Don’t want to cook dinner for several weeks? Plan a monthly
freezer cooking day, when you prepare weeks worth of dinners in
Meal planning is the bane of a parent’s existence during the
school year. Between work, school, sports, play dates, PTA
meetings, and whatever else you’ve got going on, it’s tempting
to just order out or pop a frozen pizza into the oven most
nights of the week. Unfortunately, that’s not good for your
waistline or your wallet.
The key to making mealtime less hectic and more enjoyable – at
least most school nights – is planning. No, you don’t have to
use a huge color-coded meal planning calendar (unless that
floats your boat). In fact, meal planning can be pretty simple
and quick with options like these:
1. Freezer cook
Freezer cooking is becoming more popular in today’s crazy busy
world. Basically, it’s the practice of cooking meals ahead of
time and freezing them so they’re available to pop into the
oven or a crockpot on a busy weeknight or lazy Saturday.
There are a bunch of ways to do freezer cooking. Some people
plan a monthly freezer cooking day when they cook enough
dinners for several weeks. One excellent resource for this
approach is onceamonthmeals.com, which does all the freezer
cooking day planning for you.
Other people just make a double batch of an easy-to-freeze meal
whenever they’re already cooking. For instance, if you’re
making your famous spaghetti bake for dinner one night, make a
double batch. Stick the second batch in a tin pan, wrap it in
foil and freeze. Then you have an almost instant dinner for a
night when you
don’t have time to cook.
2. Make meal baskets
If you can usually find time to cook dinner but struggle with
it once in a while, meal baskets could be a great option. These
are baskets that hold all the nonperishable ingredients for a
meal, and they work great for pastas and canned bean-based
You might make up a basket that includes dried pasta, your
family’s favorite jarred spaghetti sauce and some sun-dried
tomatoes to toss into the sauce. Another option would be a
basket full of chili ingredients – beans, tomatoes, tomato
sauce, spices, etc. If you want to get really technical about
it, you could
portion out the ingredients in each basket so everything is
measured and ready to go.
This is a good option for quick, last-minute meals that you
don’t have to think about. Rather than rooting around the
pantry and fridge to see if you have ingredients for this or
that recipe, you can pull out a basket and have a meal ready in
3. Rotate enjoyable meals
While you don’t want to get into a food rut, rotating meals
your family likes makes meal planning easier. This is
especially true if most of these favored meals are built on a
few ingredients that you tend to keep around.
If you have 10 or 15 meals your family eats on a regular basis,
stock up on ingredients for those meals every couple weeks.
If you want, you can plan out which night you’ll have which
meal. But you could always just see what sounds good on the
night in question and know that you have the ingredients on
hand for that particular meal.
4. Shop online
If finding time to shop is more of a problem than finding time
to cook, consider a
grocery delivery service. They’re popping up in cities all
over the nation, and they’re great. For a low delivery fee, you
can get groceries delivered to your door on a set schedule.
Bonus: Many grocery delivery services will only deliver on a
set schedule. So the truck may only come to your area on
Wednesdays or Thursdays or whenever. That means you are forced
to do some meal planning and plan your grocery list ahead of
5. Involve the kids
If your kids are old enough to safely handle a hot pan, they’re
old enough to
participate in meal planning. In fact, putting older kids
in charge of one meal per week is a great way to teach life
skills they’ll use forever.
Younger kids can help plan and make simple side dishes, which
takes some of the pressure off you. Older kids can be
responsible for planning an entire meal once a week or every
other week – which lets you completely off the
Meal planning doesn’t have to be a drag, and it doesn’t have to
involve an expensive system. But it might take some
experimentation to figure out which of these options best suits
you and your family.