridge, open up the freezer, realize there’s not enough time to defrost anything and still get dinner on the table at a normal hour. Pasta it is! Again… Wouldn’t it be nice to have a set menu, a plan, some sort of chart that you could just look at ahead of time and know exactly what you’re making when? That’s where having a meal plan comes in.
So what is a meal plan? A meal plan is a customized chart, where you fill in all the meals you plan on making each day. It could be a dinner only chart, a lunch and dinner chart, breakfast, lunch and dinner, and can even include the kids sandwiches for school. The key is to make it customized to work for you and your family. Having a meal plan is great because
- The whole afternoon and evening will run a lot smoother. If you know what you’re making for dinner then you can plan in advance. If something needs to be defrosted, it can be defrosted in the morning or even the night before. You can start making dinner earlier in the day and dinner can be ready to serve when you actually want to serve it instead of an hour or two later. If dinner is ready on time, good chance bedtime will also be on time.
- You can save tons of money on groceries! You won’t need to buy all those unnecessary items that you think you “might” need in case I want to make this or that. And, you won’t be running to the local small grocery store anymore which is way more expensive because with a meal plan, you’ll know ahead of time exactly what you need to buy (and you can just buy the same things every week, making the grocery shopping so much easier!)
- You’ll be a calm and smiley mother! As mothers, doesn’t “what am I going to feed the kids” take up a lot of our thoughts throughout the day? As those afternoon hours move on towards the 5pm range, don’t we get that panicky feeling, “what am I going to serve for dinner?” When we have a meal plan, we can feel calm and relaxed knowing that we have a plan.
So how do we make a meal plan? The first thing to do is to decide what you want your chart to look like.
- Is it going to be a one week chart, serving the same meals each week, or a two week chart allowing for variations?
- Is the chart going to be just for dinners, or include lunch as well? Maybe breakfast, lunch and dinner? Kids’ school lunches? Snacks?
Once you’ve decided what you want your chart to look like you can begin. Draw it up by hand with a pencil and ruler or you can download and print this dinner version here on Between Carpools.
The next step is to write up all the meals your family likes. Here’s a great time to get your kids involved. Have THEM write up all the meals they like. A side benefit of involving them is that if they’re part of making the chart, it’s more likely they’ll actually eat the meals afterwards!
Then, ask a couple of friends/relatives to each give you two of their favorite, easy-to-make meals. Tell your kids to ask their friends as well. Come up with a comprehensive list of realistic, easy-to-make meals.
Now that you have a list, and you have an empty chart, grab a pencil (so you can erase and redo) or open up a template on the computer and you’re ready to begin. Start plugging in the different meals to different days. It’s a bit like a puzzle figuring out which meal to put on which day. Days that you work, or work longer hours – stick in fast, easy meals. Save the meals that are a bit more complicated for days that you have more time.
Now that you have a full chart, stick it up somewhere where you can see it every day and you’re ready to start! View this as a work in progress that you can always change or tweak.
Picky eaters? Do you have one or two (or all!) kids who never seem to like what you make?
- Did they like what you served last night? Maybe you can make a bit extra and save it for this child for the following night.
- Have a standard back up that doesn’t include preparation. Here are a couple of ideas: Crackers with tuna, rice cakes with peanut butter, cereal and milk.
Instead of getting annoyed at the child for not liking the meal, accept ahead of time (right now!) that we all have different likes and tastes. No need to judge, put down or make a kid feel bad. In a neutral voice, offer them their alternatives.
Unexpected circumstances? You’ve got your meal plan all set up but what happens when one day your kid wakes up sick and you spend all day with this child running to the doctor? Now there’s no time to make what you had planned! Or maybe you woke up sick and you have zero energy to cook a meal! Now what??
Always have a back up plan for days like this. It could be a meal you make in advance and freeze, it could be a stick-in-the-oven ready to go frozen meal from the supermarket that you save for days like this, it could even be cereal and milk! Whatever it is, having a plan in advance for days like this reduces the anxiety and helps you stay calm and in control.
In fact, having a plan for anything, any project we’re doing, takes away anxiety and unnecessary stress and replaces it with feelings of confidence and calm.
So the next time your kid asks you, “Mom, what’s for dinner?” just smile and answer him calmly, “just look at the chart, honey.”