Being in the kitchen isn’t one of my favorite things, unless I’m preserving the bounty of my garden, or making a new batch of sauerkraut. It’s just not my thing. It’s not my “blue flame” as Jennifer Fulweiler might put it. I get that people enjoy cooking and that it’s a creative outlet for them. I get that people enjoy showcasing this skill for their friends and family. I even have friends who do this and who say, Cooking for my family is how I show my love for them. I don’t get that. If that applied to our home, my meals would say, Dear family, eh, you’re okay, and here are some chicken nuggets to prove my lukewarm feelings for you. Luckily, I stumbled upon some pretty good tips for healthy meal planning around our busy life, and they will help you, too.
Good Planning = Extra Time
Seriously, though. I don’t want my family eating junk, and I don’t serve it to them. The crappiest food we eat around here are chicken nuggets and tater tots, although we do sometimes order Jersey Mikes on gluten-free subs. We eat gluten-free, mostly dairy-free, and a lot of other-things-free, too. We are mindful of eating healthy foods, but the hard part is that it’s just so time consuming making sure that we have these healthy meals and snacks ready for when we need them. And it makes me want to cry if we don’t.
To me, there is nothing worse than this scenario: Suddenly you realize that it is getting close to 4 pm and you have absolutely no idea what to cook for dinner. Not only that, but it’s a Thursday, and even though you just got home from your day at homeschool co-op, you have to have your kids back out of the house at 5:30 for choir practice. You look in your refrigerator to find pretty much nothing that can pass for a decent meal, and everything you might be able to use is frozen. Plus, even if it weren’t frozen, there’s nothing in the fridge that can accompany it.
Here are some tips that I have found which help me when I’m meal planning around our busy homeschool life. These tips help my family feel feel like they’re not just okay, but that they’re loved, too. Plus, they save me lots of time, which is something that I can always use more of.
What Hasn’t Worked for Me
As a blogger, a teacher, and a homeschooling mom, I’m busy. I know you are, too. I need a meal planning system. It has taken me a long time to get a meal planning system down. I have tried just about everything including paying for meal planning subscriptions, shopping ads only, couponing and buying only what I have a coupon for, making up freezer “dump” meals, cooking in big batches and freezing, planning out a month at a time, planning out a week at a time, and everything in between. Whew! I’m pretty sure I’m forgetting something, too.
Here’s What I’ve Learned
If you feel like it’s not going to work for you, don’t try it. No matter how fancy, how expensive or how much you can pretty it up by printing cool labels to use, it won’t work if it doesn’t feel right. No matter how many cute gadgets you can buy to fill ziplock bags, don’t do it! Just because that blogger with the pretty pictures says it works for her, but you just aren’t feeling it, don’t do it! The “pretty” and the expensive won’t make it work for you.
Here’s What Might Work for You
You might stumble across something simple that works for you, and if it does, keep it. Do this each and every week. For me, these simple things have turned into my best tips, and they help me stay sane. For example, is there anything that you’ve done recently, or not too recently that has made you feel super organized and accomplished? Do that again. What was it? Was it washing produce as soon as you bring it home? Was it making a double-batch of french toast to freeze for the rest of the week? Do that again. Do the things that come naturally to YOU. Don’t try to make someone else’s way your way.
Things That Helped Me
I stumbled upon these things all on my own. I’m not saying others aren’t blogging about them; they probably are, but these are things that I tried on my own because they felt right to me. And I replicated them again and again, and now, have added them to my meal planning system.
1 – Make a Big Salad
As soon as I unpack grocery bags after grocery shopping, I make a big salad and put it in a Rubbermaid container, and use this salad for at least 2-3 days for lunches and dinners. This container is amazing, it will keep your salad fresh for over a week. Many times I’ll use this as my base for a chicken salad on salad meal, or a salmon on salad meal, etc. As soon as this salad is gone, I make another for the container. It’s much easier to choose a healthy salad for lunch when you can grab it and eat without having to prepare each individual salad. Plus, it’s easy to grab the salad tongs, and pack into individual containers when we need to pack a lunch for co-op or a park day.
I also buy Romaine lettuce and wash, and cut this so it’s ready for caesar salads for the week. To this I add grilled chicken or Portabellos (see below).
2 – Combine all Your Leftover Snacks
You know the bags of only a few leftover almonds or cashews? The few raisins left in the bottom of the container? The bags of cereal and pretzels, etc. that only have a few handfuls left? Combine all these into a trail mix. I combine mine in mason jars and give one to my husband to take to work, and leave the other front and center in the pantry so that it gets eaten first. This reminds us all of the “don’t open any new snacks until these are gone: rule. Since I’ve started doing this, I’ve thrown out a lot less stale food, and have saved money.
3 – If You Have an Instant Pot, Use It: If You Don’t Have One, Get One
I was late to the Instant Pot craze. Even though I had plenty of friends telling me about how much they loved theirs, and not wanting to make my beloved Crock Pot jealous, I ignored all discussions about how the Instant Pot would make my life better. Finally, on Amazon Prime Day, about an hour before midnight, I purchased mine. I saw tons of posts about how people couldn’t make their purchases because Amazon was having issues due to high traffic, but not me! 1, 2, 3, into the cart it went, one click paid for it, and my shipping notice was sent. I made three meals back to back in one hour the first day I got mine. It was love at first try.
Now, I make a few things in my Instant Pot in one day. Normally, I cook a bag of Hurst’s 15 Bean Soup and I add veggies, and sometimes ground turkey, or uncured ham. We eat this for one meal, and I save the rest for lunches. I also cook some of our grass-fed, grass-finished beef and put that in the fridge for later. I use this for tacos, wraps, or whatever else strikes my fancy. I do this with ground turkey, too. I haven’t yet, but I plan to make dairy-free yogurt in my Instant Pot soon. I have made rice pudding, which is amazingly fast and delicious.
4. Grill Some Chicken or Portabellos
Fire up the grill for dinner one night and add some extra and grill up some chicken breasts (or Portabellos if you don’t do meat). Slice these up and put them away for future fajitas or caesar salads.
5. Cook Pasta Ahead of Time
While I’m making things in my Instant Pot for the week, I go ahead and boil a big pot of water. It doesn’t take long to cook up some pasta. This is our favorite. I turn this into pasta salad, or dairy-free macaroni and cheese, etc. during the week. Sometimes, if I’m in a real rush, I’ll heat this up, pour a jar of sauce over the top, make some steamed broccoli and call it dinner.
I hope that these ideas have helped you. We are always leaning toward clean-eating, more plant-based meals, and now are learning more and more about lectin-free eating. Share your best tips in the comments below! I’d love to know what really helps you with your meal planning when you’re busy.