- Slow Cooker Chicken Chili (with shredded cheese and sour cream), elbow macaroni, pumpkin muffins, black cherries (frozen in season)
- Pasta Jambalaya, cinnamon-raisin quick bread, corn, pears with cinnamon, blackberry cheesecake trifles
- Spicy Pumpkin Chili with fixings, muffins, cowboy caviar with tortilla chips
- Chinese take-out
- Chicken Parmesan, steamed broccoli, homemade garlic bread, apple crumb pie
- Slow Cooker Texas Chili, Amish Friendship bread, corn, peaches
- Other things to make this week: tea cakes, pink lemonade, blueberry muffins, mini fruit-topped chocolate chip cookie pizzas, apple crisp
- Dinner out
- Dinner with family
- Chicken Parmesan, Penne, steamed broccoli, homemade garlic bread, apple crumb pie
- Cheese tortellini, home-canned marinara sauce, steamed fresh green beans and carrots, fresh strawberries
- Stromboli (2 pepperoni, 1 chicken pesto), Cheesy bread, frozen corn off the cob, Family brought fruit tray and salad
- Bowtie pasta, leftover stromboli, home-canned applesauce, mixed vegetables
- Sandwiches, raw carrots and celery, fresh apple slices
- Other things to make this week: whole wheat sandwich bread, white sandwich bread, English muffin toasting bread, homemade baking powder, cinnamon puffs
How we plan meals
Theresa and I have a lot of things in common. Our husbands are brothers, and we live in the same neighborhood in the same town. We are both stay-at-home moms who have three children. We attend the same church and share many values about how we raise our children. We like to cook, bake, talk about food, and enjoy delicious meals with our families. We have a family dinner every evening.
But one way we diverge is how we plan our weekly menus. Our families aren’t at the same stage: my family, which includes an elementary school student, a preschooler, and a toddler, is on-the-go with sports two or so evenings a week and has several other regular after-school lessons, activities, and appointments that keep us busy most afternoons. Sometimes we eat dinner at taekwondo class. Sometimes we walk in the door and immediately sit down to eat dinner. The point for us is that we all eat the same thing.
Theresa’s family doesn’t have any kids in elementary school yet, so their afternoon and evening schedule tends to be less hectic.
Because of our busy schedule, I rely on several different strategies to plan meals for my family. One strategy is to-go meals: dinners that can be packed up and eaten away from home. Another strategy is slow cooker meals, since these can cook for hours unattended and be ready to eat on our schedule. I also occasionally freeze leftovers or make double batches so that another meal is prepped and ready to go on a busy night.
So, to plan my week of meals I look at all the schedule factors, and what that means for where we’ll eat or when I’ll have time to prep a meal. I assign each day of the week a meal that fits in with those requirements, including vegetable and fruit sides. I do occasionally juggle meals around if things come up, but in general what’s on the meal plan for Wednesday is what we eat that night.
I also have a bit of an obsession with having ingredients on hand to make any recipe that’s in our regular rotation. I call these my pantry staples. That means I always have pepperoni, tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella, and flour to make homemade pizza. I always have onions, rice, frozen chopped peppers, and smoked sausage to make jambalaya. When I run low on my pantry staples, I prioritize those items on that week’s grocery list. I try never to run out of those things, because sometimes that new recipe I had slotted in to try Thursday evening just doesn’t fit into our schedule after all. It’s nice to have some recipes to fall back on that I can make without looking at the recipe, having prepared it so many times. So my meal planning is very much based on what I already have on hand: meats, grains, frozen vegetables, cheeses, supplemented with fruit purchased fresh each week.
Theresa’s meal planning looks very different. She makes a list of meals that are possible to prepare, mostly from items she finds for sale that week. She also takes into account food in her pantry or freezer. She doesn’t assign a meal for each day, instead usually deciding that morning or afternoon which meal she will choose from her list. She then writes a daily meal plan, complete with sides, on a marker board in her kitchen to refer to as she preps her meals. She also keeps a running list of foods (not meals) that she wants to make that week, including breads, snacks, desserts, or a new DIY pantry staple.
Neither of these methods is right or wrong, they’re just what work for us. If you’re new to meal planning, I recommend you try out a few different methods before you settle on what works for your family. The ultimate goal here is to prioritize family dinner so that everyone can eat together.
The Fam needs to eat. Make it good!