The Boring Girl's Guide to Family Meal Planning


I wish I was a fancy menu planner.  

For some reason I get asked often about how I plan meals, part of that probably because it's really helpful and natural for other moms to talk about that but part, I think, is because people have the impression I have something very elaborate going on.  I don't.  But I have figured out what works well for my family and have lost (mostly) the stress of family meal planning.

I love to eat, yes, and I love to eat good fancy things and wish I could eat those good fancy things all the meals all the days.  All true.  But planning and executing good fancy things for a family where those good fancy things would not really be that appreciated?  Not worth it.  I married a simple man with simple tastes and so far our children are simple children with simple tastes (though the Luke is showing some promise with being my exotic eating partner).  So it makes sense, despite the boringness for me, that I keep our meal plans simple and healthy.  Plus, I like to not lose my mind.  There's that, too.  The idea of having to figure out every single day or even every single week what we are going to eat is very overwhelming to me.  I'd much prefer to put that energy elsewhere.  For some reason waking up already knowing what's for dinner that night and it not being a four o'clock crapshoot makes me feel like my life is a little bit more put together and that's a good thing.

So behold my five favorite tips for boring yet sanity-saving meal planning :)


1.
Simplify Breakfast and Lunch
First off, get a breakfast and lunch routine down so you can stop thinking about it.  I'm genuinely intrigued by people who make meal plans that include breakfast and lunch.  Wow, that's a LOT of work.  The Boring Children here at the Boring Home eat almost the same things for breakfast and lunch every. single. day.  And it works.  It's just what they know and expect.  For me, choosing something simple, healthy, and nourishing and developing that as your routine is SO worth the sacrifice of novelty and diversity.  

So for breakfast every weekday and Saturday the Boring Children have steel cut oatmeal (soaked overnight) sprinkled with a bit of brown sugar (unless they were naughty and got up too early and woke up their brothers then nada on the sugar), a banana, and, as long as the hens are laying well, scrambled eggs with some cheddar cheese.  Every few days I may include a small green smoothie, too.  On Sundays they get cereal (from the box!  Excitement abounds!), a banana, and I make eggs after Mass.  

For lunch?  A peanut butter and honey sandwich on homemade whole wheat bread (I like the Trader Joe's natural peanut butter best and we try to use only raw honey.), a piece of whatever is in season or at least not too expensive fruit, and usually a few slices of cheese.  (If no cheese because it's kind of expensive and goes fast, then maybe another piece of fruit or some almonds or something.)  On Sundays we have "snacky lunch" which is a very lame name for eat whatever you want or that one of your parents has the motivation to prep for you.  Lunches for me are usually leftovers or when I'm healthy, a salad or tuna fish or something.

See?  Boring but healthy, enjoyed, very financially lean, and you won't lose your mind.

2.
Create Your Go-To Working Meal List
So now we come to the big meal.  Dinner.  What I did and what might work for you is to come up with an actual list of your family's favorite go-to meals and organize them by category.  I have mine organized by protein type:  beef, poultry, seafood, pork, vegetarian, and soups.  Ones that can be made in the slow cooker have an asterisk.  Some people might prefer to organize them by season or ease of cooking and that's fine.  Whatever makes the most sense in your head.  This is something that will be added to and played with a lot so start with the basics and as you remember meals that work for your family, add them on.  I typed mine out so that I can easily add to and edit it.  As you come across new recipes that you might like to audition for your list, create a Pinterest board and/or a paper folder for that purpose.  If they win, they eventually can be added to the list.


While having a set meal list to work from isn't fabulously exotic or exciting, it's sanity saving and for me, that's worth it.  I don't have the mental energy or desire to come up with unique and exciting anyway and even the idea of perusing recipes every week or month for new ideas is exhausting.  It's just not my thing.  Even if I were to want to try lots of different ideas, the rest of my family prefers much simpler so for me, the trade-off is worth it.  Plus, it makes eating out all the more special.  Having a list to work from of meals you know your family likes, you know how to make, and that you can easily throw on the schedule is really helpful.

