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my new (easy!) approach to meal planning

5-meals

You know what time is not typically the high-point of my day?

4 o’clock.

The kids are home from school, my work day is over (at least until bedtime), and the next big thing on my task list is dinner. Ugh.

It’s not the actual cooking that is problematic and not the eating or even the clean up. It’s the part where I have to figure out what to make that gets me every time.

Except when I’ve taken the time to meal plan.

Each time I schedule out our meals, shop for all the necessary groceries and know ahead of time what I’m preparing, I’m good. But stand me in the kitchen with four hungry children staring at me asking what’s for dinner? when I don’t have a preset plan and my mind goes blank. There are many things I’m good at, but whipping up healthy dinners on a whim is definitely not one of them.

I have tried coming up with a monthly schedule of meals (this was one of my more valiant efforts) and while it does go smoothly, it just doesn’t stick. I’ve joined meal clubs where they create menus for you, and that doesn’t always work for our family either. If we could we would eat out or get take-out every night, but that is not the most practical solution, nor financially feasible.

So what’s a terrible meal-planning mama to do?

Make it SUPER easy.

Here’s the plan: we’re eating the same 5 meals every weeknight.

5-meals-scheduling

This was actually Ryan’s suggestion and I’m fully on board. It really couldn’t get any more simple and I’m excited to see how it works for us. We like good food, we like variety, we like seasonal options, but goodness, I just can’t keep up. Limiting our weekly meals to five of our go-to basics will *hopefully* reduce that stressful 4 o’clock what’s for dinner madness.

planning-5-meals-per-week

The five meals I chose for this season are decidedly fall-ish and proven family favorites. We’ll grow tired of them, I’m sure, so the plan is to switch out the meals every couple of months.

planning-5-meals

Here’s our menu:

MONDAY// Turkey Chili, salad, cornbread (or flatbread)

This is our busiest weekday so we’re doing a favorite soup that can cook all day and be ready for us in between ballet class and soccer practice. This turkey chili is delicious and can be doubled or tripled and then frozen. Each week I’ll pull out a frozen batch, put it in the slow cooker on low, serve it with a quick green salad and cornbread.

turkey-chili

TUESDAY: Taco Soup + chips

Another favorite soup that is also very healthy and great the next day for lunch. The kids like crunching up blue corn tortilla chips and sprinkling with grated cheese, sour cream and cilantro.

taco-soup

WEDNESDAY // grilled chicken + mediterranean quinoa salad + grilled flatbread

While the weather holds up, we’ll keep grilling the chicken outside but once it starts raining, I’ll switch to baking it. The quinoa salad recipe below is great, and so is this one.

mediterranean-quinoa-salad

THURSDAY // burrito bowls

We eat these once a week usually, so everyone will be happy keeping burrito bowls modeled after Chipotle’s on our weekly menu. I make cilantro lime rice (like this), add black beans, refried beans, lettuce, salsa, avocado and sour cream. Shredded rotisserie chicken, grilled flank steak or seasoned ground beef are all options (just depends on what’s on hand or what sounds best).

FRIDAY // pizza night

I’m excited to start a new tradition and make our own pizza like Myquillyn & her family.

As for other meals, I have a bunch of ideas jotted down to help the kids figure out what they want packed in their lunches and what (besides cereal) they can eat for breakfast. Having this list helps me keep our refrigerator and pantry stocked with healthy choices. Anything to make this feeding a big family thing easier!

lunch-and-breakfast-ideas

So that’s the plan. Nothing fancy and probably a little boring after a while, but it will simplify a task I don’t excel at, removing stress and extra unnecessary eating out. If you’d like more ideas for dinner ideas, check out my dinners pinterest board.

Now it’s your turn … do you have a favorite meal you eat weekly? Or a meal planning strategy that works for your family?

64 Responses to my new (easy!) approach to meal planning

  1. Pamela October 5, 2014 at 12:35 am #

    I thought I was “the only mom” who didn’t like the afternoon…because “my” workdays are done until after bedtime, and I have make dinner. :(

    I have found that a planned meal is so much better than having no plan. I have found that cooking ahead is even better! I like to cook a few dishes on the weekends that will be for our week of menus. Then, I just heat and serve. :)

    Happy planning!

