Kate's Ever-Evolving Guide To Meal Planning

In Episode 10 I talk (complain?) about my experiences (failures?) meal-planning for my family. While it's been a bumpy journey of dry muffins and rejected casseroles, I did want to share some of what I've learned along the way. Be warned: it is a work in progress! As we like to say on the pod, I am not an expert. But I am a working (from home) mom who has to feed two kids on a regular basis. These are the rules I'm trying to live by when it comes to cooking for my family (if you don't have kids, not all of these may apply to you, but hopefully you find something in here that helps). I'd love to hear what tricks you have up your apron. 

  1. Keep It Simple, Stupid: I recently realized that I was setting my expectations WAY too high for myself in the kitchen. I did a lot of googling of "kid friendly meals" and even the "simple" recipes I found both seemed like they required a lot of time, prep and ingredients and also had a good chance of being rejected by my kids. I have since simplified my meals even more, and the result is that my kids are eating what I make, and cooking is easier and takes less time. I'm someone who does NOT enjoy cooking, so this works for me. 
  2. Serve It Family Style: About a year ago, I served my kids dinner "family style" and was seriously shocked by their response. They LOVED getting to serve themselves. They clearly felt proud and excited to scoop up the food they wanted and put it on their plates. And weirdly, they seemed to eat more when they served themselves than when I plopped it on their plate for them. Giving them choices opened them up to being more adventurous. And yes, it also made meals WAY more messy. But if you can handle wiping up rice spills after, it's totally worth it. (Also, I have a dog who hovers at their feet during meals to pick up dropped food. I should pay her money for her work.) 
  3. Plan Ahead: There's truly nothing I hate more than sitting down and planning things, but in the end it saves me time and money. I used to be filled with panic at 4:30PM realizing I had zero plan for dinner that night. I now try (operative word here, for all of this) to give myself some time on Sunday to plan out our week: I plan dinner for each night and then make a grocery list based on the plan, so I'm not buying excess food and then wasting it. 
  4. Stay Flexible: Things change. Schedules shift. Meetings run late. Soccer practice happens. People get sick. Sometimes you don't feel like making what you said you'd make. Don't feel like you have to stick to your original plan if something comes up. 
  5. Involve Your Kids: Obviously this won't work for everyone, but my daughters are 5 and 7 and have just hit the perfect age where they want to help and can kind of crack an egg without getting it all over themselves (most of the time). Last night they actually helped me mix up the mini meat loaves we made for dinner -- I filled the measuring cups with the items, they dumped them in and did the eggs and the mixing. I don't know this for sure, but I suspect that having ownership in the process makes them more excited to eat. Both of them also love making their lunches for school (which is often more work for me than if I just throw them together when they're in bed, alas), and I've started letting my 7-year-old use the sharp kitchen knives to cut fruit and vegetables. She LOVES it (while I stand next to her trying not to have a panic attack about her a finger slice). 
  6. Cook It Ahead Of Time: Like I said, I kinda hate doing the work of meal planning, but I love the pay off. There's nothing more satisfying than prepping a week's worth of lunches to just grab and go in the morning. I like to crock pot something on Monday and eat it for the whole week (if I can stretch it that long). 

A SAMPLE KATE SPENCER MEAL PLAN

Here's an example of what I'm making for dinner each week. All the recipes included are ones I've made successfully and have been eaten by my slightly-picky kids. Sometimes I make one meal we can all eat, sometimes I do something for my husband and me and make something else for our kids. It's never perfect. Also, sometimes we have a dinner together out, or I order Dominos. (I love the Dominos app. Life-changing.)

MondayMiso/Veggie Bowls (I gave my kids the vegetables plain, and also made them chicken nuggets. For rice, my go-to is the Trader Joe's frozen stuff that microwaves in 3 minutes and is perfect every time.)  

Tuesday: Costco rotisserie chicken, roasted sweet potato "fries," steamed asparagus 

Wednesday: Chopped Chicken Salad with Vegetables (using the leftover rotisserie chicken). Kids: bean & cheese burritos and sliced cucumbers

Thursday: Turkey Tacos -- I use a packet of taco seasoning, some turkey meat, and then get tortillas, salsa, sour cream, veggie toppings, cheese, and avocado. I'll make refried beans (from a can) too. 

Friday: Breakfast for dinner (Normally eggs, bacon, and some fruit or avocado) 

Saturday: Chicken Parmesan Meatloaf Bites (I use turkey instead of chicken because I buy it in bulk at Costco, and I use onion powder and garlic powder instead of onion and garlic because my kids are weird about them), mashed potatoes (I also buy these pre-made at Costco, they're really good), steamed green beans. 

We had this for dinner last night! Here's a very unglamorous shot of my meal (also I ate like, 4 of these mini meatloaves. This was Round 1):

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Sunday: One Pot Spaghetti with Cherry Tomatoes and Kale, plain pasta for kids just in case, plus some carrots and cherry tomatoes. (My kids aren't sold on this dish, so I always have something else around for them. I love this recipe, but I cut it in half because it makes a ton. If you want a lot of leftovers for lunches, make the full recipe!) 

Some make-ahead lunches I like: 

Crock Pot White Chicken Chili , Oven-fried Salmon Cakes (with sliced veggies on the side)