3.
Get a Reusable Monthly Calendar.  
(Or weekly, if you'd prefer.  But I like to do this task as least often as possible so I go monthly.)
I have a simple dry erase poster that is hung on the refrigerator that I picked up at a garage sale.  It's not pretty but it works.  You could also type it out each month which may be an idea I switch to in the future so that I can easily save past months' plans.  I do prefer something tangible that can be hung or is visible over something digital.  Not only is it a physical reminder of the things I'll need for groceries that week but the littler Boring Children have learned from it how a calendar works and it builds anticipation for special days they see coming up. 

4.
Set Up Your Calendar - Special Meals First and Fill in the Rest
Now, for the actual dinner planning.  On the calendar I fill out the dates and important occasions that may fall on those dates for the month.  This includes birthdays, feast days, holidays, family celebrations, party invites, etc.  Basically things that may be the occasion for a special or already taken care of meal.  I figure out what I will serve on those days of the month first.  So, for example, if I know Boring Child X has a birthday and wants a certain meal, that gets filled in first so that I can plan around that day without repeating something similar within a few days.  Or if I see that a special saint feast day falls in that month and I wanted to have something specific for that, I put that in first.  

After doing those special days, I then use my handy dandy meal list to fill in the rest.  I first fill up with the favorites that no one minds repeating (Tacos.  Always with the tacos.) and then fill in with ones that we haven't had in a while, ones that may be more labor intensive, or a new recipe that I came across that struck my fancy.  At the same time I try to separate similar types of entree (like not putting two days of ground beef meals next to each other) and make Fridays meatless.  I also try to take into account leftovers I will have from a bigger meal that can be used in something else later in the week.  If we roast a chicken on Sunday, then I may make stock in the next day or two and use that for soup or the leftover chicken in a casserole a few days later.

Days that I know we'll be out of the house for much of the day or when we're otherwise very busy that day get slow cooker meals, one of my "cheater" meals, or a freezer meal.

I wasn't kidding.  It's not even the littlest bit fancy and neither are the meals on it.  BUT it works.

5.
Use Your Go-To Meal List to Create a Simplified Grocery Plan
One of the best benefits of a basically set meal list?  Grocery shopping becomes so very much simpler.  At one point I went through my meal list and made a set grocery list with a space next to each item to check off as it was needed.  That was really helpful.  Have a working knowledge and list of the ingredients you need and use with the meals that work for your family.  Keeping your recipe inventory to those that use real ingredients and are cooked from scratch means that a lot of those items can be used for a variety of recipes on your list not just that one (plus, better for you!).  That means, for me, I forgo recipes that contain ingredients that are limited in their use or that are expensive or have a small shelf life.  I'm now at the point where I can just mentally go through my cupboards and fridge and know what we usually buy and whether or not we need to restock.  Unless I have a real hankerin' for something different or one of those special night meals requires certain ingredients I don't usually have, our grocery list remains basically the same each month which saves time, mental energy, and a whole lot of money.


It's not perfect but it works for us.  There are still days, of course, where I get distracted and forget to take the meat out of the freezer to thaw or we did overlook a necessary ingredient on the last grocery stop.  There are also days I just feel lazy or maybe inspired to do something else and I veer from the plan.  But the funny thing with all this is when I have a plan in place, I feel much freer to go OFF the plan as I feel like it.  (I'm that way with homeschooling, too.  I need to have the reassurance of a plan but without necessarily always planning to follow it.)  I'm not a slave to the calendar but it frees me up to think about things that are more important to me or to go off the plan if I feel like I have the energy or desire on a certain day.  So, many of the nights I don't end up making what's on the calendar because I just felt like doing something different and it's my boring plan anyway so I can do that.