  2. Lana September 16, 2014 at 1:46 pm #

    You know when I was little, we did this…and on the weekends, we would cook out or have a party or go to a friend’s house …but weekends were always different..
    Now my husband travels a lot, and bless him…but to keep me from having to cook so much while he’s gone, he will buy 5 or 6 of our favorite grilling meats…chicken, sausage, pork… and grill them all up in one afternoon and i freeze them..
    So perhaps, you can do that too…grill as much meat as you can now before winter / rain sets in and just freeze them so you can have grilled anytime!

    LOVE THIS IDEA OF YOURS!!!!!

  3. Angela September 15, 2014 at 11:09 am #

    We have a very similar take on menu planning! I like you, love Jesus, am a firefighters wife, with 4 children, and live in WA state!! I have a set breakfast schedule to stay away from having cereal every morning. I have a huge list of gf low sugar lunches my kids help me prepare on one afternoon (usually Sunday or Monday) for the rest of the week. Dinner time is where I try to switch things up. Mondays are always Mexican (tacos, burrito bowls, fajita bowls, taco salad, taco soup, etc.) Tuesdays are always a Crock-pot meal (usually a dump style recipe), Wednesdays are a rice or potato recipe (fried rice, bbq chicken baked potatoes, etc.) Thursdays are soup and salad nights. Fridays are pizza night! The weekends we try to be more flexible. Thanks for sharing your ideas!! I love your blog!

  4. Lacey September 15, 2014 at 8:51 am #

    I don’t like to have to cook every night so I double or triple my recipe’s ALL THE TIME. I’m working full time, I run a charity, and I’m a mom. I also refuse to order in so my planning goes something like this….

    Monday- Meal Salad which usually has Chicken. I then make more chicken than what’s needed so it dank. be sliced up for sandwiches for the week.

    Taco Tuesday (fajitas, tacos, or taco salad)

    Water Wednesday- Fish usually

    Thursday – leftovers

    Fun Friday- Homemade pizza or hot wings usually

    Sat- Leftovers with salad

    Soup Sunday- Soup and Salad ( I do big batches of soup once a month and freeze it for these days)

  5. Cathryn September 14, 2014 at 8:24 pm #

    When my four girls were home I went through the same thing. Even now, I am working full time, I dread dinner. My solution has been to make two dinners at once. Have one for dinner and pop one in the freezer. Then on days I will be late or don’t want to start from scratch I pull one out of the freezer and who’s ever home first puts it in the oven. I will admit to not being a huge fan of casseroles but I do love soup.

  6. Sarah September 11, 2014 at 3:12 pm #

    I have a panini maker that we use often. I keep a variety of deli meats & chesses around anyway. And then it’s as simple as buttering the bread & assembling. Sometimes I cook some bacon or make chipotle mayo or corn relish to change things up. I also occasionally open a can of sweet peppers or sundried tomatoes for variety.

    It’s so simple. And if you have older kids, it’s something they could do themselves.

  7. Chris September 9, 2014 at 8:54 pm #

    another super simple din din is any kind of Vegs, meat, and either gluten free pasta, quinoa or rice stir fried in coconut oil.. so delicious and pretty quick. I always add pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds and whatever spice you feel like ;) oh great now I’m craving fresh stir fry!

  8. Megan September 9, 2014 at 7:26 pm #

    Please do an update in a month or so on how this goes for your family! I’d be interested to know if anyone gets tired of the meals, and if it makes your grocery shopping easier/less frequent. I also struggle with meal planning and have not found a strategy that works for us without me ending up at the store every week or us eating out a couple times a week.

    • emily September 9, 2014 at 9:00 pm #

      That’s a great idea!

      We’re on week two – just did all my shopping today and it was pretty easy. I’ll definitely let you know how it goes

  9. Kat September 9, 2014 at 1:29 pm #

    I’ve used that Turkey Chili recipe! It really is fantastic for freezing.

    If you get tired of that and want another easy one-pot thing, this one is super good (and actually pretty healthy): http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Sweet-Potatoes-with-Cuban-Style-Beef-Picadillo-51203840 (I skip the olives & add extra capers)

  10. Elissa September 9, 2014 at 12:05 pm #

    I have been thinking about this since you posted yesterday–what a good idea! I am going to try for a few weeks and see what the fam thinks.

