WARNING: I am not the sort of person who should be giving out advice about what to eat/feed your family or how to pull it off. I am terrible at getting dinner on the table and we do NOT eat super healthy around here.
However, just like anybody else, I have to figure out what we’re going to eat, so I’ve come up with a plan. I am really really good at coming up with plans. It’s just sticking to them that I struggle with. Seriously, I think there’s something wrong with me. I always find it easier/more appealing to come up with a whole new plan than to follow the one I just made. If only I could somehow monetize my insatiable urge to systematize things! I’ve thought about trying to be an efficiency expert or something, but I could never prove that my systems work since I don’t ever use them.
Anyway. In case any of you are capable of following plans, I think this one’s pretty good, so I thought I’d share. And if it does work, please document it in detail so I can add it to my portfolio. Thanks!!
Ok, on to The Plan:
A couple years ago my sister-in-law gave me the idea of having a dinner theme for each day of the week. So Mondays you have some kind of chicken, Tuesday is Mexican night, Wednesday is something out of a can, etc. Wait, what? I meant Wednesday is something awesome that you make from scratch and of course clean up as you go along.
I actually have done the nightly theme thing (at times) and it works really well. It’s nice to have a loose plan with some wiggle room, and as long as I kinda sorta follow it, we don’t end up eating chicken and rice three nights a week. In the face of this school year, I decided to expand the themes to breakfast and lunch too, so my kids’ lunches aren’t *quite* so boring as they were last year and our mornings can hopefully go a little more smoothly. But I’ll get to those later. Here are my current dinner themes with some examples for each:
Monday – comfort foods
These are meals I grew up with, or just family favorites that don’t really fit well in another category. Interestingly, a lot of them contain beef.
- roast & potatoes
- meatloaf (my family actually loves it)
- baked potatoes
- sweet & sour meatballs
- Hawaiian haystacks
Tuesday – chicken
There are so many good chicken recipes out there, I thought they deserved their own night.
- creamy lemon chicken
- poppyseed chicken casserole
- BBQ chicken sammies
- coconut chicken
- peanut chicken wraps
- maple sweet potato chicken
Wednesday – World Night
We love Indian food, and Thai, and Italian, but I’d be really scrambling to come up with a different Thai dish every week, so I just lumped all these together, and my six-year-old came up with the name. Also it’s a night to try something new (the idea is that everyone knows it’s coming so they won’t complain).
- lasagna or some other pasta dish
- Indian curry
- Thai curry or stir-fry
- whatever cool recipe I saw on Pinterest and bought seven previously-unheard-of ingredients for
Thursday – whatever
Yep, that’s a theme. It’s an important one, too. It’s good to take the pressure off for one day of the week. Just plan to have one night when dinner is super easy and probably lame. This is a movable theme, of course. If Monday needs to be “whatever,” go for it, and then you can eat Monday’s planned dinner on Thursday, so your whole week doesn’t go to pot. Or you can go ahead and let it go to pot. That’s ok too.
- leftovers! – I do the “Leftover Cafe” sometimes to make it fun – write up a menu (or have the kids do it) and make everyone pay in pennies for what they order
- breakfast for dinner
- grilled cheese sandwiches
- freezer meal
- mac & cheese/spaghettios/canned stew/ramen/don’t judge/get takeout after the kids go to bed
Friday – pizza
We’ve been doing Pizza Movie Night on Fridays for probably three? four? years now. I HIGHLY recommend having a weekly Pizza Movie Night. It is the easiest possible tradition to keep up, as long as Domino’s still delivers (and I happen to know that they do). Of course you can make it fancier and healthier and cheaper, but if it comes down to it, you can just order pizza, pop in a show and relax while family bonds strengthen themselves. When we started out I made the pizza from scratch almost every week, which was fun. I got pretty good at making crust in my blender, and it was nice knowing exactly what was going into it. These days I can’t even remember the last time I rolled out my own crust, but the tradition is still going strong, see? It’s so versatile and you never have to figure out what to make for dinner on Friday! That’s one day down. Bam!
