I can sympathize. And did sympathize, in a tweet about the PITA that is meal-planning, which prompted me to say I'd post my meal planning method at some point. (Is anyone surprised that I have a meal planning method? I thought not. Although the fact that I have a plan for how to make a plan is perhaps a new level of optimization, even for me.)
The method has evolved over my 6+ years as a mother, and continues to evolve. In fact, one of the best parts of it only came to me in the last few months. Part of that is because as my kids get older, this is one thing that actually is getting easier. But the insight that came in the last few months? As you'll see, that was just me suddenly getting a clue.
Basically, my method boils down to having a pattern (because the kids like predictability) with variation at every point in the pattern (so that the adults don't become catatonic from the boredom of the same damn meals, over and over). I should say upfront that we prioritize having family dinners, not because I think that is The One True Way to Eat but because we like to eat together and there is no way I'd get multiple different meals on the table in time for that. Also, it seems to increase the likelihood of the kids trying new things. The actual trying of a new thing remains a completely unpredictable stochastic event, but these events seem to occur more frequently when we are all having a "family meal." Of course, this is just my kids. Your kids might be more likely to try something new if it is presented to them as a special, cool, kids only thing. Kids are annoying like that.
Also, I am only responsible for dinners Monday - Friday. Mr. Snarky does weekend dinners, and for the most part I happily accept whatever he wants to cook, even though that usually means that the kids get either plain pasta (because he's including a pasta salad) or chicken nuggets (because nothing else he is cooking stands an iota of a chance of being consumed by one of our children). The exception was when he served grilled lamb with an asparagus-goat cheese pasta salad two weekends in a row. I will eat lamb, asparagus, and goat cheese, but I'm not particularly enthused about any of them, and having all three in one dinner two Saturday nights running was just too much for me. I mostly ate bread, just like Ellyn Sater says picky eaters should.
Anyway. My pattern is:
Monday: Baked good + healthy liquid
In the cooler months, this is soup + pumpkin parmesan scones, with the variety for the grown ups provided by varying the soup. Sometimes the soup is homemade (that cream-free Cream of Zucchini soup I keep threatening to post, a great crock pot potato and carrot soup, a curried butternut squash soup I love) and sometimes it is from a box/can/jar/whatever (Trader Joes has some good options).
In the warmer months, this is more likely to be waffles or scones with smoothies. Tonight, I tried out popovers.
|Easily produced honey substrate|
Popovers are ridiculously fast and easy, so they'll probably become part of the rotation. Also, Pumpkin liked them so much that she ate three. Petunia wouldn't try them. This was exactly the reverse of what I expected. Kids are annoying like that.
If the baked good is something light like popovers or waffles, I will sometimes make bacon, too. Everyone in our house likes bacon, except for Pumpkin.
Tuesday nights are workout nights, so I don't cook, I heat up leftovers from the freezer. Mr. Snarky generally produces the adult's leftovers on one of his nights cooking. I periodically have to make mac and cheese for the kids, and that is usually the kids' leftovers. Petunia also likes to eat leftover pancakes. Pumpkin, for some reason, doesn't eat pancakes, even though she'll eat waffles, and now popovers. Kids are annoying like that.
Wednesday: Tortilla Night
The kids love tortillas with butter and cheese, and refuse to try even a nibble of any other filling I have produced to date. So I let them eat the tortillas and cheese, and make a wide range of fillings for our tacos. If I am feeling guilty for not eating fish, I make Fish Hater's Fish Tacos. Or I do sloppy joe filling. Or- and here is my recent flash of insight- I brown bite sized chicken pieces and dump any number of jarred sauces on top of them.
So far, I have found two jarred sauces I really like: Iron Chef Orange-Ginger glaze (I dust the chicken with seasoning salt and five spice before browning, and add enough soy sauce to about 1/3 of a jar of the Iron Chef glaze to make a nice sauce) and Pace Garlic-Lime Verde Restaurant Style salsa (I dust the chicken with seasoning salt and cumin before browning, and use roughly 1/2 of the jar of salsa).
|Easy fusion tacos|
I serve the Orange-Ginger tacos with feta, cilantro, and chopped up mixed greens, and the Garlic-Lime Verde salsa tacos with Mexican-style preshredded cheese (which I am reasonably sure is nothing like what you get in Mexico, but makes great quesadillas, so we always have this on hand), diced tomatoes, chopped mixed greens, and cilantro if I have it.
So far, I have had one failure, which was a lemongrass sauce that wasn't bad, but was sort of bland, and I couldn't really figure out how to spice it up. I'll be trying more, though, as this feels like a magic "eat something different!" option for the adults.
If it is not too hot and I don't forget to turn the oven on when I get home, I serve the tacos with sweet potato fries, so that I can pretend my kids ate a vegetable.
Thursday: Pasta Night
I rotate through plain pasta, gnocchi, and cheese tortellini. The kids will eat all of those. Pumpkin likes them plain, with just butter and cheese (Italian style preshredded cheese. I have no shame.) Petunia likes plain to be like her sister, but then always asks for some with red sauce, too. The red sauce comes from a jar. I read the ingredients on the Classico jar and realized they were essentially what I'd use to make the sauce from scratch, so I buy it. Sometimes I get wild and divide the pasta three ways and put pesto on the grown ups' pasta. But usually not, because that seems a bit ridiculous. If we're having plain pasta, I often microwave some meatballs, too. I found a brand with reasonable ingredients, so I just buy frozen. When the kids get older, maybe I'll try making them. Pumpkin won't eat meatballs, but Petunia loves them.
Sometimes I get really adventurous and try a new pasta recipe. As long as I save plain pasta out for Pumpkin (and Petunia, if she doesn't like the look of the recipe I make), I can get away with this. I like Cooking Light and an old cookbook of mine called While the Pasta Cooks for pasta recipe ideas.
Pasta is served with either a green salad or a veggie, usually sauteed zucchini, but occasionally Picky Eater's Green Beans.
Friday: Pizza Night
Either we order in, eat leftovers from the last time we ordered in, or eat a frozen pizza. Basically, by Friday night, I don't care enough to worry about the source of the pizza. I do make a green salad (mixed greens + cherry tomatoes + walnuts + parmesan + (sometimes) carrot sticks + balsamic vinaigrette) to go with the pizza, though.
That's the plan. The variety afforded by tortilla night in particular keeps me and Mr. Snarky reasonably happy with this plan, but it is predictable enough that I don't have to spend heaps of time pouring over recipe books on Sunday morning, which is generally when I write the menu plan and the grocery list.
What's your meal planning system? Or do you just wing it?