    Thank you!

  11. Erin September 9, 2014 at 11:10 am #

    No way…did I write this post or did you enter into my mind when writing it? Since we seem to have the same thoughts and issues I hope you don’t mind that I copy your solution! Thanks for the ideas. Looking forward to Taco soup tonight!

  12. Deb Meyers September 9, 2014 at 9:18 am #

    http://www.dinneralovestory.com/perfect-pizza-crust Favorite dinner book and best homemade crust ever… we make a greek pizza that has drastically cut our eating-out costs.

    dmeyers

  13. Claire May September 8, 2014 at 10:21 pm #

    Since my son was born 6 months ago we have been using the same weekly menu plan and it has been a God send! We are only now beginning to mix it up a bit as winter has arrived (in Australia) and stews are much more in keeping with the weather than sausages and salad! I was tired of my husband asking what was for dinner or getting to the end of the day and suddenly remembering that I had nothing for dinner. Good luck with your attempt :)

  14. Loni September 8, 2014 at 9:23 pm #

    Meal planning is therapy for me. I do it pretty faithfully every week and it definitely makes things run smoother. Breakfast for dinner comes up a lot. I’ll make quiche with a salad or egg and ham/sausage sandwiches on english muffins with roasted potatoes. One thing I try to do is ask for suggestions from our children…the two older ones anyway. That way the picker one has at least one meal he really likes. Plus, that’s two less that I have to come up with on my own.

  15. Krista September 8, 2014 at 7:28 pm #

    I have been doing meal planning similar to this for a couple years now. I have soup night, taco Tuesday, salad night, stir fry night, pasta/ pizza night. Then just switch out the recipes after a seasonally or when we need a change. This method saves money on the grocery bill and is so easy. And I just found out that you can buy only a crust at papa Murphy’s for $2.00 then add your own toppings at home.

  16. Kathleen September 8, 2014 at 7:23 pm #

    Today’s post really encouraged me! I have no idea why, but it was just this little breath of fresh air in my day, as I was getting dinner ready. Just a simple thanks, I wanted you to know your posts are just really appreciated, in my part-time work, pregnant with our third, one day at a time world!

  17. Eva September 8, 2014 at 5:23 pm #

    This post came at a perfect time for me. I’ve been struggling with keeping up with meal plans since I’ve started a new job. I love to have plans for eating nutritious, delicous recipes so I can be prepared for that time after work when I’m too hungry to think about what I want to make for us! Thanks for posting a great reminder that it’s okay, and actually really smart, to plan weekly meals. Two added benefits that I keep thinking about: the grocery lists and prices will be more predictable, and I can start to really learn recipes by heart and perfect them. I’m excited to pick a few of our favorites and stick with them for a few while!

  18. Tammy Krohn September 8, 2014 at 4:28 pm #

    I just told my husband, “I love Emily, she makes my life SO much easier.” Thank you for this idea! We are planning our menu (similar to yours) right now.

    God Bless,
    Tammy

  19. Jane @ See Jane Learn September 8, 2014 at 4:06 pm #

    I’m also a mom of four, and I did a catagory plan like what Kasey mentioned back in the day… Sunday~soup, Monday~chicken, Tuesday~Mexican, Wednesday~Crock Pot, Thursday~Italian, Friday~pizza and Saturday~grill. Sometimes “must-goes” (our name for leftovers) and sometimes take-out if life was crazier than usual.

    One tip I’ll pass on is I write our menu on the back of an envelope, put grocery list on the front of the envelope and any coupons inside. Quick and easy.

    Thanks for encouraging me to start meal planning again. Between becoming empty nesters, my hubby’s travel schedule and moving, that has NOT been happening.

  20. cheapdiva September 8, 2014 at 3:07 pm #

    Here was one of my family’s favorites when my kids were “kids”.

    Make hamburger patties and place on a pice of foil big enough to wrap around the patty.

    On top of burger, circle the outer edge with tater tots. Add about 2 tbsp. of frozen vegetables – I use to always use mixed veggies, but use what your family likes.

    Sprinkle dry onion soup mix over the whole thing (like a tspn) then fold over the foil and cook in the pouch for about 45 minutes at 350.

