If you’re looking to get your life organized this year, why not start with the family dinner table? Military families often have unpredictable schedules with service members working late or odd hours, if they are home at all. Meal planning is one way to keep a consistent routine in place and give you some sense of control in the midst of an always changing, possibly chaotic lifestyle.
If you aren’t already a seasoned menu planner, consider these financial and health-related benefits:
- Planning ahead and knowing what’s for dinner lowers the chance of a last minute takeout run.
- Making a list and sticking to it saves money at the grocery store.
- Having a plan for leftovers reduces food waste.
- A posted menu gives everyone a heads-up and time to prepare for weekly meals, usually leading to fewer fusses from kids.
- Studies from the University of Michigan show that children who eat with the family at the table perform better in school, have improved relationships and feel a greater sense of belonging and security.
What are you waiting for then?
Let’s do some meal planning!
Meal planning requires setting aside a few minutes at the beginning of the week to determine a dinner schedule that works for your family. Take into consideration outside activities, work commitments and days when your slow cooker needs to do the heavy lifting. Save complicated meals for when you have more time to invest in the kitchen.
While not always popular, determining a weekly food budget is key to meal planning and a good practice for family finances. Whether you decide on $125, $150 or another amount per week is up to you, and will likely take some trial and error to nail down. Shopping at the Commissary is typically the best money-saver when it comes to groceries, but if you live near Costco, Trader Joe’s, Aldi or other discount grocery stores, you could certainly stretch your food dollars there.
The Pinterest hole
Where do you go when beginning the search for dinner recipes? Pinterest, of course! Stay focused, though, because you know how easy it is to start scrolling through chicken recipes and an hour later find yourself sucked into home decorating websites.
To help narrow your dinner choices, it’s easiest to think in terms of categories or themes for each weeknight and plug in meals accordingly.
Sunday – Slow Cooker: Pulled Pork
Monday – Soup/Entrée Salad: Cobb Salad
Tuesday – Mexican: Tacos
Wednesday – Pasta: Lasagna
Thursday – Leftovers
Friday – Pizza
Saturday – Anything Goes: BBQ Chicken
Maybe you love salmon and want to build in a weekly seafood night. Or perhaps you are skilled at cooking with Asian flavors and want to work that in regularly. Go for it! The key is that you have some scaffolding to build from. Build in a day or two for leftovers and enjoy the freedom, knowing that you already put in the work.
Bringing family dinners back
Meal planning is more than just putting food on the table. It’s about creating a predictable rhythm in the home that provides security for the whole family. And it doesn’t have to be fancy. Incorporate some of your kids’ favorite meals and take suggestions before you set the weekly menu in stone. Or chalk. You won’t be able to please everybody each night, but over time, family members will understand that pizza night is just around the corner. Once you get the hang of weekly meal planning, the days of scrambling around the kitchen looking for something to call dinner each evening will be a thing of the past.