This one’s going to be wordy friends, but chock full of information. Hang in there with me and I promise something good at the end!
I read somewhere that the average family would save 50% on food costs by eating at home! 50%! In this economy that’s a lot of money! Plus, eating at home is healthier. And not just healthier for your waistline. There is a list of statistics a mile long about how families who eat together function better. At my house, eating meals together is non-negotiable. Not only does it allow us to share hot food, it helps us reconnect after a long day apart. It’s super important to me to do this, so I make it a priority. But it doesn’t have to be hard. You don’t need to spend hours in the kitchen or make a fancy meal.
This is how I do it. But before we start . . .
I’m assuming a couple of things:
- You currently have no meal plan
- You can’t/don’t want to cook every single night
- You can get yourself to the grocery store at least one time during the week (Wednesday night is best!)
- You can follow a recipe
- You have an average number of family members (scale up for more than 4 peeps)
- A meal generally has a protein, veggie(s), and starch
- You can afford to buy some convenience foods
- You might have time one night or on a weekend to prep stuff ahead
Here is a sample meal plan I put together for next week. I have modeled this after one of our weeks, but I understand you might have other things going on. No problem. Move the easiest meals to your worst night. For example, we have piano on Monday’s, so I choose something that’s easy and quick or I plan a slow cooker meal for that night.
Let’s look at the chart. Across the top are the days of the week, along the left side are the meals. I assume that you eat pretty much the same thing every weekday for breakfast. I write in the items we usually have for breakfast so that I can restock what has been depleted in the past week. You might not need to shop for all these items, but I find it handy to post this on the fridge so other people in the house can prepare a meal without my help. My daughter can look at the chart and see her breakfast options.
The same goes for lunch. I assume that you will eat the leftovers if you have somewhere to prepare them, or you will pack a cold lunch from a list of common ingredients. My daughter eats the same lunch four days a week. I know I will need bread, peanut butter, jelly, juice boxes, yogurt, carrots or something crunchy, and a fruit. Mr. Bundt is happy to eat leftovers. I’ll snack on whatever is around, so we keep hummus, yogurt, and soup handy. I also like to have a cup of tea and a snack with my daughter when she gets home from school, so I make sure to have something (peanut butter on graham crackers or apples, for example) for us when she gets home.
Now the tricky part. Dinner. Except it’s not tricky at all. My mother used to cook for at least six people every night. Every. Single. Night. No kidding. And we were poor. We never ate out. I seriously don’t know how she did it, but it can be done.
The first thing I do with my chart is mark the nights I know something’s going on. Earlier, I mentioned Monday is a piano day. Your days may be different. That’s fine. Busy nights will be slow cooker or leftover nights. How do I come up with menu items? There are standards, like the spaghetti, which are always an option. Some others might be meatloaf, tacos, chicken breasts (pounded flat and sautéed), chili, etc. I always have a list of recipes I want to try pulled from cooking shows, magazines, and cookbooks. The internet and library are great resources. Make sure to check the blogroll to the right for some great food blogs full of wonderful recipes!
Cost might be a factor in what you choose as well. Meat usually accounts for about 20% of a family’s grocery budget. You can choose what to buy and cook by using the sale circular at your favorite grocery store. If you see an item on sale but don’t know what to do with it, Google it! Type in “best recipe for _____” and see what comes up. You should have lots of choices.
I put rotisserie chicken on Monday because it’s easy to run to the store during lunch and pick up two chickens. Why two? We’re going to eat off these chickens twice or even three times. If you have extra, great! Soup! Rotisserie chickens cost about the same (don’t pay more than about $5/ea) as an uncooked whole chicken so it’s a great value. Same price but you didn’t have to put in the time.
Tuesday night is leftover chicken on quesadillas. Serve with a salad with fruit and you have a complete meal. Tuesday night you will prep the items for the crock pot beef stew on Wednesday. If you want an excellent slow cooker cookbook, try Slow Cooker Revolution by America’s Test Kitchen.
By the time you get home Wednesday, the house will smell wonderful and all you’ll need to do is serve up some stew and slice some crusty bread. If you have time Wednesday night, you can bake off your meatballs for Thursday.
Thursday night, start the sauce, heat the water for the spaghetti noodles. Toast up some garlic bread and toss the salad. But wait! Maybe you don’t get home until six every night. You’re too tired to do all this. Gotcha. Do you have a spouse, kids, handy dog? Okay, so the handy dog won’t help, but the others can and should! It is not solely your responsibility to create a meal. Maybe you did the shopping. Your spouse or older children can help with the rest. This is another good reason to post the menu where everyone can see it. Whoever gets home first should start dinner. Even a handy sitter can boil water for noodles or rice!
Friday is another night of repurposed leftovers. Cook extra meatballs on Thursday and feast on yummy meatball subs toasted with provolone cheese for an easy Friday night dinner.
Saturday is a night off! You can certainly eat out, but if you prepare the meals most other nights, have another family member choose a meal to prepare and put them on kitchen duty. Any child over the age of about 10 should be able to do this. If you haven’t taught them how to shop for and prepare a healthy, affordable meal by that age you need to get cracking!
You could also do a family meal night. Prepare pizzas together have a leftover buffet!
If you have time on the weekend, it’s a good time to cook some extra things to keep in the freezer or to make your weeknight easier. I always have quiche and soups in the freezer. I also package up leftovers into single serve portions so they can be grabbed for a quick and easy lunch.
I’ve included links to some of the recipes that I like below. Remember, you don’t have to make these exact recipes. You can also purchase convenience ingredients like pre-chopped onions or celery, or meatballs (fresh, not the frozen ones, gross). These may cost a bit more but are still cheaper than eating out.
Want a blank copy of my chart? Here you go!
What are your go-to weeknight meals or tips for getting dinner on the table in a hurry?
Is there an ingredient you’d love to see featured? A meal you’ve eaten but aren’t sure how to make? I’d love to hear your ideas!