Meal planning for the perpetually perplexed: This mom's solution


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Figuring out what to cook when can be a daunting task, but meal planning doesn't have to be a hassle.

index-cards.jpgI remember taking home economics in seventh grade. I can't remember the teacher's name, but I can see her face. She was teaching everything I wasn't going to need.

Or so I thought.

I was going to be different, you see. I was going to be so sharp and creative and together that none of the mundane cleaning or cooking or home organization skills would apply to me. I would be able to whip up gourmet meals out of thin air! Dust bunnies wouldn't dare exist in my world! I would be different! And fabulous – oh, so fabulous!

Stop snickering. And please don't look under my couch.

Lucky lady

For several years when the boys were small, I didn't do much grocery shopping or cooking. Hubby and I fell into a routine that we called "I take care of the babies and he takes care of me."

The situation arose when Hubby was working quite long hours and often getting home at or after the boys' bedtime. I would get home from work first and get the boys fed, bathed and to bed – a process which often lasted until about 10PM. When I would come downstairs, I was hungry but tired and had no energy left for making an additional meal. So Hubby started cooking when he arrived home, and when I'd make it downstairs after bedtime, we'd eat. It was great. He also did all the grocery shopping to support this. Yeah, I pretty much had it made.

Several years ago, when I went from working full-time to part-time, things shifted. There were three weekdays that I was home during the day and one that I was the first parent home in the evening. I slowly took over meal planning and preparation and – gasp! – have been working at refining my meal planning skills ever since.

Organized meal planning

Yes, that thing that I swore I'd never do as I sneered at my home economics teacher. Turns out I was, uh, not so fabulous as I thought I would be.

Things became a little easier on that front about a year and a half ago when I acquired a pad of meal planning pages. I've used a couple different meal planning pads since and they each have their pluses and minuses. So then I had how to organize meals figured out – but there was still the matter of what to eat.

Figuring out what to put on the meal sheet proved to be the much bigger challenge. We had a repertoire of meals that were accepted by the kids for the most part, but they were in a dozen different cookbooks and remembering which was where? Nightmare.

Finally I bought a package of index cards. Over several weeks as we ate a meal that was a favorite or voted a hit by my picky crew, I wrote that meal name on an index card. Now on Sunday afternoons when I make out the weekly menu, I toss the pack of cards at the kids. I tell each of them to pick one meal (although I do get veto power, otherwise Woody would choose pasta with pancetta and cream twice a week). Hubby gets to pick two. I fill in with my choices based on what is on sale at the local market. How's that for meal planning?

Everyone wins

The upshot of this is that there is less negotiating at the table about the meal and we eat as a family more often than not. Oh yeah, and the fact that there is a more reasonable monthly grocery bill. We no longer go to the market every other night to pick up one thing but come out with five or six because we're already hungry.

Some of you may be continuing to laugh as you read. Go ahead – I don't mind. It's so obvious, I know. I never claimed to be an actual master of the whole housekeeping thing. But it has helped us.

These sites might help you! :-)

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