Family Meal Planning

Saturday, January 24, 2015


From my Instagram (where I do post a lot of our meals)
Delicious and easy recipe here (I used fresh basil from our garden and gluten free pasta)

A really good friend of mine recently asked how much we spend a month on groceries.  She was shocked and in disbelief at the low number.  In fact, she thought that I could not possibly be correct.  In light of our way of eating (some organic and gluten free), she assumed we spent a lot more.

After talking about it, my friend and I realized that the reason we don't spend as much is the planning. After asking around, I learned that many of my friends don't have a weekly menu plan.  They run to the grocery store (often whole foods because it is the closest) and buy their ingredients daily or a few times a week.  I could never do that.  It seems so time consuming and stressful to me. But maybe some people like the grocery store (like my friend Shana!)

Dave (awesome husband) does our grocery shopping.  I typically plan our meals for the week and write the list. He does our shopping for a few reasons.  It kinda started back when I was in a car accident and getting acupuncture/chiropractics and was told "no lifting."  But honestly, I hate grocery shopping and Dave sticks to the list.  If I go (which I do sometimes), I throw in all sorts of treats we don't need and waste money and food. Plus, did I mention that I hate grocery shopping and he's the best husband?

So, when I sit down to make the list each Saturday or Sunday, I have a few methods.  First, I look at our week to see what we have going on.  For example a few nights a week, we are not all home at the same time.  Kate has gymnastics, Will has water polo or ACT class or work or friends, Harry has lacrosse, I have clients or book club, etc. On those nights when we all need to eat but at different times, I typically make something like a lasagna or chili or stew or something in the crockpot. Most of those meals make enough for 2 dinners so we eat leftovers the second night. That way, there is something simmering on the stove and people can eat as they get home.  Or they can warm it up easily in the microwave. Dave and I usually eat together with whomever is home around 6 or 6:30 (Harry and sometimes Will) and then serve the others as they get home.  Kate doesn't get home from the gym until 8:50 so she eats a small late dinner a few times a week. I really hate that.

Until this year, we ate as a family almost every single night.  That was HUGELY important to me.  There are tons of studies on family dinners and the benefits to families. And for 17.5 years of parenting, we were able to do it.  Unfortunately (but fortunately for her), last month Kate was moved up a level in gymnastics and now she gets home too late 2 nights a week for us to eat together.  But we really try to do so the other nights as best we can.

At least three/four nights a week we eat together at home (some of the other nights, we eat out as a family too).  On those nights that we are all home, I typically plan things that should be eaten right away such as grilled meats and veggies.  For example, this week, I will make the pork tenderloin on a night we are all home to eat together and the slow cooker meal on a night when our dinners are staggered. Make sense?

Typically, we plan the meals but not the exact nights. So I have meals I make on gymnastics nights and meals I make on non gym nights but I don't always plan which exact one I will make when.  We probably should do that but I like to be a little flexible.  Sometimes we are craving meat or pasta.  Our weather fluctuates so much this time of year (freezing one day and gorgeous the next) that we might want a salad one day and stew the next.  So, we have an idea of what we are making but we decide the days as they come that week.  Plus, plans are always changing with teenagers and an 8 year old.  And I hate when I make a big meal and no one is home to eat it.

Dave used to cook about 50% of the time (when we lived in VA 6-10 years ago).  Dave is a really good cook. Now he works later and so I typically cook during the week. He will sometimes do a quick weeknight dinner of tacos or sautéed fish if he gets home at a good time. And he typically cleans up on the nights I cook.

Usually, Dave cooks a big and delicious Sunday dinner for our whole family.  Sunday night dinner is kind of non negotiable in our family.  I want everyone home.  Friends are welcome but I want my kids home.  In fact, we have sometimes opted out of games, parties and practices on Sunday night because I strongly believe that is family time.

How do I decide on the meals? Some weeks, I ask the kids and Dave if there is anything they especially want me to cook.  I am  also a big fan of cookbooks and pinterest.  Some weeks, we stick to the things we have been making for years (tacos, pasta with sundried tomatoes and grilled chicken, lemon pepper shrimp, roasted chicken, gluten free pasta with sausage and meatballs, etc).  Some weeks, I am adventurous and find new recipes to tackle.  I use Pinterest and cooking blogs a lot.  Pioneer Woman never lets me down.  EVERY SINGLE recipe is good (although I sometimes adapt them to make them gluten free or use more fresh ingredients).  Ina Garten is another favorite as well as Giada, Two Peas and their Pod and Skinnytaste.  I also try to plan by varying the kinds of meats (pork, turkey, chicken, red meat and fish) and including one meatless night but the teenage boys rebel so I have to be sneaky about that.  We choose about 4 meals per week counting on leftovers for one or two and eating out once a week.  Once in a while, we have grilled cheese and avocado sandwiches or hot dogs (GASP!) or pizza or Chinese food.