    These can also be made ahead and frozen. We used to make these to take camping and throw on the fire. The soup mix will “mix” with the juices from the frozen items and make a juicy, delicious burger.

    Serve with applesauce or fresh fruit. I promise it will be a BIG HIT!!

  21. Carrie September 8, 2014 at 2:24 pm #

    We have a similiar menu plan at our house but instead of specific dishes I have themes for each night of the week – i.e. Tuesday is Mexican, Wednesday is anything between two pieces of bread and Friday is homemade pizza. Under each category I keep a list of go to family favorite recipes that I reference at the start of the week when I set the plan and grocery shop. It has worked well for us the past 2 years, provides a little variance but also keeps it somewhat simple and reduces my stress.

  22. Holly R September 8, 2014 at 2:03 pm #

    Ahhh dinner time….I feel like as prepared as I am or how prepared I think I am, things don’t always go as planned but I have a meal that everyone likes and super easy…6 minute meatballs…delis

  23. Audrey B September 8, 2014 at 1:43 pm #

    I always keep Foster Farm chicken tenderloins (six pack from Costco) in the freezer. I grill up a couple of packages one night, serving some with a light wine sauce and baby red potatoes, the next day toss them with small penne pasta and grilled vegetables, and any left can be tossed in a salad for lunch. They were a life saver when our four children were playing competitive sports several nights a week and we didn’t sit down until after 8pm. Now that they are cooking on their own at college they keep chicken tenderloins on hand for quick dinners.

  24. Anna Campbell September 8, 2014 at 1:25 pm #

    Honestly, the whole reason I get your Paperworks is for the weekly meal list and chore charts (and b/c it’s so incredibly cute!). I was struggling, too, with the “it’s 5pm, hubby is on his way home, and 3 boys are looking at me with hungry tummies”. We streamlined to 5 meals a week (with breakfast for dinner on Fridays!). We are in love with any kind of wrap right now. I think b/c it’s easy for the kiddos. Of course it’s still grilling season and you can never go wrong with a burger and corn on cob!

  25. Stacie September 8, 2014 at 1:15 pm #

    I love your meal planning idea. I need to also implement a very simple meal plan for our family of four. While our family isn’t as big, I still find myself stressing about what to prepare for dinner. With a very picky eight (almost nine) year old boy and a twenty-eight month old toddler girl who will eat almost anything and becomes angry hungry within a moments notice, I can’t seem to get it together in the meal planning area.

  26. Jen September 8, 2014 at 1:12 pm #

    In my house, I’m the one that plans all the meals (without much input from my family) and (usually) the one who grocery shops. It’s hard to come up with something different every week. I finally made a list of the meals last week that we enjoy and came up with 27 recipes! Today when it was time to plan the meals, I just looked at my list and picked the three meals that looked best. So much easier and less stressful than looking through several cookbooks and having to skip over a bunch of recipes we don’t like.

  27. andrea September 8, 2014 at 12:59 pm #

    Sounds like a great plan – would totally go this route if I thought my kiddos wouldn’t complain about having. the. same. thing (!!!) two weeks in. And I find that although I can eat the same breakfast every morning, for some reason I want to change it up at dinner. My solution is to have general categories (e.g. soup night, salad night, pasta night, veggie night, etc.) which helps me hone in on the meals I actually want to make while adding variety. Looking forward to adapting some of these recipes too!

  28. Nicole September 8, 2014 at 12:40 pm #

    Yes, once we switched to a meal plan, life was SO much easier. I don’t know that I could do the same meals every week, but is does sound really simplifying. We probably repeat every 2-3 weeks. Our kids are little, so most meals last two nights around here. And Friday night is pizza night – so far homemade, but our Friday afternoons are getting busy, so we might be switching to delivery from a local pizza shop during this season.

  29. Heidi @ Decor & More September 8, 2014 at 12:38 pm #

    I use my supermarket fliers to help meal plan for the week ahead — I look at what’s on sale and try to plan around that. Plus I always make sure I’m stocked with stuff for a “stand by” dinner — spaghetti or hamburgers on the grill– something I can throw together if I’m uninspired or the budget is tight. This works pretty well — I still find myself bored with the options, but shopping the sales guarantees I add in a few different things along the way.
    Good luck with your new system!