- delivery/takeout – do what ya gotta do
- frozen pizza – I love me some Totino’s!
- homemade pizza – for when you have energy AND counter space
- semi-homemade – with a store-bought crust/ball of dough
- English muffin or bagel pizzas – fun for the kids to build their own
- fancy homemade – with sweet potatoes & kale or Texas caviar & ranch or something else cool (Pinterest obviously has a ton of ideas)
- veggie pizza – flattened canned-croissant crust, ranch mix + cream cheese spread, veggies on top
- naan pizza! – our favorite – we buy naan at Costco and they are the perfect size for a little pizza with whatever toppings you want. We usually do a couple “grown-up” pizzas and 2-3 more for the kids with more traditional toppings (traditional as in American; I am aware that what we call pizza here is nothing close to actual traditional pizza).
Saturday – soup/salad/grill
This one changes a bit with the seasons, although this summer I’ve loved grilling so much I want to keep it up all year. But I love soups too, so I’m sure I’ll switch to that as soon as fall is in the air. Oh, and salads! Or any combination of the three. Yum! I don’t think I need to give examples here.
Sunday – Mexican
This was also recommended by my sister-in-law, who said she makes tacos almost every Sunday. They’re just nice and easy for a day that you don’t feel like cooking. I know a lot of people like to have a great big fancy meal on Sunday, but I usually would rather spend the time playing games with my kids or taking a nap or going for a family walk. Or taking a nap. I kind of just can’t be bothered to cook on Sunday, so Mexican is a good theme, since it can be so easy (again, we’re not talking authentic here).
- tacos/taco salads – you can cook meat overnight/all day in the crock pot, or do meatless tacos with refried beans – SO GOOD!
- Mexican haystacks
- taco soup – the easiest meal ever, although you don’t always feel that great afterwards
- enchiladas – can be made ahead
- loaded quesadillas or nachos
- Mexican rice with beans
Phew! Is anyone still reading this?
I was going to tell you about breakfast & lunch too, but that would make this post painfully long, so I’ll do a Part 2 later. For now, I just want to point out how adaptable this system is. Just choose themes based on the types of meals you eat the most (or want to get yourself to eat). If you want your family to eat less meat, assign a vegetarian night, or do a bean night, tofu night, quinoa night, etc. Having a food storage night is a good way to rotate through stuff, and to practice making the meals that are supposedly going to keep you alive someday maybe.
- picnic night – we did this when we had soccer & gymnastics back to back
- crock pot night – this was great when I had somewhere to be every Thursday until 5 or 6
- rice cooker night! – I am still learning, but I’ve discovered that you can make all kinds of full-on meals in a rice cooker!
- his/her night to cook, or kid chef night
- eat out night
- good-enough-for-company night – make something amazing and invite someone over, or just treat yo’self!
There are so many possibilities, but with a category for each night, you can easily build up several little lists to choose from so you don’t have to wrack your brains every day of the week, or take two hours to plan for the week ahead, like I used to.
So here’s where I need help. As I mentioned earlier, we’re not the best at healthy eating over here. I say “we,” but I know it pretty much comes down to me, since I’m the one buying and preparing most of the food. I would like to do better, but my knowledge of nutrition is limited and I have a hard enough time just cooking every day in the first place. When I think about healthy eating I get so overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. So if you have tasty, family-friendly recipes that aren’t too hard or time-consuming or expensive, PLEASE, lay ’em on me! Or if you have other tips or just general info that might help me (or someone else) eat a little healthier, let us know in the comments! I would also love more tips or recipes for quick/easy breakfasts or school lunches. We all know I’m likely to throw this whole system out the window before Halloween is out in stores, so anything that might make it better or easier or longer-lasting is great! Thank you!!
By the way, if any of the dishes listed above sound like something you’d like to try, I’m happy to share recipes. Just let me know!