The kids have been back to school for literally a day and we’re trying to pace ourselves. The after nap, post-school pick up, homework, pre-dinner chaos is real. We try to eat at home as much as possible. It’s better on our bellies and our budget. But, without a plan for feeding the family it can feel really overwhelming.
There are lots of tips and ticks for making weeknight meals easier, so let’s chat!
Yes, it might not come easy to you. Yes, you might not feel like the most creative cook. But, meal planning is seriously the key to making dinnertime less crazy AND it helps you save on your grocery budget! Meal Planning is basically sitting down to write out (on paper or chalkboard!) what you’ll be eating for the coming days. I try to plan 5 days to a week at a time. I make note if we’ll have friends over for dinner, or if we’ll be eating out. I start by taking inventory of what we have leftover that I can use for meals, take suggestions from my family, and browse my cookbooks or Pinterest for meal ideas.
Having the necessary items on-hand to make dinner is crucial. I’m a big believer in a grocery list. I’m old school and write mine by hand because I like to check off my items as I shop. There are also different phone apps you can use for the same purpose. But I find holding my phone while shopping and pushing a cart is awkward.
If you’re lucky to live in an area of town where Instacart delivers (I don’t!) that is a great way to shop and stick to your grocery budget. You can compare sale prices and watch your cart total as you shop. No impulse purchases!
The Right Tools for the Job
Here are a few of my go-to items for making weeknight dinners easier:
Sheet Pans I’m a big fan of one-pan roasting for easy dinners. Chop veggies and protein, mix with oil and seasoning. Bake at 375/400 for 30 min and done!
Instant Pot I was a reluctant convert, but I can testify I’m a believer. I actually google, “XYZ Meal…in the Instant Pot” and just follow the steps. Some of my favorites are Chicken Friend Rice, Beef and Broccoli, Chicken Alfredo and Risotto.
Rice Cooker I’ve had a rice cooker since I moved out for college and I love it. My mom always had one so I didn’t think anything of it. I mentioned to a friend that we make rice in a rice cooker and they thought it was strange! We don’t eat a ton of rice, but I do like to make it with some meals. I like that I can set the rice cooker to do it’s thing and I don’t have to worry about it!
Cast Iron Dutch Oven This is my go-to for pot roast, and this is my FAVORITE recipe. Cannot fail! I make this often on Sunday’s or weeknights when I have some time in the afternoon during nap-time to prep. I’ll prepare it and stick it in the oven ahead of time and it’s almost like not cooking dinner at all!
No Shame in the Rotation Game
Meatloaf Monday. Taco Tuesday…you know the drill! We don’t stick to a strict weekly plan, but on Friday we do Homemade Pizza! This is my dough recipe and I’ve been making it for years. When we invite friends over for dinner, I’ll often make pizza because it goes a long way and it’s a cheap way to feed a crowd! Plus, something about topping your own pizza is really fun. My boys love pizza night and have helped me make it since they were toddlers. If sticking to a rotation of meals each week works best for your family, do it! You can make it a little more flexible by grouping meal themes: Mexican Monday, Thai Tuesday, Whatever Wednesday…
Give Yourself Grace
Keep a frozen meal or pizza on hand for emergency nights. Stuff a handful of take-out menus into your junk drawer and know that it’s perfectly OK to order in! Try a Meal Delivery Service to take the pressure off planning. Grab a Family Meal from Chick Fil A on the way home from late night practice. We’re all just doing our best to feed our families and balance our budgets.