Disclaimer and transparency announcement: I'm no cook, and as long as my family are being fed, I serve out mercy for myself for not making dinner time "should be's" a self sabotaging deal.
My kid, husband and heck, a lot of the time myself; we're not food adventurous. Getting new foods into either of them can be an ordeal. Butcha know what, we eat enough variety and enough of the reasonable nutritional balance that I really don't sweat the looseness of my meal planning system.
Say it with me now
NO ONE CARES IF WE DIDN'T EAT KALE AND QUINOA THIS WEEK.
If you did and do eat things that my family flinch in horror at the suggestion of, that's awesome. We usually don't. Our diet is pretty reasonable though, I think.
The principles of this system are based on blog and channel Fun, Cheap Or Free's Jordan Page's meal planning system which she has done many videos on, and she's worth checking out here, but I also did a full video recently too!
I was ill, and I was meal planning, and I wanted to put out on display how you can get through illness and be the meal planner with an easy peasy system to keep things afloat, if someone else will be doing the cooking, or if you have to save your energy to do it yourself. You can plan for these days, and tailor it to where you are with your realistic level of effort.
This may not be everyone's cup of tea. Actually, if you're a comfortable cook and enjoy your time in the kitchen and are relatively organised in it, this is not for you. You've probably got a good system already even if it doesnt feel like a system.
This is JUST GET BY AND FEED THE FAMILY AND DONT STARE THE FRIDGE AND GET TEARFUL BECAUSE YOU'RE TOO TIRED TO REMEMBER WHAT FOOD IS.
LET'S TALK PHONES.
I'm personally pro phone, I use mine a lot and I've taught my son that when Mummy is on it, she's not necessarily on facebook, instagram etc (I often am, and that's ok, because Mummy's need Recharge Time and often that comes from looking into other people's lives) but that Mummy has her proverbial together because she always has the reminders of schedules OF LIFE ITSELF on her, in that phone.
This is the secret to my relative success (or just not dying trying to hold it all together.)
My phone is Mummy's Mission Control.
I use Google Calendars, Evernote, Timers, Scheduling, Finance Tracking, Reminders, and that's just a fraction, but also another post coming in the future I suspect.
For meal planning, I use Evernote, All Recipes apps, BBC's Good Food apps and Google Calendars. (Not sponsored for mentions or anything, by the way.)
I highly suggest you do the same. You can :
-keep a log of family favourites
-make shopping lists
-keep note of budgets if relevant
-check your calendar
...all in one device and anywhere you are. Bed, bath, waiting for kids at school pick up, while the kettle boils... it can get done.
Bonus, you never leave your phone at home, so you always have your shopping list on you.
Please look into Evernote, it's incredibly versatile and I do just about everything on it.
This is a jump in where you are system. Add to the favourites list as you go. Browse the recipe apps when you feel inclined to. Nothing has to be established already for this to work for you on the first go.
IMPORTANT - Don't find meal ideas on Pinterest. There are SO MANY Best Ideal recipes on there, full of ingredients that you may not use, that the family may not like, and that may not fit into your cooking style and time. It's easier to scroll past these on recipe sites, but on Pinterest, because other 'real people' have uploaded them, they can place you in a mind frame of comparison and have you feeling like you AUGHT to do it like that, and that you're not serving your family well enough.
Don't do it. It's self sabotage again.
HOW I BREAK DOWN MY WEEK AHEAD INTO TWO CATEGORIES OF REALISTIC MEAL DECISIONS BASED ON EACH DAY'S ACTIVITY LEVEL
Here is the deal. I have two metaphorical baskets of meal ideas.
- for days when I anticipate having a little more time and energy in the afternoon, and i can make a scratch made dinner, or something with extra sides, or ensuring lots of veggies get in, or try new recipes, or batch cook... you get the picture.
Easy & Quick
- for days when I'm operating on very low, have been out all day, will likely be exhausted and loathing the thought of having to cook.
It's worth splitting your Family Favourites list, whether it's on your phone, in a binder or notebook, anything, into these two categories, and their purpose will become apparent shortly.
So look at your week ahead. I ensure that we do ONE SHOP. We try to get enough for everything we need for the week within that one shop to stop us overspending.We sometimes have to grab fresh fruit or more milk (we usually just use Long Life which we stash in the cupboards until needed but it happens!) if needed and that's cool, but juggling a few days of the week just gets too much to be constantly thinking over and standing in aisles and blah. Didn't worth for us.
What's on for the week ahead, starting on the day you do your shopping?
Here is a basic way to examine what's coming up, you just need to make notes on your meal planning note how many days of each category you need and highlight those days somehow on your calendar.You don't need to write all this down. This is just to show you where your thought path should sit.
On the days I have marked pink here in this example, I would make a note on my list that I would likely be zonked, and therefore need to anticipate a super easy, undeniably effortless meal to make.
