Menu Planning, Simplified
This is not a blog post I ever planned on writing, but as a mom of 3, people often ask me what weekly meals & menu planning look like. I also get asked what my daily schedule looks like. Well, both questions are inextricably intertwined – because of how each day looks, it has been absolutely essential to create simplicity in any area of my life that I can – especially meals.
I used to love to cook and bake. I wish I did now – but I just don’t. I feel like any mom of young kids gets this – I probably don’t need to explain. But I will – meal times usually look like 1 kid sitting at the kitchen counter asking for homework help every 45 seconds, my littlest clinging to my hip or foot like a koala, and inevitably, the other sneaking snacks and ruining their appetite anyway. So yeah, the idea of slowly cooking a meal with multiple unique ingredients just isn’t an option – and isn’t self care. I need meals to be simple, efficient and predictable.
The predictability isn’t just for the kids – it’s even more for me. If I generally know what I’ll be making each week, then planning and grocery shopping also becomes simpler and more streamlined. Whether I’m running to the store after work or between practices – or ordering online – my shopping list generally looks the same.
Some might say this is boring. You know what though? GIMME ALL THE BORING! I will take all I can get – especially when each day brings a whole lotta unpredictable “excitement” via kids coming home sick from school, waking up in the middle of the night with fevers, work meetings shifting, last minute school projects and forms I need to fill in.
Necessity breeds invention right? In my case, I guess you could say necessity (or the feeling of drowning in mom/life tasks) bred the invention of simplicity. Each day of the week there is a main theme – and it’s the same each week. That doesn’t mean that we eat exactly the same thing each week – we vary it up, but the theme is the same. For example, Monday’s are “pasta Monday’s” – one week could be spaghetti and meatballs, the next could be ravioli, the next, veggie lasagna. Also, I am gluten free, so I use a lot of chickpea pasta or spaghetti squash. Sometimes my kid’s like it (they don’t know the difference between Banza pasta and regular), other times, there’s no way they’ll eat spaghetti squash, so I give them the gluten!
Essentially, we stick to the theme of each day, but add variety in ingredients. I also try to always get veggies and protein in there. Sometimes that looks like hiding veggies in the meat sauce, but most of the time it’s roasted broccoli, cauli or brussels. And my kids typically gobble them up by now.
So here’s the formula: theme (or “base”), + protein + veggie
Here's my simple menu plan for all the other moms that just need to take one thing (that actually takes a lot of time during the week) – off their plate ;)
Pasta options: banza, spaghetti squash, zoodles, lasagna, ravioli
Protein options: meat sauce, meatballs (turkey, beef, pork or vegan), chicken (can be made into a alfredo chicken sauce to top the pasta)
Veggies: veggie mix cut up small into meat sauce, veggies cooked into lasagna or zucchini as the lasagna layers, roasted veggies on side
Base: Tacos, quesadillas, taco salad, burritos, tostadas.
Protein: Ground turkey, beef, bison, vegan option (usually mixed into ground turkey), sweet potatoes (so good in tacos), beans
Veggies: tomatoes, avocado/guacamole, jicama, shredded lettuce, sweet peppers
Sheet Pan Wednesday:
Base: the base here is essentially the protein – we usually do sausage (precooked, usually a chicken base), chicken or salmon.
Veggies: you can really go wild here – broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, sweet potato, any kind of squash, onions, brussel sprouts, asparagus, ect.
Top it on: any kind of rice, cauli rice
I’ll preface this with – we do not eat classic burgers every week. My husband just really likes meat, and even though he’s truly the most gracious, grateful guy when it comes to eating whatever I make (including vegan, GF mysteries), he definitely likes his meat. Burger Thursdays are easy for us, because he can have his beef burger – on a bun, on a salad, or on sliders, and I can have so many different kinds of “burger” patties. From Trader Joes, Safeway, Whole Foods, to Target – you can find chicken, veggie, any kind of meat patties that go great in classic burger form, lettuce wrapped, or on a salad.
Base: on a bun, mini sliders, on a salad, or lettuce wrapped
Protein: beef, chicken, or veggie pattie
Veggies: sweet potato fries, roasted veggies, or on a salad
Another preface – If we’re home on Fridays it’s always a movie night and by pizza night I mean anything frozen that I don’t have to prep – and definitely paper plates. Most of the time it’s pizza (usually gluten free without my kids knowing it), and make them eat carrots (raw, baby ones – again, this is my lazy night). And it’s always frozen – we only order pizza when guests come over (I know, we’re so fancy).
My favorite pizza brands:
Saturday Farmers Market Meal
I loooove Farmer’s Markets. And I drag the 4 other members of my family. My kids only go because of the kettle corn. My husband only goes because he knows how much I love it. We never buy our meat from the farmers market (because we’re too cheap), but we always buy veggies and a good loaf of bread. Plus TONS of fruit. It’s fun because we let the kids help us pick the veggies, which forms the meal.
Examples: Chicken skewers with roasted veggies and a baguette, a big fresh salad with steak and ciabatta, grilled fish with roasted veggies and olive bread.
One of my dear friends once told me that my oldest daughter, while at a playdate at my friends house, announced “we’re a leftover family.” One of the truest things she’s ever said. I LOVE leftovers! And I try to make more each night than we need), so that leftovers are around for the end of the week, or anytime I’m home late from work and don’t want to cook. And sometimes, we use the leftover bread from the Farmers Market and just make a big charcuterie board to graze on for dinner – cheese, meats, fruits, sliced veggies. The kids think it’s so fun… and I think it’s super fun not to cook!
Seasonal Note: During the colder months (we live in California, you can roll your eyes now), I make a lot more soups, stews and chilis – and I make a big amount so that it lasts a few days. I’ll usually make a big batch on Sundays and we’ll eat it Monday also.
Download my FREE meal planner + grocery list HERE.