  30. Katy September 8, 2014 at 12:25 pm #

    I love this. I agree with other commenters that women in the generations before us did pretty much this system and no one ever complained! Now we are juggling a ton more and trying to be creative cooks every night. Silly. All of the women in my family (both sides) cook the same 5-8 meals all the time and maybe throw in a new recipe once a month. My MIL is a homemaking genius and keeps her kitchen stocked with her favorite meal ingredients at all times (just 5-8 meals). She makes multiple casseroles and meat loafs at a time for freezing too. I have been trying to do this as well and keep a list in my planner of my “Top 20” meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When I manage to meal plan I usually just choose meals from those lists. (Although I am an inconsistent planner.) Every Monday night is spaghetti night for us, and every Sunday night is leftovers or OYO (on your own). Helps a ton!

  31. Summer September 8, 2014 at 12:06 pm #

    I would LOVE it if you created a free printable to display the weekly menu!! I love your work and a pretty template to display the weekly menu for the family would be so great!

  32. Shannon September 8, 2014 at 12:04 pm #

    Oh this is brilliant. I agree with other comments that seems almost too simple to be “right” but that in times gone by women did just this to get dinner on the table without pulling out their hair. I can imagine how this simplifies list making, shopping, prepping, everything…..and am borrowing it right away!

  33. Stacie September 8, 2014 at 11:51 am #

    I love this! Tsh from The Art of Simple does a 2 week rotation but even that’s been too much for me. Both my husbands family and mine have a long tradition of homemade pizza. We’ve adopted that on Fridays but every other day is a struggle. Thanks for sharing your breakthrough!

  34. Janel September 8, 2014 at 11:41 am #

    I like a little more variety in our meals from week to week, but I, like you, also hate the dreaded 4 o’clock hungry stare from my husband & kids. A few weeks before school started I made a google doc listing every meal I make (with links to the online recipes if available). Now, when my mind goes blank (or when I find a few minutes to meal plan), I have a list of all my go-to meals. My brain is too full of other stuff, so having it in one big long list really helps.

  35. Aja September 8, 2014 at 11:28 am #

    At first I didn’t really like this idea.. but like you, dinner is my least favorite thing to do and I’m often scrambling to come up with something! I’ve meal planned a few times, but it loses it’s appeal for me. I think I might try this. But I won’t be telling my husband! Pretty sure if I told him he would be eating the same things each week, he would veto the idea. But he’s always happy with whatever I make, so if I don’t say anything, he probably won’t even notice! :) Thanks for the idea!

  36. Wendy September 8, 2014 at 11:17 am #

    I love this idea! Funny, my husband and I were just talking about making a meal plan for the week. I think the main culprit in why it can be challenging is finding recipes that “work” and ingredients (without having to take several trips to the grocery store). To prevent running circles in the grocery store, here is the outline I use : http://www.pinterest.com/pin/113293746846642835/

    Here is my favorite recipe which everyone seems to love: http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/cottage-pie

  37. kasey September 8, 2014 at 11:17 am #

    I just started planning out a MONTHLY menu for our family. Each day of the week has a category (crockpot, casserole, chicken, pasta, Mexican) and I always do a leftover night on Thursday. And because everything is planned out ahead of time, I can look for sales at the grocery store and when I have a free day I can spend the day making freezer meals to use on the days I work. I’ve been doing it since June and I love it better than a weekly menu. And I do like the variety and trying new recipes.

  38. Maryk September 8, 2014 at 11:06 am #

    I wanted to suggest one night of Leftovers/cleaning out the fridge. I know not everyone is a fan of leftovers, but for the ones that can do it it’s a great way to give yourself a day off from preparing a whole meal. It might mean someone is eating spaghetti, leftover pizza, and if there isn’t enough leftovers some last minute grilled cheese/ soups but it also save a meal for another day. I usually do this the day before my trash pickup, so I can keep the fridge clean. We are on a fixed budget so doing this helps the groceries last a little longer.

  39. Lynn September 8, 2014 at 10:57 am #

    Simple really is best, most of the time :) I love to cook, but my life has gotten incredibly hectic, and having the same meal every week would certainly make less stress for me. Let us know how it goes!

