Flexible Daily Routines: Meal Planning & Preparation

by ChristinaPilkington on April 25, 2012 · 6 comments

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Do you like cooking? Are you a meal planner or do you like deciding what to eat for dinner a couple of hours before eating?

I like to cook. Before I had kids, I really liked pouring over cookbooks and trying new things all the time. I never was very experimental, but I was much more flexible with my cooking.

But after having kids, I found that if I didn’t know what we we’re having for dinner that morning, and preferably a week ahead of time, I’ll be stressed out the entire day thinking about it.

So, out of all my house-related responsibilities for the week, I’m the most rigid with meal planning and prep.

 I’ve developed my own personal routine that allows me to dream up some fun new recipes and also think about what favorites the family likes too, while at the same time putting those things on auto-pilot so I can focus on the things I’d rather be doing during the week.

If you’re super creative in the kitchen, love to make things up on the spot and that doesn’t stress you out at all, these tips probably won’t be the best for you (and I secretly envy you!).

However, if you enjoy cooking, but don’t want to spend a lot of time thinking about it and planning for it, I’ll share with you how I do things, and maybe you can find something you can tweak to make it work for you, too.

Meal Planning

Plan the Same Day Every Week

Every Tuesday I sit down and plan out meals for the following week. I’ve tried to make this more flexible, but I stress myself out even more by not having things I need on hand or just being too tired to think about what to make that night.

Lately, it’s been great because every Tuesday after I clean up from dinner, I sit down and plan meals while Steve plays with the kids. I’ve tried in the past to do this during the day, and it took twice as long with all the interruptions from the kids.

If you can get away and do it alone, that would be my best advice. (Or you can do this after kids are asleep. My son usually doesn’t get to sleep until 10:00 or 10:30, and I’m too beat to think clearly that late!)

3 Useful Tools for Planning: Sales Papers, Price Book and Notebook

On Tuesday, our sales papers come in the mail, so I sit down with the sales papers, my notebook of meals that we all enjoy, which is broken down into categories (chicken, beef, pasta, vegetarian, side dishes), and my price book.

I made my price book by tracking the prices of different food items for a period of six months. This way I know when something has reached its rock-bottom price. Then I try to stock up at much as I can (we have a deep freezer) until that item reaches its lowest price again.

I look at what we already have at home and try to make meals with that first. Then I look at the sales papers and see if there’s anything on sale for its rock bottom price. After that I look through my notebook of favorite meals we like and fill out the rest of the week with that.

I don’t ever plan out breakfasts or lunches. We have our usual things we eat for breakfast (fruits, cereals, toasts, waffles), so I just make sure we have that stuff stocked up. For lunch, we usually eat dinner leftovers, or have usual things we like to eat on hand too, like soups, deli meats and cheese, olives, and fruits and veggies.

I also get really bored with making the same things all the time and miss experimenting with new recipes, so if it’s not a super crazy week, I also like to look through recipes and try one new thing each week.

Check out Coupon Mom

After I have my list, I go to www.couponmom.com to see if there are any coupons I can use that match up with the items on my list. I’m not a big coupon person. I don’t clip them like crazy. But Coupon Mom makes it really easy to just cut out those coupons for what you need that week.  This usually just takes about 10 minutes.

We usually average about $400 a month for food. This includes any treats we may pick up during the week, special birthday dinners, holidays, and bigger meals when extra people come over.  We usually pick up food to bring home for two meals each week, too.

Decide on What Day I’ll Shop at the Beginning of the Week

I’m a little more flexible with the day I go shopping. On Tuesday when I’m done planning, I look at the calendar and think about other things we want to do, and then try to fit in a shopping trip around that. It’s almost always on Wednesday or Thursday, though. And I try to go in the morning.

Since I always bring the kids with me for grocery shopping, I’ve learned the hard way, that getting the shopping done before lunch is always best. Jared has been known when he was younger to climb to the top shelves at the store, so getting it out of the way when they are a tiny less crazy is always good J

I could write a lot more about how much my kids have learned going with me each week and give other tips, but that would take up its own post!

Meal Preparation

Laying Things out the Night Before

After cleaning up after dinner the night before, I try to remember to look at my list to see what I’m making the next day for dinner. Then I can thaw at anything I need in the fridge overnight, and layout anything else out on the counter. I don’t always do this, but when I do the next day runs more smoothly.

Getting Things Ready in the Morning

I try to get ready everything I can for dinner during the morning. I really like crock-pot meals and make at least one each week. Also, if I can cut up anything, or measure anything out ahead of time, than it makes it that much better later in the evening.  

For some reason, the kids seem to need the most of my attention right before dinner and are the most independent first thing in the morning, so this works out the best for me.

Of course if there’s some place we’d like to go or thing we’d rather do earlier in the morning, I’ll skip this step altogether.

These are some of the things I do to make meal prep and planning more enjoyable for me and leave me with more time to play and do things with my family.


Photo Credit:  LizMarie_AK

What tips do you have for creative and flexible routines around meal planning and prep?