Maybe someday I'll be one of those lovely people who gets a thrill over meal planning and creates specialized menus for every day of the week and whose palette is stimulated at every meal.  Or maybe we'll win the lottery and I'll just hire one of those people.  Until either one happens, I'll keep doing what works for us, boring as it may be.  Maybe you do a lot of this already but maybe something on this list will work for someone else out there, too :)


Linking up with the lovely Jenna for Five Favorites!

21 comments

  1. I do something very, very similiar. Except my boring children complain that we always have chicken and potatoes. Oh well...it's easy and healthy and I like it.

    So what is dip night? Is that one of your meals (or was that an event)? I think I would love a dip night...so it sound fun and yummy,

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    1. Ha, that ITW was when Brian was gone on retreat for a weekend so I planned to have some fun meals. My husband…wait for it…doesn't eat cheese. (I KNOW!) So when he is gone, I plan lots of the things that we like but he wouldn't…like dip night. I just put out different dips - hummus, bean and cheese dip, buffalo bean dip, guacamole, etc. - with some blue corn chips. We all very much enjoy dip night :)

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  2. I'm just curious… how old are your kids? I'm looking at your lunch menu and thinking that would be a first course for my teenaged son. :) Actually, it's kind of close to what he eats for breakfast. A peanut butter and jelly toast sandwich with a piece of fruit and cashews on the side. He's usually looking for a snack around 10:30am. I do agree with you on the fact that I only plan dinners, but I've turned my kids loose in the kitchen when it comes to breakfast and lunch. I teach them what makes a well-balanced meal and but they make breakfast and lunch for themselves (we count it as part of their health education). Everyone has different tastes and preferences. One of my daughters hates typical breakfast foods and prefers leftovers for breakfast. I know that you can't let your kids have that kind of freedom when they are all little, but I would encourage all moms to let their kids put together their own meals when they can. Oh… and then teach them to clean up after themselves too.

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    1. Yeah, my oldest is 10 1/2. He's just recently started asking for a second sandwich at lunch so we'll see how this goes. I know both for their sake and my own, they'll have to start taking over more meal prep but I foresee (or maybe just hope :) that it will keep the same "bones". Like I can't imagine doing what some people do and making an entire cooked meal for lunch and then having to do that again at dinner…what I would *prefer* is that kind of meal learning and hands on experimenting happen for dinner. My hope is that in a few years each child will be responsible for dinner one night a week and will find some freedom to learn and grow within that framework. But who knows…I'm definitely not glued to any method and will undoubtedly have to switch things up as our family grows and changes. For now, this works…or at least keeps me sane :)

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    2. Charlotte, I think that's a great idea for breakfast and lunch as long as you quietly pay attention to make sure that they are indeed eating enough and well enough. I myself made my own lunch all through middle school and high school and the result was that, even though my dad bought sandwich meat and such, I almost never packed or ate a complete lunch -- more like 2 graham crackers and a pickle -- because I was left on my own to manage it. Sounds like you are teaching your kids well, though! Just keep quietly watching, especially for the girls.

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  3. I am so with you on all of this. I also have a meal plan that works for our family. It's just dinners because we have breakfast and lunch staples the kids can choose from, and I buy them each trip. I am working on compiling our meal plan into an ebook to share with people :)

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  4. 100% with you! I never understand the need for a different breakfast or lunch every day - we have a few things they can choose from (sometimes) but it's usually the same old thing every day for those meals - I don't mind, they don't mind, and it's so simple the 5yo can make everyone lunch by himself if need be!

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  5. Boring meals here too, for years, have them typed up for the different seasons but pretty much a rotating theme each week, same ole same ole. Sometimes I get inspired to be a little different but mostly I'm just keeping the wheels rotating

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  6. I really need to make a Master List for dinners. Breakfast and Lunch is really simple in our house too.

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  7. Can I ask an embarrassing question? How do you get your kids to eat salad? I've stopped even trying with my boys (nearly 3 and 4) because I don't think either of them has ever actually had lettuce cross their lips. Do you make amazing, tricksy salads that kids will eagerly consume, or are you just a tougher drill sergeant than me? I feel like my kids live on carbs...

