Did you know that eating meals together as a family can make your kids smarter? According to a newsletter from Rutgers, studies have shown that family mealtimes can increase kids’ vocabulary, creating better readers.
Family meals may make kids smarter, but planning and preparing them can send busy homeschool moms into stress overload. That’s where a well-planned menu can save the day. Try my 8 meal planning tips to make family meal times something your entire family – including you – can enjoy.
Pick a country
Most weeks I try to make sure I’ve included one Mexican and one Italian night since those are enjoyed by most of my family. Mexican may be quesadillas, chimichangas, tacos (chicken or beef), or my new favorite, crock pot beef fajitas. Italian usually means grilled chicken and fettuccine Alfredo or spaghetti unless I can convince Brianna to make stuffed shells.
Your ethnic meal night may be Chinese, Greek, or Thai. Whatever your family’s favorite, including at least one ethnic meal each week is one of my favorite easy meal-planning tips.
Vary the meat
Chicken is quick and easy and offers lots of healthy options. That means it can quickly become overused at my house. So, when I’m meal-planning, I try to make sure I’ve included a variety of meats – such as pork, ground beef, or ground turkey – as either the main dish or the base for a casserole.
Many families enjoy a meatless meal once or twice a week. My family isn’t one of them, but if yours is, a meal that is specifically vegetarian can fill another slot in your weekly rotation.
Plan two meals for the price of one
I haven’t prepared a whole chicken breast in over 5 years. I always slice them lengthwise before cooking. The breasts cook faster, go farther, and provide a more reasonable serving size. The girls and I typically eat just one, while the boys eat two. That still means I’m getting at least one piece of leftover chicken (great for lunches) out of a package of four chicken breasts – and I usually buy packages of six for planned leftovers.
Most soups and casseroles take much less meat than a main dish. I rarely use more than two chicken breasts in a casserole dish. If I’m preparing a whole chicken as a meal for one night, I try to include a soup or casserole in that week’s menu to use up the leftover chicken.
Choose family favorites
I try to include at least one family favorite in each week’s meal plan. That family favorite part narrows down my choices so that I don’t have to wrack my brain too much. There are only four or five meals that everyone in our family would list as a favorite.
Chose a category
To keep some variety in our family’s meals, I try to choose from a variety of categories when meal planning. Categories include:
- Ethnic meal
- Slow cooker meal
- Soup and sandwiches
- Self-serve bar – such as a taco or potato bar
- Family favorite
- Something new
- Something grilled (as often as the weather allows…and my husband has been known to grill in a sweatshirt)
Keep the week’s schedule in mind
I always check our schedule for the upcoming week before I sit down to plan our menu. Quick and easy or slow cooker meals are going to fill the spot on busy nights. Simple meals are almost always planned for Saturday nights since that tends to be a busy day of catch up or errands. At least one weeknight usually lends itself to a more elaborate meal.
For me, the most difficult part of meal-planning is brainstorming meals so that we don’t get in a rut. That’s why I keep a list of meals we like. I have lists of main dishes and casseroles, side dishes, breakfasts, and lunches.
I keep a copy of the list on my laptop and in my recipe binder and try to make sure I update it regularly with newly discovered favorites.
Pinterest is perfect for meal planning. I have boards broken down into categories similar to my recipe binder, such as main dishes and casseroles, soups and salads, slow cooker meals, and side dishes.
When I come across a new dish online, I pin it to one of those boards. Then, when I’m meal-planning, all I have to do is see what catches my eye. If the new dish is well-received, I add it to my list of meals we like.
Family meal times provide an opportunity to connect as a family, share highlights of the day, and enjoy a (hopefully) healthy meal. And, with just a few simple planning techniques, the cook can enjoy a home-cooked, stress-free meal along with everyone else.
What meal-planning tips have proven effective for you?
Resource: Do Family Meals Still Matter? Visions Newsletter