On the days marked pink, I figure I'll have a bit more energy to provide a meal with a bit more heart and oomph.
This is my balance. It's fine by me, because now we rarely order in, and my resistance on the harder days has nothing to push against, because I've already done the decision making and prepared for it.
SO WHAT COUNTS AS EASY & QUICK AND WHAT COUNTS AS TIMEY WHIMEY IN SARAHLAND?
The basic principles follow:
Quick & Easy
- can I make it quickly?
- can I make it easily?
- like, really easily?
- no seriously, is there a shortcut you can take here?
- basically anything else.
For real, when it comes to quick and easy, for me that's anything from fried veg and chicken breast with a jar of store bought sauce like sweet and sour sauce and plain boiled rice, to oven pizza.
This is where the zero shame kicks in. More at the bottom as well! If i know I'm going to be exhausted, I'm happy to PLAN for bacon sandwiches for dinner as apposed to "having to opt for bacon sandwiches for tea tonight, i don't feel up to anything else, sorry about that" - because that there, is self sabotage.
The shops are full of part baked rolls, pre-roasted frozen potatoes, freezer prepped veg mixes already in dressings, cans of vegetables, frozen combined ingredients, cooked chicken pieces, ready roll pastry... it can work for hundreds of meal ideas and make them feasible in the first place. Investigate!
I'll get a list of meals using these ingredients out in the future if it's wanted - comment below!
You are allowed to intentionally plan for the easiest of meals, and you're allowed to form a balance in your life of frequency of easy options.
Beans on toast never hurt anyone.
CHECK YOUR PANTRY, FRIDGE AND SHELVES TO CHECK WHAT YOU ALREADY HAVE AND WHAT NEEDS USING.
A good meal planning prompt is checking what you already have in, and working around that.
It also saves you money and provides more room in your storage.
ASSIGN YOUR MEALS TO YOUR WEEK.
They don't have to be day for day, (but usually aim for things that have typical longer lives, like frozen ingredients for instance, for the end of the week) but look at the category ratios, and pick em!
So picking back up on the example above, we're looking at 3 Timey Whimey meals and 4 Easy & Quick meals.
Here's an example of what i might plan for that week.
As I pick each meal, I add the relevant ingredients to my shopping list on my Evernote app!
Boom! Meals are set. Next I add on the other bits I know we keep as staples for snacks, lunches and breakfasts and do the quick prowl around the house for what other household bits we need.
So realistically I might throw lots of fruit, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, carrots, hummus, yoghurts, bread, milk, coffee, teabags, eggs, caster sugar, marmite, toilet cleaner, dog biscuits, body soap, salad leaves etc.
WHEN YOU SHOP...
Tick off your phone list as you go (Evernote is awesome for this as you can write lists with checkable check boxes, and super bonus which we use a lot, if i'm not doing the shop, i can sync the list with Darren, and he can have the check list ready too!)
WHEN YOU RETURN FROM THE SHOP...
Mark dates that fresh foods are expiring on your calendar, and earmark days that certain meals might be best for, but keep this flexible! If a busy day creeps up on you, use one of an Easy & Quick option. This isn't a discipline thing, this is a keep life easy, get dinner on the table and perspective light kind of a deal!
And there you have it!
REMEMBER NOT TO WEAVE GUILT INTO THIS. YOU ARE ENOUGH.
If you, like me, have forever been plagued by the following:
- Not enough veggies today.
- Not enough fruit today.
- Ready meals are cheating.
- What is frozen food isn't nutritious enough.
- That's not a dinner, that's a lunch, or breakfast.
- The meals this week haven't been very varied.
- These meals make me look lazy or incapable.
Let me say now, you are feeding your family. No one has a right to imply these if you are making decisions that feel good over the week as a whole for nutrition. If your partner doesn't like the idea of simpler food on your busier days, they can cook. If your children don't like the simpler food, they can cook.If your neighbour gets a vegbox full of artichokes and celeriac and it works for them, great! If you can only imagine your children's grimaces confronted with that much leafy green, don't commit yourself to it.
If you know you're going to have a veg-less dinner in the evening, you could feel intentional about preparing, soup, veggie stick snacks, smoothies, etc earlier in the day to ensure some intake. Add extra veggie sticks or a salad into the dinner as well.
You can find a solution to those concerns without it being additional weight on you in the evening.
This is a daily duty which is unavoidable, often unenjoyable and if we're being truthful, probably often thankless.
It is okay to make it easier on yourself.
This should be no shame. This is allowed to be easier.
I hope these points and steps can help you set up a super simple system to pull together methods of making this part of your day and week easier and I hope hearing a fellow mother reveal her own feelings on the Kitchen Should Bes has been reassuring and a gift to you.
Give yourself Mercy, get creative with semi prepared foods and balance your week and energy.
God bless, don't forget to leave a comment and check out the video!