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    1. True story, they JUST started eating salad this past year and I felt like a rock star. And by salad, I mean lettuce. They take after their dad and won't do dressing or anything. It's weird. I didn't serve it for a long time for the same reason and they were all about the carbs…I think maybe that's just normal for kids and the 3 year old is still kind of hesitant on it. I've kind of taken the stance that as long as they're healthy carbs and that they're getting some sort of exposure to other fruits and veggies that it's probably okay. I mean, heck, they live on just breastmilk for however long and that's all whole lot of carbs. So our salads are very simple and they'll pick out parts they don't care for (or I'll just add the fancy stuff to my own at the table). If I serve it with bread then often they use the bread to turn it into a sandwich but whatever, it's all the same food just different form :)

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  8. Your menu sounds delicious, but my kids must be extra picky because they won't touch a majority of the dishes on your calendar. How do you do it? My kids mostly likes beans and rice, pb and j, rice and gravy, and cereal/ yogurt, with maybe a couple more things, but really that's the extent of what they'll eat. When I try something new, I feel like so little is eaten. Any tips on how to do with really picky eaters?

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    1. Oh, we have had VERY picky eaters. Gradually they've come around as they've gotten older but there are still nights where they choose not to eat what's given and rather choose to be hungry. It's always been an issue here, too. But I try to choose meals that they don't HATE but I also am not going to limit our meals to only things they love. They need to learn to try new things and to eat things even if they don't like the taste simply because it's good for them. When one tells me they don't like something, I just tell them that's okay, they don't need to...but it's what's for dinner. Again, I try to choose meals with them in mind so it's not a nightly battle but if they got to pick, we'd have tacos, pizza, or tuna cheesies every night. At the same time, every family's menu is going to look different which is why it's so helpful to have a personal list that is for YOUR family and works for YOUR tastes. I've never liked preplanned menus and plans from the internet because every family is different and half the meals wouldn't work for us. I don't expect that all of our meals would work for others either.

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  9. Wait, you mean I don't have to make all the things hot and labor-intensive for every meal, every day?? You have liberated me from time-consuming breakfasts and lunches!!

    -McKenzie

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  10. Oh, this is great. I've been telling myself for longer than I care to admit that I need to put together a master list of meals I like that are easy and healthy and keep them in a binder to keep in the kitchen, but I haven't done it yet. The thing I really struggle with is that it's just me that I cook for, but I grew up learning how to cook for 6 or more. I'm gradually figuring out how to adjust things and build in leftovers but it's still very much a work in progress.

    Also, I think your new profile picture is very, very pretty. :)

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    1. Ugh. I HATE having to have a profile picture! I guess I don't have to but I know it's much more personal that way…but I just do not ever really like a pic of myself so thank you. I wonder if doing more freezable things would work for you? So you can make a bigger batch then freeze the leftovers in single portions for other nights?

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    2. (I went through the "I hate every single picture of myself so what to do with the profile pic" battle a few weeks ago so I'm totally with you on that!) I've thought about trying the freezer thing. Truly I just need to buckle down a bit and start making a reasonable plan that I'm at least capable of sticking with, and then plan for using a few freezer meals in that mix. I *love* your calendar idea so I may adopt something slightly similar...

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  11. My kids love the simple meals more than the complicated ones. It always surprises me.

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  12. Good idea to print out your dinner ideas- when making my menu for the week or month, I always forget what I can make or what are the favorites of the family. Trying to access my brain for that info is hard some days:)

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  13. My husband won't eat cheese either, with the exception of pizza and lasagna, and NONE seafood. I want a dip night!

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    1. We *may* be married to the same person. No "overly creamy" things either. I've gotten used to it but it was HARD in the first few years of being married to figure out what meals worked for us! It's a cross ;)

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