  40. Jules September 8, 2014 at 10:52 am #

    This is so funny. When I was a kid, we basically did the same thing. There were a couple of tweaks here & there depending on what was on sale or the special breakfast for dinner when my dad had to work late. It may seem weird to some but many of those things are still my favorites. Hope that you enjoy!

  41. Rosemarie September 8, 2014 at 10:32 am #

    I love this idea! Anything that keeps you out of the drive they or away from the phone to call delivery is outstanding!

    Our menu plan has been a baby step transformation. We started with a meal delivery service (diet to go), where they delivery fresh made foods every 3 days, we switched to 15 min meals (loaded with preservatives and convenience foods) we made our selves to get used to cooking 3 meals a day and eventually went to making almost everything from scratch. I just ate homemade sloppy joes with old fashions buns, seasoned green beans and home made baked beans for lunch. We mostly use batch freezer cooking now, but if we hadn’t started simple, we never would have gotten to where we are today.

  42. Marie-Maguelone September 8, 2014 at 10:20 am #

    Hi Emily,
    I am planning a To schedule meals, a kind of planning tool! I’ll send you the info as soon as it is ready! Good evening and good appetite to you!

  43. Kim Morrison September 8, 2014 at 10:16 am #

    I use a cute notepad (because cute helps with the task, right?) that has the days of the week printed on it, then I jot down all of our evening activities. That helps me see what dinner is practical for that night. I can’t choose an involved meal on a night when we have 2 football games and a volleyball game. That also helps me remember snacks like protein bars and gatorade that sometimes don’t make it to my grocery list.
    My family would be bummed if we cooked the same thing every week. Instead, it works out that we have a soup on Sunday, a crock pot meal on Monday, and pasta on Wednesday, but I make different meals each time.
    I jot the meal down for each day, then I put the whole schedule on the fridge for viewing, which theoretically should cut down on the amount of times someone asks, “What’s for dinner?” but I’m afraid it does not.
    Full disclosure: This doesn’t happen every week at my house. However, when it does, I feel sooo much better than when I just wing it!

  44. Laura September 8, 2014 at 10:15 am #

    Emeals.com! Amazing, been using for 2 years, the best meal planning and it only takes me 5 min each week to just look through, cross out any I don’t want, and I’m off to the store! My family loves it too, we use the Natural&Organic plan.

  45. Mandy September 8, 2014 at 9:56 am #

    Because I read cookbooks like novels, I’m a little OCD about menu planning. It’s really one of the only aspects of my home life that is organized. I learned early on…back when we when we didn’t have children…that unless there is a plan, you can easily spend $200 at the grocery store and end up with nothing for dinner! As parents of three busy boys with after-school sports and activities, menu planning is imperative. I won’t go into details about my menu planning because I think you have to find what works for you, particularly if you have picky eaters/allergies (I am gluten-free), but I will offer up a couple of things that work for us. I try to keep the following on hand in the freezer: a couple bags of frozen, stir-fry veggies that can be quickly sautéed with leftover chicken, beef or pork for a quick stir-fry dinner; bacon and french fries for quick BLTs with french fries on the side (try baking the bacon at 400 degrees for mess-free prep); and bags of beef and cheese ravioli that can be boiled and paired with pasta sauce heated in the microwave. I also try to prep ingredients the night before or the morning of and store in the fridge and I rely heavily on my slow cooker, particularly in the colder months. Good luck everyone! It may seem like a thankless task but feeding your family healthy food shows them how much you love them!

  46. Erin September 8, 2014 at 9:55 am #

    I sit down on Saturday or Sunday with the grocery ads and our most-used cookbooks. I ask for suggestions from the kids and then I look at our schedule. If we’re super busy one night, I’ll plan a crockpot meal. And Thursdays are the worst days for me–I crash right after dinner; so Thursdays are Breakfast dinner.

    It helps to sit down with the ads and the cookbooks that way I’ll only buy what we need. It takes discipline, but it makes it easier to cope.

