It’s the First of the Month

Captain’s Log, day 1 of a new month. July.

About a year ago we started monthly shopping.  Monthly shopping requires, among other things, monthly meal planning.  So, about a year ago we started monthly meal planning.  This works for us.  It may not work for you.  I don’t think it would have worked for us a few years ago (remember the year we gave up going to the grocery store?!). But right now, this works.  First — in line with our intentional living we have strived to include the kids in our eating habits.

Sidebar: Many moons ago, before kids, K & I had dinner at a Sushi restaurant in Rehoboth Beach, DE  while we enjoyed our meals in a carefree kidless manner I can barely relate to now, a young couple sat with a toddler who pleasantly ate sushi with their parents.  K&I remarked how we hoped to have a child(ren) that would eat more than mac n’cheese and chicken fingers.  How cool would it be to have a toddler who ate sushi?  Flash forward more than a decade- tonight I fed our 14 month old  sushi at a hibachi restaurant.  All four of the EFffffing kids enjoy sushi (the youngest two stick to veggie rolls).  Don’t get me wrong, they eat plenty of mac n’cheese too- but usually the homemade crockpot version and not the Sysco kids’ menu version. We won that round of parenting goals. Sushi eating kids – ✔️.

This inclusion, for us, looks a bit messy to most people.  We meal plan, food prep, cook and eat all our meals TOGETHER!  The six of us sit at the table together for 3 meals a day, nearly every day.  This is a time to check-in with each other, to plan the day -or next day, to regroup, wipe the slate and start fresh or just make silly faces.  This is a HUGE commitment! In theory we are like the Kennedy’s- elegant meals complete with political conversation- in reality… meals are more akin to that scene from ELF where he puts maple syrup on spaghetti. This post however, isn’t about the meal consumption or even preparation (the kids cooks regularly) it IS about how we meal plan.  I’ll save the shopping for another day, because we don’t actually plan and shop on the same day.

Step 1. Give me all the calendars! We use google calendars to manage … well life.  If it’s not on the calendar, it’s not happening.  Work, school, appointments, birthday parties, sport practices, meetings, playdates- they all go on the calendar.  You know what else goes on our calendar? Our menu! But before I can meal plan for the month I need to know what days we need meals cooked and if it needs to be a quick n’easy meal because R&D have soccer practice or if K has a late meeting so we need to have something that will hold on the stove until he can join us.  We also don’t meal plan our weekends usually.  They tend to fill up with errands, playdates, and day trips.  We pack meals these days, use up leftovers or use up leftover ingredients… what can we make with penne, half a box of strawberries and some left over spinach? Same goes for lunches- while we DO plan to eat lunch everyday, I don’t assign specific meals to specific days.  If a science project takes us to 1pm I don’t want a lunch that requires 20 mins of prep, likewise I don’t want to feed them yogurt & granola (a quick staple in our house) when I have time to make a cooked lunch.  So, knowing your calendar is the absolutely the most important step in successful meal planning.

Step 2. Have a plan

Looking at a blank calendar trying to plan 3 meals a day for 3o days (or 22 without weekends) is daunting for anyone! In our house breakfasts repeat for the month-this month Monday’s are pancakes, Tuesday’s are oatmeal etc.  The variety may change but the basic product is on repeat.  Same goes for dinners; Monday’s are for Italian meals, Friday’s are for grilling.   In the beginning it helped to have a list of meals for each category; a list of 6-8 items in each category including 1 new recipe and 1-2 easy prep meals.  This step is the most important step to include the kids.  There’s no sense putting a meal on the menu that is having complaints 30 days in advance.  It’s just not worth it.

Step 3. Mix & Match

Look at your calendar and match up your meals – can you reasonably butterfly the chicken before basketball practice? Will you be able to let your dough rise for 45 minutes before you start to cook?   If a kid is in charge of a meal, I need to make sure the kitchen is clean before they start, while I can pull that 1/3 cup measuring cup out of the sink and wash and reuse- it’ll wreck havoc on my 6 year old’s dinner preparation plans when that measuring cup is “missing”.

That’s it.  No, really.  That’s all there is to it.

I’ve tried a variety of meal planning methods and calendars – I have a stash of templates and files I’ve tried to make work.  In the end a blank calendar usually works best – with a copy of our google calendar open on a screen next to me.

This month I did a super simples google sheet:

x-axis: Breakfast, Lunch, Snack, Dinner, Conflict, Chef

y-axis: Sunday July 1… July 30

Meal plan Screen Shot
Meal plan Screen Shot

*It’s worth noting July starts on a Sunday, we are shopping on July 1 so our ingredients and meal preps fit neatly but you may need to meal plan into the next month a few days to make sure you’re covered before you head back to the store.

Tomorrow we go shopping!

Rainy Day New Recipe

The rain and the humidity have me running though recipe ideas looking for a no-cook option that has some redeeming nutritional value.  It’s worth noting we generally shop for groceries monthly, but due to traveling this month – we took the oldest two to Alaska for a week-we opted not to shop this month so the food options are limited to what the kids and I bought for $100 on Monday.  Today’s lunch experiment was admittedly a saved recipe from my Facebook feed; Strawberry Spinach Penne Salad  from Creme de la Crumb.  We altered it slightly – I’m still dairy-free so the yogurt was an optional add-on at our table and the cranberries sat neatly on the counter instead of in the bowl (aka I neglected to add them to the salad, oops!). Everyone ate it and the only cooking I did was boiling the pasta. Now the pasta boiling definitely didn’t help the humidity in the house, but  less than 15 mins for a pasta salad that was a one-dish hit with the family was worth the added sticky!