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  • http://blondebird.wordpress.com/ Dianaepes

    I love cooking and have always been happy to spend the whole day in the kitchen cooking up feasts – before I had kids! It too has become a chore and that makes me a little sad. I love all your tips and agree planning is the key. A couple of things I’ve also done is:
    - My 6 year old son has become our breakfast chef. He loves to eat and cook so its working nicely. We make healthy pancakes, muffins etc. together in the morning. I am hoping soon he’ll have a couple of reciepes ‘down’ so I can just come in for the oven/frying part. Then we can move to other meals! I have learnt not to interfere too much otherwise he gets totally de-motivated. Even if things are little wonky or messy!
    - I get my husband to make a couple of large meals for the week for the deep freeze. It takes him ages but I know that a few meals are ticked off the list. He gets to make things like Mac&cheese that I wouldn’t usually make so he loves it. Him and my son also like making pizza.
    Thanks again for all your ideas!

    • christinapilkington

      This is something I need to work on more. When the kids were between 2-4, they liked to help me in the kitchen a lot more. But for the past few years, they’ve lot a lot of interest. It would be nice if they would enjoy making something. Maybe if I sat down with them and asked them if they’d like to learn how to make something that might get them interested again.

      My husband is our breakfast and grilling cook. I never, ever make breakfast. He always makes a huge feast on Saturday when we don’t have to get out of the house right away. I also love the summer because he usually grills outside at least once a week.

  • http://creatingtreasures.blogspot.com/ Tereza Crump

    It’s so nice to see how other people do things, so we can glean ideas!

    As for me, I don’t do coupons! We don’t eat a lot of packaged goods and most of the things we eat do not have coupons for them. We don’t do cereals, or any of those breakfast packaged treats. We also don’t do prepared meals or canned soups. Yes, I pretty much cook from scratch. What I do buy packaged are whole wheat pasta, whole wheat crackers, oats, peanut butter and a few more things, but they are usually the ingredients for my dishes. So I don’t do coupons… I really don’t have the time to be searching and clipping them.

    When my first daughter was first born I had a menu plan it was like this: Monday – chicken, Tuesday- Beans, Wednesday- pasta, Thursday- soup, Friday- eat out or grill, Saturday – sandwiches, Sunday – lunch out and leftover for dinner.

    So these were my guidelines and I would make up a dish for each one of those days. So instead of making say Grilled chicken every Monday, one Monday would be roasted chicken, another Chicken salad, another chicken wings. So I still had a menu, but that would allow me some creativity as to what to cook.

    Now I don’t have a menu plan at all. When I wake up I began thinking of what I will make for dinner. As I fix breakfast, I decide on lunch and then have a few ideas for dinner. Usually the kids will ask me what is for dinner, and I tell them I don’t know until I put it on the table. a lot of times, I have something planned and then mid way I change it. I like that. I love been able to create in my kitchen.

    I also have some important items in my freezer for when I have no creativity or no time. I always have flat bread and cheese in my freezer for quick pizzas. Always have carrots, celery, onions in the house. They are my base for soups and veggies with dips. i also have homemade stocks in the freezer, as well as , beans and brown rice cooked and ready to defrost. From time to time, I will have a lasagna or another fancy dish in there for a Friday night or weekend. I am now making my own chicken fingers that I divide them in freezer bags and I can whip dinner in 15 minutes just putting them in the oven. The kids love them and all I have to do is add a salad.

    I also make homemade cookie batter and form it into a roll and put it in the fridge. When the kids want a treat, we cut up the cookies and put them in the oven. Fresh homemade cookies in 10 minutes. :) I make homemade bread in big batches and freeze the extra ones too. They can be turned into grilled sandwiches or pizzas or croutons etc.

    I know this all sounds overwhelming. But I grew up with a talented Grandmother who cooked awesome meals from scratch. She inspired me!! I think I got her gift so I am using it. I know I inspire my children because they are always in the kitchen with me, wanting to help, to measure and make their own concoctions.

    I am a firm believer that as Moms we need to use the gifts God has given us and not try to be someone else. I am so glad we get to homeschool. We have time to find out what we like, who we are and what gifts we have been dealt.

    • christinapilkington

      Thanks so much for all these great suggestions. I know I said it before, but you always leave a lot of great value in your comments :)

      I’d love to be more like you with cooking. Maybe someday I can get a little more loose and experiemental with it. I didn’t really start cooking until about 10 years ago. I never really helped my mom that much, and she wasn’t a big cook from scratch cook, either. I do used cans sometimes, but I mostly cook from scratch, too. Most of the coupons I clip are for drugstore type items like toilet paper, soap and contact solution. If it wasn’t for couponmom.com and it only taking 5 minutes a week, I’d stay far away from coupons, too!

      I’d really, really love if you could share your homemade cookie batter recipe. This sound really, really amazing. I’d love to have a quick treat like this.

  • Sestucker

    I am not super organized. Never have been, but I’ve learned with kids, meals are made so much easier with planning. Thanks for this.

    • christinapilkington

      You’re welcome! Knowing first thing in the morning what I’m making has relieved so much of my stress.

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