    BTW, I use the app COZI Gold, so I can plan out the meals, put my shopping list, and see everyone’s schedule in one spot. And if I’m exhausted, my husband knows exactly what to cook for dinner. ;)

  47. Inger September 8, 2014 at 9:44 am #

    We eat a lot of cjicken file and salmon. Salmon baked in the oven is really easy and quick. Just put the salmon pieces on an oven tray, put on salt and lemon peppar, bake for 14 minutes at 210 Celsius. Serve with potatoes and haricot verte and a green salad. Press lemon juice over the fish and vegetables.

    Another favourite is fried chicken files with different wok-mixtures. It’s easy to make your own wok vegetables if you don’t want to buy ready frozen ones. One we usea lot is spring onions, red onions, parsley and champignones. Serve it with rice. Another mix is fresh spinache and yellow and red small tomatoes.

  48. Traci September 8, 2014 at 9:44 am #

    THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, Emily, for that idea! It seems so simple, but have I ever tried the same meal plan for each weekday? Nope. I will now! And I love your meal ideas!

    Another meal that has become a staple in our house (especially when I get that 4:00 puzzlement, myself–which happens often!), is sausage (I use kielbasa and buy in large bags from Costco) with either sliced potatoes, onion and peppers, or with tortellini, or with a bean combo (black and kidney beans work well). I’m all about one-skillet meals, so except for a veggie or salad, this one is great. There are some really good options on Pinterest, but these are the ones I’ve used lately (I mutate the potatoes option on my own each time):
    http://www.yellowblissroad.com/one-pot-tortellini-sausage-tomato-cream-sauce/
    http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/kielbasa-and-kidney-beans
    Maybe someone else will enjoy!

    Thanks again!

  49. hopeinbrazil September 8, 2014 at 9:43 am #

    Before exotic ingredients became readily available in the U.S. (and before cooking shows on TV!) American mothers did exactly what you are suggesting. Everybody knew Tuesday was meatloaf night, Sunday was roast and potatoes, etc. Everyone had their basic go-to dishes. Nobody complained. Now we are spoiled (and stressed) by so many options.

  50. Jen September 8, 2014 at 9:40 am #

    When you posted your monthly meal plan, I thought it was brilliant, and did the same for about 3 months. It was such a feeling of accomplishment to see that calendar full of meals, because, like you, if I don’t have a plan, 4pm becomes my witching hour! But now, I’m back to weekly meal planning, which has been working great. I love trying out new recipes, so I will always plan for a few tried and true recipes (turkey meatloaf, chili, tortilla pizzas), and then throw in a few new ones. I like the simplicity of your new plan, but I like a little more variety, since I’m always tempted by seeing new recipes online! I honestly can’t remember how I cooked meals before kids came along….I think we did a lot of quesadillas and cereal!

  51. Amber {Kingwood Drive} September 8, 2014 at 9:00 am #

    We have been doing Friday Night Pizza forever. It’s so fun to create new pizzas each week and the kiddos love it. One of our favorites is the Pioneer Woman’s Steakhouse Pizza. It’s so good!!

  52. Jamie September 8, 2014 at 8:57 am #

    I love this idea. I am fairly good at making a plan, but I wait until too late in the day to start preparing some things. I forget that I have to marinade something, or that something has to rise, and I end up trying to figure out something different to make. I decided last week that I am only going to make 1 meal a week that requires very much time. The other nights will just have to be fast, easy meals. I have also used the pizza dough from the deli section of the grocery store and it was pretty good. We cook our pizzas on the grill–you can find directions online–and it makes them so delicious. Good luck!

  53. Colleen September 8, 2014 at 8:06 am #

    Meal planning really does do wonders for me…and I hope it does for you too! I’ve gotten slack the last few months and I can tell! More evening stress and more wasted food! <—really hate that!
    Anyway, pizza nights are the best! I gave up gluten a year ago and that's been the hardest part. With the bevy of gluten free bloggers, I'm slowly working through them and trying to find one that tastes as good as the real thing…I'm confident there's one out there! And while I give you props for making your own dough, our grocery store sells raw pre-bagged dough in the deli section. They even have a whole wheat one that's really good! So you might wanna check that out.
    Thanks for sharing the recipes! And good luck!

  54. Katie September 8, 2014 at 8:03 am #

    Yum – the turkey chili and burrito bowls sound delish! I’ve added them to my list for next week!!

