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Is anyone else feeling the pressure (and need) to bring a little routine back to their family life? That is one of the best things about Arkansas back-to-school time each August when our family gets a little reset and a break from our summer festivities. But man, have they been fun!
One of the quickest ways to get back into a routine is by setting a weekly rhythm for back-to-school meal planning. While this process looks different for each family, you can follow the same pattern to develop your plan.
Determine what matters most – easy dinners, few ingredients, healthy options, ready when you walk-in the door or something your children and husband will always eat! Don’t wear yourself out chasing all of these things. Pick what matters for your family in this season, and hunt recipes and a plan that helps you accomplish that.
Get everyone involved – take some time upfront, on a weekend or a leisurely Sunday afternoon. Find out from your people what meals they love most, whether you make one giant list in a notes app on your phone or write them down on index cards to keep filed away. This way, you don’t have to keep guessing what they would like because they’ve already told you. Also, ensure they know where your grocery list is posted so they can add items to your list, and you do not always have to chase those empty bins around your pantry.
Focus on dinner – keep staples in your home for breakfast and lunches, easy grab-and-go things that work daily. Then, just focus your meal planning on feeding your family dinner.
Make the meal plan – some people do this one week at a time, while others go ahead and sit down and write out a whole month of meals in one setting. Either way, having a written plan helps you know what to prepare each day without thinking about it each night. If your plans change and you need to skip a night, drop the menu item that takes the least prep or uses fewer fresh ingredients so those don’t go to waste.
Consider your schedule as you make your meal plan – busy baseball nights may need sandwiches and chips or an easy crockpot dinner. But, on nights you will all be home together, plan a hearty meal to gather your family around the table.
Shop your house first – What proteins or vegetables are in your freezer? Is pasta, rice or a meal kit on your pantry’s shelves? Start with those things as you make your plan.
Make a grocery list – this can be something you keep on your phone, inside a grocery app, on a notepad, or on the wall in your pantry. Add to it during the week as you run out of something, then add the items you need for your meal plan.
Use a grocery pickup or delivery service – your time is too valuable to spend walking up and down the aisles of a grocery store trying to collect the things you need, making your list, and ordering groceries when convenient eliminates stress and extra steps. It also helps save money when you’re not walking the aisles and buying additional featured items.
Meal prep when you can – If you have time on a weekend afternoon, go ahead and do all your vegetable chopping and get prepared for your week early. If you have multiple meals that need ground meat, go ahead and cook it all at once and break it down into portions. Store it in the fridge in separate containers and label each recipe.
Cook with leftovers in mind – depending on the number of people you must feed, you could double a recipe and cook on a night when you have time, knowing that you’ll have leftovers ready for another night later in the week. Dinner leftovers make easy, healthy lunches if you take lunch to work.
Use the same plan month over month – if you know, there are a handful of meals your family will always eat. There’s no reason to overcomplicate your planning by constantly adding new things. Keep the core of your schedule the same each month. Leave 3 to 4 spaces to try a new recipe.
Having a plan helps me stay ahead of the end-of-day spiral after school. It also helps when my husband comes home from work and says, “What’s for dinner tonight?” I have finally taught him that it’s on the wall, and he can just look for himself. And, when he runs out of a toiletry or breakfast item, he can add it to the list, and it’s there when I order groceries next.
So, here’s your homework for the week –
Figure out what day you can sit down and make your plan.
Try ordering your groceries for pick up or having them delivered.
Then, this next week, just stick to your plan.
Make adjustments for the following week and repeat.
Plan + prep = easy dinners (and fewer drive-thrus)
Here are some of our favorite Arkansas food bloggers’ recipes that will make your first week easier. But don’t forget to pull out your family recipe box and use those recipes you’ve pinned on Pinterest or the dog-eared pages of a favorite cookbook. The most important thing here is that your family gets fed daily; you can lower the rest of your expectations!
Keisha (Pittman) McKinney lives in South Arkansas with her husband and sweet Boxer, Bailey and one-year-old son! Keisha is passionate about connecting people and building community, seeking solutions to the everyday big and small things, and encouraging others through the mundane, hard, and typical that life often brings. She put her communications background to work as a former Non-profit Executive Director, college recruiter and fundraiser, and Digital Media Director at a large church in Northwest Arkansas. Now she is using all of those experiences through McKinney Media Solutions and her blog @bigpittstop which includes daily adventures, cooking escapades, #bigsisterchats, the social justice cases on her heart, and all that she is learning as a #boymom!