I knew this would be a challenging summer to get food on the table. I have no childcare. I'm pregnant. The heat is debilitating. My husband works long hours.
But the show must go on! We have to eat.
One of the hardest parts of feeding my family is the thinking.
Deciding what to have every night for dinner, over and over and over. It drains me. Does it you?
So in an attempt to make life easier, I came up with a three-week meal rotation. The original idea was that we would rotate through the same, easy, 21 meals over and over, all summer long. Really 18 meals because 3 of the meals are homemade pizza on Friday nights. We always have pizza on Friday night. Going on 5 years now.
The way the plan has actually played out is I use the list as a reference for meal ideas. We don't eat the meals in the same order week after week. The rotation idea didn't work because the leftovers were always throwing me off (in a good way). Or I would want to put off going to the store and make do with what was in my pantry and freezer.
Maybe we would want to eat hamburgers two weekends in a row. Because we felt like it. Because it's a free country. So the rotation....didn't do it. But the sentiment of the list has been a life saver.
Here it is. It has evolved over time. It's my servant, not my master.
Monday: chickpea chicken salad
Saturday: grilled chicken sandwiches
Monday: shrimp and vegetables
Sunday: pimento cheese
Monday: fish and vegetables
Tuesday: grilled chicken summer pasta
Wednesday: sloppy joes
Sunday: egg and olive sandwiches
So for example, as I set out to make my meal plan for next week, I will let this list be a loose guide. I don't have to think from scratch. It's been a couple weeks since we've had chickpea chicken salad and pimento cheese. So both those will probably make the plan this week.
All these meals are really simple dishes that I'm familiar with cooking and my family loves. I can come up with different sides depending on what we feel like and what looks good at the store.
Other things I've done to make dinner time and my role as food/meal provider easier....
-I always plan dinner in the morning. It's part of my ABCD's. Shortly after I wake up, drink coffee, start a load of laundry, and unload the dishwasher - I plan dinner. Often this looks like me pulling something out of the freezer, or making a quick list to pick up needed items at the store, or evaluating the pantry to see what I can pull together and call a meal.
-I cook meat in bulk. If I'm making meatloaf, I make two. Spaghetti, I double it. If Stephen is grilling chicken, I get him to grill mass quantities of it and freeze the rest for salads, sandwiches and fajitas. The best was Memorial Day. Stephen smoked two Boston butts. We had BBQ for days! And plenty to freeze.
If you have a meat, you have a meal. It really pays to do this in bulk and freeze it.
*Also, I often use ground turkey in traditionally ground beef dishes. It's cheaper and adds a little variety.
-I go with what I know. Tacos, spaghetti, hotdogs! It does not get easier. Pinterest and the masses of internet recipes make us feel like we always have to be trying new things. We don't! What freedom! I love being adventurous with food. But not in this season of my life. My mantra for right now is get the job done.
-I don't spend my energy couponing and going to different stores for sales. No sir, not with 3 (4) children in tow. My theory is that having a plan and avoiding restaurants saves us tons money. Maybe I could save more by shopping different stores, using coupons, and catching sales, but it's not worth the sacrifice of my mental health.
-I use fresh produce to make everything better and fancy it up. Ripe summer tomatoes on tacos. A fresh green salad with spaghetti. Roasted okra and squash as a side to meatloaf. Summer produce really dresses up the meal. Also, I love shopping at the Farmer's market. I usually go on Saturday mornings with $30 to $40 dollars to spend. I stock up on fruit and vegetables. A child or two is usually with me and I almost always say yes if they request something. This feels like a real treat. And the best kind because it's healthy.
So, do you feel like you over complicate the dinner hour? I know I have in the past.
I can't recommend enough making a meal "rotation" for your own family, catered to your tastes. It simplifies the chore but leaves enough room for variety and flexibility.
P.S. This has been my favorite method to meal madness I have ever put into practice. And I've experimented with a lot of "plans."