    My solution for menu planning fatigue is this system I posted about on my blog… I have a big binder that organizes my printed and magazine recipes along with a section in the back to make meal planning simple. I have categories of the meal types we like – grilling, pasta, breakfast for dinner, salads for dinner, soups, tex mex, etc – and then lists of my go-to recipes from my loved cookbooks, etc. It’s saved me tons of time! Here’s the link…

    http://rhubarbandlinen.blogspot.com/2013/09/meal-planning-or-not.html

  55. Katy McGuffey September 8, 2014 at 7:20 am #

    This is awesome! It validates what I’ve been thinking of doing for a while, but thought it was too easy to be the right thing to do. Are we as moms supposed to be creative cooks and think of new things all the time and be good at it?! Not this mommy! I’ll be the first to admit while I am a creative person, cooking is the least creative thing about me. (And I don’t enjoy it – I said it!) I am going to make my weekly schedule right now, which I know the kids will LOVE b/c they always want to know “what are we having for dinner tonight?” and now they won’t have to ask, they’ll already know – Tuesdays are Taco nights! Thank you for your inspiration to me!!!

    + KATY +

  56. Brianne September 8, 2014 at 7:08 am #

    I have the same blank looks at dinner time!! I have totally tried this!! And is wasn’t so bad…no one really got too tired of the same meals each week especially if you mix it up on the weekends.

  57. Emily September 8, 2014 at 6:40 am #

    I was getting frustrated with meal planning, so I started a Google calendar and scheduled our favorite meals through that. Some meals are weekly, some are monthly, and some are even less frequent. I have most months planned almost completely automatically. It’s been a lifesaver! I wrote about it here: http://www.mamasfieldnotes.com/2014/08/05/a-simple-and-easy-way-to-plan-weekly-menus/.

  58. Judith September 8, 2014 at 6:17 am #

    Emily, this is such a great (and doable approach)! I like to cook, but we make it harder than it needs to be, don’t we – especially with magazines/Pinterest/etc. My grandparents didn’t have a month’s worth of meals. They ate many of the same meals week after week, and were perfectly content with their favorites.

  59. Catherine September 8, 2014 at 6:09 am #

    Bon Appetite and Martha Stewart are my favorite spots for finding great recipes! They are always delicious and are a little “fancy” but never difficult. Our summer favorites are fish tacos and chicken parmesan.

  60. Krysta September 8, 2014 at 6:00 am #

    I’ve been using Plan to Eat to meal plan for about a year but I just switched to Pepperplate (because it is free and prettier and has an app version). My life is so much easier when I take the time to plan meals. If plans change, whatever meal didn’t get made that week becomes Monday or Tuesday’s dinner for the next week. I try to get fruit cleaned and cut up at the beginning of the week so it is ready for lunches.

    Standards around here are crock pot chicken tacos (jar of salsa + taco seasoning + frozen chicken breasts) and we have grilled cheese & tomato soup every Thursday (my husband’s off day so that is his signature meal).

  61. Am September 8, 2014 at 5:33 am #

    These all sound delicious!

    Breakfast for dinner is a Friday night staple for us. Also homemade pizza (usually a Saturday night meal), gyro chicken wraps (recipe from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe, I think, and we don’t marinate the chicken in the sauce, we toss it with it), yogurt pasta (pasta topped with marinara mixed with Greek yogurt for a meat-free, high protein meal), chicken and olive burgers, polenta (so quick!) topped with sauteed chicken or pork sausage and vegetables, and a nice roast chicken on Sundays (great leftovers for lunches, and I make stock with the carcass for soup).

  62. moriah September 8, 2014 at 4:40 am #

    I’m laughing because I have this conversation weekly – apparently none of us are good at coming up with what to fix! My weeks are smoother for sure when doing something similar and have thought about doing the exact same meals each week. (we did, say, mexican on mondays, chicken on tuesdays, stir fry on another day, an italian dish another day…) I think school starting is a perfect time to roll it all out – here’s to a new week!

  63. Brandy Cupcake September 8, 2014 at 4:35 am #

    I love this idea! I do something similar and just traded our recipes out for fall stews and chilli as well. It’s crazy that we can manage so much in life but the little things like dinner time can be the most overwhelming but because of this the little things can be so satisfying when you get them right : ). Well done!

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