Day 17 Tips and Tricks: Meal Planning

by Andrea Cooley

Growing up, I remember always asking my mom "what's for dinner?" 

Sometimes she would joke, "You mean I have to feed you again?"

Of course we always had dinner, but now that I'm a grown up and am the one who does most of the cooking and grocery shopping in our house, I know what she meant! Sometimes planning for dinner every night (let alone, breakfast and lunch) is overwhelming! And right now there are only 2 of us! I don't know what we'll do when we have kids to feed…

I definitely haven't mastered the art of meal planning, but I thought I'd still share some of my secrets to getting dinner on the table at least 5 nights a week!

The thing that helps me the most with meal planning is actually sitting down on the weekend and making a list of what we'll eat during the week. It's not rocket science, but the weeks that I have at least a loose schedule are so much easier than the weeks where I'm scrambling to come up with dinner at 6 p.m. when Adam and I are both hungry and tired. Those are the nights when it's tempting to just go out for cheap Mexican!

When I make a list of meals sometimes it's as simple as saying we'll have chicken one night. I try to have frozen vegetables or stuff to make a salad and we're good to go. If I'm trying a new recipe I make sure we have all the ingredients.

Another secret is that I make more than enough for 2 people whenever possible. Then we either have leftovers for lunch or dinner.

My last tip is to get a crockpot! Seriously, there's nothing better than coming home from work to a meal waiting for you! A few weeks ago my sister came to visit and she made 8 crockpot meals that we are saving in the freezer for when the baby comes. I can't wait to try them! And once I know what are favorites are, I'll let you know!

And when all else fails, we fall back on breakfast for dinner! Sometimes that means pancakes or eggs, but sometimes it means cereal. And you know what? That's OK!

You can download the meal plan shown above for free from Anything But Perfect. I don't think I'll ever be organized enough to plan out 3 meals a day, but I do like that this template includes room for a shopping list!

What are your tricks for cooking? Once this baby comes, I'll be looking for all the tips I can get!

If you missed the start of our 31 Days of Tips and Tricks you can find all the posts here.

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Andrea Cooley

  1. When our baby came I had frozen crockpot meals ready as well, which was really helpful. What was even more helpful was having a couple of microwave meals, where the meat in the meal was already cooked, so it was a matter of minutes for having a meal ready, instead of having to remember in the morning or at lunchtime. 

  2. Our major and most appreciated tricks to be able to eat dinner reasonably close to dinner while managing young kids are a couple combos:
    1. crockpot (soup, stew, 1-pot meals) + bread maker (inexpensive one with delay bake option) so we can come home to a healthy, nutritionally balanced dinner, complete with warm, fresh an healthy bread.
    2. Crockpot (stir fry type mix, fajita type mix, or Indian entrees) + rice cooker with delay option. Same as above but fresh hot rice for the grain 😉
    we didn't do these things when Jude was a newborn and his demands would often delay our ability to do last minute dinner prep to get to actually eat at dinner time. With Fiona now, we can still tend to her needs and did as a newborn, as well as try to reign in Jude's toddler mayhem, and dinner is already ready when we are. Since we can't just deal with a super late dinner for just Matt and I as we did when infant Jude delayed our dinner because he now needs the dinner too, it helps immensely.  We do alllll the prep as completely as we can at night when kids are tended to/asleep so we just plug it in and any last second assembly in the morning.
    We are huge on leftovers too!!!

  3. In order to maximize the time I have to myself (nap time), I do my dinner prep then. Chopping veggies, sauteing meats, etc…whatever I need to have done to be able to assemble my meal faster around 5:00 p.m. ish before Thor gets home. And committing to making a weekly dinner menu so that I wasn't winging it at 4:45 p.m. certainly has made things less stressful!
    I've been finding that I need to start cooking larger quantities because now Pascal eats up more than I realize which doesn't leave me as much for leftovers as I thought there would be. 
    PB&J is also a family favorite in a pinch:) 

  4. Thanks for all the great tips! I know we'll have to plan ahead more to get dinner ready once we have the baby! I hope to share favorite recipes soon!

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