As our last days of summer approached, I kicked my school year planning into high gear. After all, with four kids we can’t just keep it casual, as much as I would like to. I knew that this school year would be just as stressful, if not more, than last year for several reasons. That’s when I had an idea. What if I created—and stuck to–a snack and meal schedule for my family?
Now that we’re a few weeks into the school year, I’m happy to report that the meal schedule is working like magic. Not only are we no longer scrambling every single day over what to feed the kids, but everyone knows what to expect. The schedule has cut down on complaints, which is a win for parents. If this sounds appealing to you and you want your kitchen to be a happier place for all, I’ve got you covered on how to create a schedule like ours.
Make A Food Dislike List
Yes, you read that correctly. Make a list of the foods your family absolutely will not eat, and be specific. If you need to, interview each member of your family. I have one kid who refuses pears and broccoli, another who can’t stand pineapple, and another who thinks chickpeas were created by Satan. (This is, by no means, our entire list.) Don’t forget to also write down any food sensitivities or allergies. You can also include any brands or flavors your family doesn’t like, such as a particular flavor or brand of BBQ sauce.
Make A Food “Like” Brainstorming List
Now that you’ve heard the complaints, sigh, you can create a list of foods, meals, and snacks your family does like. Divide your list by category: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack. If you’re like us, there’s probably a dessert category, too. It’s perfectly fine if your buffet or DIY style meals, like taco night, are more generic since each person makes their own from the ingredients provided. Just remember to avoid those disliked foods! This list doesn’t need to be perfect. You’re simply brainstorming in order to then get more organized when creating a schedule.
Create a Schedule
A meal schedule takes some work, but I promise you, it’s time well spent. Look over your dislikes and likes food lists and start mapping out the meals and snacks your family wants to put on rotation. I aimed for ten meals which included tacos, Asian inspired rice bowls, pasta, easy night (think frozen), grilled meal (reserved for the weekends when we have more time), and breakfast-for-dinner. This took me quite a bit of time, because coming up with ten meals we can agree upon isn’t easy! Once I came up with my ten meals and seven snacks, I started mapping out when we would have each.
Don’t Forget To Double Up
When you make a meal, double it so that there’s leftovers for the next day’s lunch, when possible. Sometimes I even quadruple a recipe and put half in the freezer, especially soup and chili. My kids aren’t always able to take leftovers to school, depending on the meal. In this case, I make a batch of pasta salad for the week for them that includes veggies, protein, and a drizzle of olive oil. We pair this with a piece of fruit. So far, so good.
Be Kind To Yourself
It’s perfect fine that your meal plans aren’t elaborate or even conventional. Sometimes less really is more, and creativity should be rewarded. (That’s what I tell myself, at least.) If you manage to come up with enough meals and snacks, give yourself a pat on the back and a glass of wine. If a meal or snack doesn’t go as planned, scratch it from the list and try something else.
Get Complainers Involved
No matter how amazing your meal schedule is, you’re going to get some complaints. I tell my kids that they are more than welcome to come up with new recipe ideas, help with grocery shopping, and kitchen cleanup. In fact, they do have assigned kitchen clean up nights. I’m trying to teach them how to be a team player and be part of the solution rather than just whining about what they don’t like. If you have a partner, determine who is going to do the grocery shopping and meal prep. In our house, my husband buys the groceries, and we split making the meals, depending on who is available.
Create Less Waste And Save Money
A major perk of having a meal schedule is that we throw out way less food than we used to. Thus, we are also saving money. Now, it has taken us some time to figure out how much of each ingredient or item we need to buy to have enough food but not too much left over. Through trial and error, we have a great schedule down pat, and we have leftover cash for splurging on eating out on occasion and buying special food items (like that tiny container of expensive ice cream we love).
Be Open To Change
Once we officially get some fall weather, I’ll remove some of our regular meals in favor of slow cooker meals, soups, and chilis. In fact, meal schedules become easier with soups and chilis because they make great leftovers and freezer meals. After a long day, it’s the best to come home to veggie soup already bubbling and ready to go. Also, if there’s a meal or snack that’s no longer working for your family anymore, it’s OK to ditch it and try something else. Weekends, if your work schedule allows, is a great time to trial a new recipe with the fam.
I’ve been absolutely thrilled at how easy it’s been to organize our family meals and snacks. There’s far less of the kids sticking their heads into the fridge or pantry and whining that there’s “nothing to eat.” We’re saving money, not throwing out food, and above all, enjoying taking a past stressor off our plates—pun intended.