So, this is our meal plan for the upcoming week:

Honey Butter Pork Tenderloin
Slaw Salad
Baked Sweet Potatoes

Slow Cooker General Tso's Chicken with jasmine rice.

Note ~ If I make this again, (which I probably will because the flavor is great) I will make on stovetop so the chicken stays crispy. The crockpot was an added unnecessary step in my opinion.  Also, you MUST double the sauce or it will burn/stick in the crockpot.  Luckily, I did this.  

Caprese Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms with a fresh green salad.

Dave will also cook a Sunday meal tomorrow. I just don't know what it is yet:) Often he grills or cooks ribs or steaks or fish or beef braise with veggies and sides. The boys are meat eaters for sure.

Added: Dave slow smoked ribs on the grill. They were delicious!!!  He also made sweet potato fries and a wedge salad.

Last week we had:

Lasagna (I use fresh bulk Italian Sausage and gluten free noodles and freshly shredded Parmesan to lessen a little of the processed foods)  This makes enough for our family for 2+ dinners and everyone LOVES it!

(This was really good but TOO spicy for Kate and some others).  I used half the creole seasoning and we like spicy foods.  I am thinking our  andouille sausage was also very spicy)  I will make it again but adapt for the spiciness. This also made enough for 2 meals for our family.  Maybe I doubled the recipe…not sure?

Slow Cooker Honey Chicken Thighs
Sweet Potatoes


*This last meal was in the plan but because of a few missing ingredients and a change in plans, I had to punt.  I ended up making buffalo chicken thighs that I kind of made up on the fly in the crockpot.  They were surprisingly good.  I will make these properly very soon though as they look delicious and easy and the reviews are excellent.

If you want to see the recipes I pin, you can follow me on Pinterest here.
If you want to see the recipes I Instagram, you can follow me here.

I am not a meal planning expert at all, this is just what works for us and I thought it might help others too. If you have a favorite recipe or tip, please share it or leave the link in the comments.  I am always looking for new ways to feed our family (we need more vegetables).  I am going to try to post more often about our meal plans here as well.  Maybe not weekly but maybe twice a month:)  Also, if you have any questions, I will answer them in the comments too.

Also, thank you for all the kind comments on my last post.  I think I responded to everyone and visited those of you that have blogs.  I am grateful for the continued support of all of you.


  1. I feel like I could have written this post! I do the same thing for our meal planning, and it works so well for us and keeps us from eating out too much. I usually make soup at least once a week and always double the batch- either to have leftovers another night or to freeze for a busy week. I've posted some of my favorite soup recipes on the blog, but I'm always in search of new things to try. Thank you for sharing some of yours!

    1. Michele…I will go look at some of your recipes. I LOVE soup and so do my boys but Kate is not a soup fan at all. I make it but I cannot make it as often as I'd like. I am trying to ease her into soup loving:)

    2. I know how that is. Sutton despises soup- literally picks out the protein and gags at the rest. I'm praying he'll come around, eventually :)

  2. I love all of your tips, and completely agree that family meals are important. We had the same issues as you as our kids got older and had more late activities. One eating out tradition we started when they were teens worked really well. We used to go out for an early dinner together every Friday night, often just the four of us but sometimes one of the kids would invite a friend. As they got older they appreciated having both the family time and finishing up early enough so they could go out with their friends afterwards. Now that they've grown up and moved away, my husband and I keep up the early Friday dinner tradition.

    1. I love that idea and would do it in a heart beat but Kate has gymnastics until 8:30 on Friday nights currently:( So, we often have our early dinner out Thursday nights or have Sunday brunch ever few weeks. Next year, I don't think she'll be in the gym on Fri night and we might do that. It will be Will's last year at home.

  3. Pioneer woman drip beef is excellent. Make the crockpot version and then you can eat on it for a few days. You can also drain the juice and use the left over meat with BBQ sauce for a different meal. Have the butcher trim all fat off the roast before you cook.

