Planning Meals and the Chaos Hour

More than anything else, I get asked about meal planning. So few people actually plan their family's meals ahead of time. For many, there is this chaos in the evening as mom comes in from work or picking up kids where back packs and briefcases are getting put away and papers are needing signed, homework is getting done.....the chaos hour! Meanwhile, the fridge and pantry are getting opened and ransacked in hopes some easy and delicious meal will be ready to throw together.

I have bought several meal plans from meal planning experts. I have also sat down to plan a month of meals to meet my tight budget and spent hours just figuring out what to make, the grocery list, and the cost. I would love to say I found the perfect solution. But I haven't. And many evenings are just like I described when I started. We end up heating a bag of frozen vegetables and throwing some burger patties on the indoor grill.

Here is what I have learned over the last 20 years of meal planning. Most people cook/eat the same 5-15 meals over and over again. Healthy or not, they are easy to make and please the most people so they get used over and over. Some examples in my home are: Spaghetti, tacos, fajitas, beef and broccoli, burgers, shrimp fried rice.

From my clients, the list is more like; frozen lasagna, pizza delivery, sloppy Joes, frozen meals, mac and cheese. It is clear to me that most folks want something easy and in less than 30 minutes.

I have tried many new recipes that the whole family likes, but some meals just don't get made again and again. And there are some that the kids complain we make too often, but they are easy and familiar so they stay.

Here are some tips to make your meal planning simple and to avoid the 6 o'clock chaos.

First: Make a list of the meals you cook over and over again.

Second: List what ingredients you need to make those meals.

Third: Write out how long it takes to make each meal and if it leaves any leftovers.

You want meal plans so your dinner hour is less stressed and more healthy. So find ways to add some healthiness to the list of meals you already make. For example: add a salad, add an extra side of mixed veggies, use half the cream sauce, bake instead of fry.

To add some variety, add a new recipe every other week. To make the hour less crazy, plan the meals for upcoming week before the week starts. For me, I do this on Sunday afternoon. I pull out my calendar for the week ahead, I do a quick visual inventory of my fridge, freezer and pantry, and then I sit down to plan the week.

On the nights we have a lot going on and we may not all sit down to eat together, I plan to have sandwiches or something from the crock pot. On the nights we have no plans, I try to make a big dinner with leftovers. In the fall, I plan more stews and soups and use my crockpot quite a bit. In the summer we will grill up dinner a couple nights a week. I try to only use the oven when the house is cool.

The best way to plan meals is to just sit down and plan them. Make the time and think ahead when you aren't feeling rushed. And don't feel bad if you don't stick to the plan exactly. Most weeks I rearrange a few meals for some reason or another, but it is easier to rearrange plans than to come up with plans from nothing while everyone is cranky and hungry.

Do you have meal planning tips?  Comment below, I would love to hear them!

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