I’m Tanya: Christian, wife, mom, homeschooler, writer, bookworn, introvert. In a life scarred by abandonment, uncertaintiy, and doubt, I seek honesty, community, and loyalty. This is where I unload my insights and ideas, my victories and defeats, and my struggles and surrenders. Hoefully, you’ll stay a while and join the conversation. http://www.boldlytanya.com/
guest post by: Tanya Cowley
I started meal planning out of necessity. The sugar laden, over processed circus we called dinner left everyone in my home depleted not restored. I craved uplifting family time gathered around the table. I desired to serve nutritious food prepared with love instead of haste. I longed for peaceful moments in which we could linger and unload the weight of our day. I needed a plan.
When I first began meal planning, it was laborious and cumbersome. The first half of my day was spent pouring over recipes. Hours ticked by while I arranged and rearranged the schedule. After all of that tedious work, I still had to back track through the recipes to make a grocery list and shop. Mapping out our meals was a two-day endeavor that tested both my patience and fortitude. It nearly derailed me. However, I was determined to find a system that worked.
Fortunately, my shortcomings are to your advantage. Along the way, I have learned five tricks to creating a simple healthy routine based meal plan that saves a lot of time.
1. Know your capabilities.
What is your skill level in the kitchen? If you have never roasted a chicken, don’t plan to roast one on Monday night! Even if you have read all the how-to articles and you are confident it’s in your skill set, save it for a lazy Sunday afternoon. Know your energy pattern. We all have days that are especially tiring. Don’t plan an extravagant meal that day. For me, I start the week strong and taper off. With that in mind, so does the difficulty of my plan. If you want to add pizzazz to your plan, add a day without rules. It allows variety and flexibility, but maintains manageability. If you want a day off, plan a day off. It is your meal plan. Make it work for you.
2. Identify the rhythms of your home.
I work every Tuesday and Thursday evening. We need something that is either simple for my husband to prepare, or something I can make ahead of time. For example, Monday night is music practice, so dinner must be prepared by 5:45pm. On Wednesdays, there is only an hour between dance and church. Dinner will have to be fast, or prepared ahead of time. Figure out the way your family runs so you can plan accordingly.
3. Build your routine.
Routine is the bedrock your plan. Here is what I mean. For dinner, we have Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Whatever Is Fast Wednesday, Crockpot Thursday, Stir-Friday, Surprise Me Saturday. (Sabbath Sunday isn’t included on the menu.) Each theme was chosen because it works with the rhythms of our family. We all know what we are having every single day of the week.
The other meals in our home are handled a little differently. For breakfast we have the same thing every single week. We picked our favorites and we have stuck with them this far. I never have to plan those meals again.
When add variety by changing the details. We have different kinds of fruit, or different kinds of pancakes. One week we might have regular toast, the next we might have bagels. It is consistent enough that we know what we are having, but diverse enough to keep us coming back for more. Lunch follows the same concept.
4. Build a selective cache of recipes.
We need to find and use recipes quickly to be effective. Maybe you hoard cookbooks or keep a notebook where you amass clippings. I use Pinterest as my own “virtual stash”. The key to this step is being hyper selective. Too many recipes hinder the process. Only keep about ten recipes for each theme and cycle through them. Make sure they are simple, easy, and something your family loves.
Save all the other recipes in a separate place, so you can try them out on a free day, or cycle them when you get bored with the current offerings.
5. Always have a back up plan.
Even the best-laid plans go awry. The pears turn before you can use them. Your husband binge eats all the tortilla chips you needed for meatless nachos. You don’t buy more macaroni and cheese because you were sure you already had some. My pantry is full of fruit snacks and frozen pizza for moments just like that.
Yes, there is some initial work involved in developing a meal plan that works for everyone in your household. Attune to the cadences in your home, both yours, and those you serve. Trial and error will be involved and you may have to scrap good ideas for the betterment of the team. But please stick with it. The initial investment yields great reward. It gets easier. Soon, family meals will encourage and refresh instead of frustrate and frazzle. Armed with routines and an arsenal of recipes, we can live the dream.
To get you started, here is a four-week sample meal plan complete with links to some of my favorite recipes.
By: Tanya Cowley
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