Meal Planning–The Only Way We Eat During the School Year

During the school year, when my time is really at a premium, the only way that I ensure that we eat a decent meal every night is to spend some time meal planning and prepping food on the weekend. This is a task that may seem difficult or too time-consuming, but spending a few hours on Sunday afternoon is a small price to pay for having a healthy dinner on the table in 30 minutes or less every night of the week.

While I don’t have a specific formula I follow every week, I always start out by looking in the fridge to see what veggies I have left from the week before; I know I definitely need to use those. Because we buy our meat in bulk from The Ventura Meat Company, my freezer is always stocked with our favorite cuts of beef, chicken, and pork. At some point before doing the grocery shopping, I will typically sit down with a bunch of cookbooks to get some inspiration for the week’s meals. And even though I don’t always follow recipes exactly, I definitely like to look at pictures of tasty food to give me good ideas.

Most importantly, I always make a list before I go to the grocery store. Not only does this ensure that I don’t forget anything I need, but it also helps keep me from buying a lot of random things that we don’t need and might not use.

Typically, on Sunday I’ll make a big dinner that will give us leftovers for at least one more dinner that week. That might mean roasting 2 chickens or just grilling up a couple of tri-tips. Either way, I plan for leftovers.

Also, I make at least one crock-pot or pressure cooker meal each week, and it’s usually pulled pork (see photo–pork shoulder in the crock-pot, ready to go). The versatility of pulled pork is really what keeps it in such frequent rotation in my kitchen. I can sauté some veggies and make some Paleo tortillas and we have some delicious fajitas, or I can season it with cinnamon and roast some apples and take the dish in a totally different direction. I can make a lot at a time and have leftovers for lunches (and breakfasts) for most of the week.

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At least one weeknight meal is a quick stir fry that takes less than 30 minutes to get on the table (if I have time the night before, I might even pre-chop the veggies). And we usually have some version of bacon and eggs for dinner once a week. I typically don’t cook on Friday nights, but we often have enough random leftovers so that everyone gets fed. And if we don’t, I’m ok with getting some take out or going out for a quick bite on Friday evenings.

Even if explicitly planning out every weeknight meal isn’t realistic for you, I strongly recommend that you plan at least 2 meals a week and try to do a bit of batch cooking on Sundays. It really pays off in the long run.

Check out this post and this post on my old blog where I detail an actual plan from a real week.

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