Meal planning. It's something I always wanted to do but never managed to stick with. I'd sit there on Sunday afternoons with a stack of cookbooks and a calendar and it took forever to decide what to make when. Ugh.
Then Project Organize Your Entire Life came along. What started out as a funny post became a huge project Steph is doing over at Modern Parents Messy Kids. Now, I don't have the time or brain capacity right now to really join in, but I can't help but follow this.
Changing workdays, preschool lunch days and pretty much all the rest of the schedule might not be the ideal time to try and implement additional schedule changes. Or maybe it's the perfect time. Because it's all changing anyway and with three workdays I need to get much more organized. I used to do long days on Mondays and Thursdays, and those were kind of exception days where everything was different from normal for a day. Now it's shorter days Tuesday through Thursday, and that means much more regularity. Which is a good thing.
But back to meal planning. A while ago, my kids became obsessed with my mom's pancakes. They'd ask her for pancakes everday, until we finally decided that Tuesday is pancake day. Now they get all excited about Tuesdays and don't really argue about having pancakes any other day. Oh, maybe I should mention that pancakes (we're talking German ones here, thin, big German pancakes with lots of apples in them) are considered lunch, or sometimes even dinner for a certain picky 3-year-old.
The success of the pancake Tuesdays got me thinking. What if I didn't have to come up with meals for the entire week, each and every week, but rather assign certain days based on what fits our schedule and then just pick a recipe that goes with it?
You see, I tend to do too many things at once. And somehow multitasking at my age is not such a brilliant idea. Given too many choices, my brain refuses to focus and spends lots of precious time considering alternatives. It's like Starbucks. It takes me forever to order something because there are too many choices, so I usually order the same thing over and over again, but it doesn't feel right. Ask me if I want regular coffee or decaf and I can decide in a nanosecond. Ask me what blend and what size and all those other choices and I'm lost.
So, my solution to meal planning is as simple as that: limit choices. You could also say assign themes to certain days (if you've seen my kids' birthday parties you know I like themes). Which now looks like this:
I'm home so I potentially have more time to cook and a quick grocery run for milk and bread after the weekend is likely anyway, means I can pick up meat or any missing fresh veggies. Also, the organic meat section at the store in the next city is usually stocked for the weekend, so we buy then. Asian can mean anything from stir-fry chicken dishes to Asian pasta salad to Thai curry shrimp or vegetarian dishes. But it makes it much, much easier for me to pick a recipe. It also means I can cook more rice if needed sometime later in the week.
Tuesdays: Pancakes. And Leftovers.
Cooking over the weekend and on Mondays usually means leftovers, so this is the perfect day to clear out the fridge and have an easy dinner for the first workday this week. If we don't have leftovers, we have sandwhiches, or maybe a soup on cold days. The kids usually have their pancakes when they come home from preschool, mostly because little brother doesn't eat much at preschool lunch and is starving (and cranky!) by then. My mom makes an extra pancake that I save for the next day.
Yeah I know, it supposed to be fish on Fridays. But Fridays have always been our pizza days, because that's when my dad comes over for dinner. I do my weekly grocery trip on my way home on Wednesdays, so I can get something fresh here if needed. This can be as simple as grilled with with salad and bread (or leftover rice from Mondays) in the summer, or more substantial like pasta with fish and broccoli (my kids love that). I also have slightly more time to cook because little brother is at my in-laws and comes home with my husband. Much easier to cook with a five-year-old around instead of a three-year-old. Mostly. Should the picky little one not like dinner, there's always the leftover pancake (genius, isn't it?)
I'm usually tired by now. Time for something simple like a frittata.
Fridays: Pizza and/or BBQ
We've had this tradition for quite a while, and aside from the Pancake Tuesdays, this is one of those things that made me realize strict schedules can also be a good thing. You just need to call them traditions. My kids know that Fridays we pick up grandpa, and he usually brings the pizza dough and some of those toy-filled chocolate eggs that mommy doesn't buy. So we make pizza together, big brother rolling out his own dough. Little brother doesn't eat pizza (!), but since I'm off on Fridays, I usually cook a large pot of pasta for lunch and little brother has leftover pasta. I wouldn't survive without always having some leftover plain pasta in my fridge! In the summer we often throw something on the grill and grandpa's pizza dough becomes Italian bread while the lunch pasta turns into pasta salad. Fine with me.
Saturdays: Meat day
Now, we do have meat during the week, as in chicken stir-fries and such, but this is the official meat day. You know, like when you ask your man what he wants for dinner and the reply is "Steak!". Not steak with mashed potatoes and caramelized carrots. No, just steak. So this is the day. We put a chicken in the clay pot in winter, throw a steak on the grill in summer or simply make fajitas. Yep, this meal plan is flexible. Oh, and if we're home, this is the day for something sweet for lunch, like oven pancakes, clafoutis, pudding... Yum.
I love pasta. My kids love pasta. I could do seven pasta days, and sometimes I almost do, with stir-fried noodles, pasta with fish and pasta salads. Sundays is also the most flexible day because there is absolutely nothing on the calendar. We might be out for a day trip and do a quick pasta dish when home, or we might be home all day and cook bolognese sauce and lasagna which takes all afternoon. If we're having lunch at home, we usually let the kids have their beloved junk food, a.k.a. fish sticks, french fries and the like.
And that's it. Makes for much less argueing. So far we've only been doing this for three weeks, so I can't say anything about if we'll stick with this long term. It's also not set in stone, but it's a good guideline and makes choosing recipes and making grocery lists much easier.
What about you? Are you meal planning?