    My struggle comes with having young children - 8, 3 and 2. It's so hard to cook during that witching hour of 3-5pm and their palette is not as sophisticated as my husband and mine so I end up having to serve kid food to them half the time. We also eat as a family. I am a big believer in that too. But sometimes when my kids are starving at 5pm, I go ahead and feed them dinner instead of a snack. If husband isn't home by 5 (rare for him) I at least sit with the kids while they eat. Having little kids is a game changer on the meal front in my opinion. What did you do?

    1. Megsy,

      I hear you. It is really hard at that time of day when they are those ages. I remember when mine were around those ages too. It was hard.

      Once Will was 18 months-- old I decided that I would not cook "kids meals" anymore. When I was studying for my PhD one of our counseling professors said "Parents decided when food is offered and WHAT is offered, children should be allowed to decide how much to eat when it is offered." That has worked really well for us. I provide a healthy dinner every night with with a few options and my kids choose how much of it to eat. I don't make grilled cheese or chicken nuggets. The only way they learn to try new foods is if we continually expose them to it. It was not always easy but it has worked for us. My kids eat almost everything. Sure they like some things more than others but they eat their dinner. I also found that having them help me cook (and we did this as early as 3) helped a lot.

      My tips for that time of day and those ages are this: offer snacks after school (fruits, cheese, yogurt, hummus and veggies, peanut butter and crackers). That made my kids able to wait til Dave got home to eat most nights.

      Also, at that time of day (3-5) my kids were at the kitchen island or table while I was cooking. They were having snacks, doing homework, practicing spelling words, coloring or doing puzzles. Once they were done, they could play or watch a short TV show so I could finish dinner. I cooked while they were busy at the island. In fact, I just posted a photo of them in IG at those ages (Kate was a little younger) doing just that. I remember those times and I called it the witching hour. I remember it was a struggle but we managed and I am glad I did it that way. Saying all of that, I think we need to do what works for our family. I have a lot of Moms come into my office trying to get their kids to eat more diverse foods and this is the method we use. It is hard at first but once kids realize you a re only making one thing for dinner, they start eating it.

    2. Oh and thank you for the suggestion for the PW beef drip recipe. I am going to look for that.

  4. Such a fun post! I love seeing how others cook and meal plan.

  5. The slow cooker has been a god-send this year! Everything from meats to soups is ready for us when we get home! One of our current faves is mix and match mama's BLT pasta. Comes together in a cinch and we all love it!

    1. Thanks Ani. I'll have to take a look at that recipe.

  6. Good post. I am laughing about the hot dogs! Lol. Grilled cheese is my go to easy meal.We have a beef allergy, so meals can get tricky around here. We eat lots of chicken and pork.

    1. I put the hot dog part in there especially for you:) I love grilled cheese too and we usually add avocado to it. YUM!

  7. I am new to posting comments on blogs so if this is the third comment from me please ignore the other two. I used to have problems with leftovers. What do you do if you have them but not enough to make a meal out of them? Now I have an occasional night when I don't cook and we do not eat out. I just let my two kids (age 8 and 9) raid my kitchen. Either eat up any remaining leftovers or come up with concoctions of their own. I admit I often do this because I get lazy or uncreative but it does make the kids even more resourceful and creative. I don't like some of their concoctions (my daughter puts syrup on spaghetti, having got the idea from the movie Elf - and she tries to get me to eat some) but it works for us.

    1. Margaret,

      Thank you for your comment. So, sometimes if we have leftover but not enough for everyone, we will pack them in the boys lunches. For example, we have leftover ribs from tonight's dinner but I already have something defrosted and there is not enough for our whole family to eat the ribs again tomorrow. So, Dave and the boys will eat the ribs for lunch. I like your idea though too. I do think it is important to let kids cook and create in the kitchen:)

  8. What a great suggestion. I always plan my meals out, but then I get thrown off by soccer and teenager stuff and end up grabbing something. I love the idea of having those nights planned for something that can be served at different times like soup or something from a crock pot. It's such a simple idea, but never crossed my mind! Thanks :)

  9. We couldn't survive without meal planning. We also plan apx. four meals/week because some nights have to be fast (as in frozen pizza fast) and we usually eat out one night on the weekend too. We also eat lots of leftovers and my boys must have meat with every meal. However, I could easily be a vegetarian and I don't always eat the same food!

  10. I really liked this post on your family meal planning ... I have also finally decided to try this system to improve the quality of our meals and save a little time and money ...and an exhaustion since my little toddler eat our own food . I'm just a beginner but I find it a very exciting experience and I'm glad I could compare with those who do it for a while.

    Congratulations for your blog and your beautiful family, is always fun and interesting to come here.

    p.s.Sorry, my english is not very good!!! :-)


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