We meal plan. We plan breakfast, lunch, and dinner (and usually desserts and snacks too). With a few exceptions we six eat all our meals together at the table, and have for nearly 5 years- when Kevin transitioned to working from home full time.
Pre-pandemic – I would sit down with our calendar and plan our meals around our events and the weather. Soccer nights required a three-part dinner, kids needed energy before soccer to play hard, non-playing kids needed snacks to help sit still on the sidelines, and players needed calories post exercise. These days it is more about what fresh food we have on hand that needs used up and whether the meals will be eaten around the table – or around the outdoor fire pit.
One of our weekly tasks (But first, we clean) is meal planning. We rotate through, allowing everyone a chance at selecting a week’s worth of meals every other month. There are only a few rules:
1. Every other breakfast has to be egg based.
2. You have to use ingredients we have on hand. This is actually harder than it sounds–the first week or two after shopping require you USE the fresh ingredients, the last two weeks require you use ONLY the ingredients we have left on hand.
3. Meals need to include a protein, vegetable, and fruit in every offering.
Breakfasts: Rule 1 says we need to have eggs every other day. But the meal planner chooses how the eggs are cooked and what sides we have. The non-egg based breakfasts are only limited by how much time they take to prepare – muffins are usually a weekend breakfast for example. *Occasionally the last days before I shop we will run low on eggs. Scrambled eggs for our house take 14 eggs, so we may improvise or negotiate ‘breakfast sandwiches’- which only require 7 eggs.
Dinners: Generically our meal plan starts with daily dinner food genres: Italian, Asian, Homestyle*, Soup, and Mexican. The remaining 2 dinners are usually movie night acceptable dinners – pizza or charcuterie boards and then usually a personal favorite meal of the planner. *In the summer months we swap homestyle for grilling.
Lunches: Each week we schedule in 2 leftover lunches which we affectionally call “hodge-podge”. The remaining lunches try to use up intentional leftovers. Burrito dinners for example often are often prepared with extras in mind, the next days lunch will be nachos. Leftover rice from an asian dinner will provide day old rice, perfect for fried rice lunch.
Snacks & Desserts: We actually don’t eat very many snacks. We eat 3 (usually well balanced) meals a day and so we don’t often have hunger pangs between meals. However, we almost always have some kind of fruit available-apples last all month so if they do get hungry that’s our standard go-to. Additionally, we plan our dessert baking into our schedule-with kids rotating who is baking. Desserts are not necessarily served after dinner – since they are often sugar/chocolate packed I prefer to serve desserts this time of year fireside as a warmup between ice skating and sledding, or in the summer as an enticement to break from swimming so no one gets too tired to swim safely.
Sunday evening, we update our chalkboards. Our weekly board includes not only our meal plan, but also any scheduled events, our weekly focus, any bonus projects we hope to accomplish, and a reward for a successful week. This is also where meals are assigned to chefs. Each kid is responsible for preparing at least one meal a week- with varying degrees of assistance. The remaining meals are split between Kevin and I.
Lastly, this is when I plan out my meal prep responsibilities. We currently bake nearly all our bread and bread products fresh. We can’t have eggs and toast if I haven’t made bread. So I need to work out what days I need to bake bread, rolls, or sides like garlic bread. Likewise, beans may need soaked the night before or a crockpot meal may need prepped in the morning instead of at 4pm.
I know many people who plan their meals and then shop around those meals. Clearly, we have a different approach – as I shop once a month – with a mid-month refill of milk and sometimes fresh produce. Tomatoes & avocados are notoriously weak for their inability to last a full month! Another week I’ll write about my shopping expeditions.