Find out how you can find time to plan and make family meals as a busy mom with young children. Get actionable tips from a mom of three!
Mmmm….food. I love to eat food. I don’t necessarily love to make food. I don’t hate it but I don’t have a passion for it.
I do, however, love to eat, so I am willing to put the time into cooking in order to eat.
What: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner
When: Morning, noon, and evening
Where: At my house
Why: To feed my family. I love to eat, and I like to eat quality food
How: Simplify, leftovers, plan, and cook what you love
How I Organize and Execute Family Meals
I want to break each meal up separately because each meal is different at our house.
We keep breakfast and lunch quite simple and routine. We keep dinner more complicated and try lots of different things.
When We Eat Meals
We eat our meals at relatively regular times. We eat breakfast typically in the late 7 AM hour or early 8 AM hour.
We eat lunch in the noon hour.
We eat dinner typically in the late 5 PM hour, sometimes early 6 PM hour.
Where We Eat Meals
We do eat out on occasion. We sometimes pack a lunch and take it to the park. We sometimes eat dinner at a restaurant. I think it is fun to do. But for the most part, we eat meals at home.
I am getting more and more picky about food quality as I get older. As I write this, we haven’t eaten out of home for over three weeks…but we are planning on it tonight. Anyway, this isn’t really the point 🙂
We eat at home with the family around the table for each meal.
Breakfast is kind of hit and miss. Typically, my husband eats either with Brayden and Kaitlyn or by himself (or at work).
Brayden and Kaitlyn always eat together.
McKenna and I always eat together. Sometimes McKenna and I are eating the same time as Brayden and Kaitlyn.
Lunch is all together minus Brayden on weekdays because of school.
Dinner is all together. At home. Around the dinner table. It is important to me that we eat dinner together at the dinner table as much as possible.
We do eat at the counter at times (we have a peninsula and barstools). This is more for lunch than dinner. I feel like eating at the table lends itself to us lingering more and visiting more.
Why I Put Effort Into Meals
The first basic reason for meals is for survival. I try to have meals together as a family because I think it helps unite the family. I think family mealtime is important. We aren’t just feeding their physical bodies; we are feeding their souls.
Exactly how we accomplish this can look different for every family. Think through your goals, your “why,” and how you can accomplish these things.
Simplify, Serve Leftovers, Plan, and Cook What You Love
This is the real meat of the post. How do you do it?
Breakfast: Breakfast is not my favorite meal of the day. I love breakfast foods, but I don’t love eating breakfast.
I was one of those people who never ate breakfast. When I was in college, Biology 1010 talked me into it. But I don’t like it. If I am going to eat a heavy breakfast, I need it to be more of a brunch. It can’t be before 9 AM. So we keep breakfast simple. Yogurt, fruit, oatmeal, and cereal (healthier cereals) are what we typically eat.
Lunch: Lunch is our leftovers meal. We eat our leftovers from dinner at lunch time. This is also the meal we allow children to indulge in that favorite food they have latched on to forever.
Brayden had a thing for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for over a year. He had one every day for lunch. Kaitlyn likes toast with butter on it. Each child chooses a fruit to have with lunch, which varies depending on what we have. Each child also chooses a vegetable (again, varies). They can have some cheese if they want it.
Sometimes for lunch, we do breakfast foods. I might make pancakes for lunch or we cook up some eggs. If lunch is cooked, you eat what was prepared rather than the typical lunch. We also sometimes do common kid favorites like Macaroni and Cheese.
Dinner: This is where I turn to more complicated things. This is where planning comes into play.
We tend to like a lot of variety for dinner. I think that makes dinner more complicated. It is easier to make a recipe you have made several times than a recipe you have never made before.
Making My Meal Plan
Here is my process to choosing and making dinner:
- Write down meals
- Create shopping list
- Buy ingredients
- Choose what is for dinner by lunch that day
- Cook dinner
Before I go grocery shopping, I make a list of 7 meals. I use this menu planner that I made:
If you want a free copy of this, see this post. I printed the pages, then I had them laminated (this was before I bought a laminator) and bound. I use a wet erase marker with it. See this post for more.
Another great option is an app. I love the OrganizEat app!
I do have a method to choosing meals. I try to vary it by having certain categories that I choose one recipe from.
- Breakfast–we love having breakfast for dinner. Sometimes we have the breakfast meal for a brunch on Saturday.
- Slowcooker–I love slowcooker meals. I find it is easier to make dinner at lunch time than at dinner time.
- Quick and Easy–I like to have at least one meal planned that is super easy to make for those busy nights. Ideas here are spaghetti and tacos.
- Mexican–a favorite type of food here
- Italian–probably THE favorite type of food here
- A brand new recipe–Something we have never made before
- Other. I usually have at least two recipes we have never had before.
I also have seasonal categories:
I also make sure I have a vegetable planned to go with each meal and any sides if desired. Oh! And I also have one-two desserts planned so I am sure I have the ingredients for those on hand.
We don’t have dessert every day, but I typically have cookies made so we can each have a cookie after dinner and chores are done.
So I write down my 7 meals along with any ingredients I need to make the items.
I transfer my list in my book pictured above to my shopping list. I used to use a piece of paper, but now that I have my iPhone, I use an app. I use the Cozi app. It is free, and is a family calendar as well. It can also be updated by anyone in the family, so my husband can add things to the list from his phone. I love it.
One day a week, I go shopping. I buy any ingredients I need for the week as well as any super deals at the grocery store that week.
When I have a newborn, I only go grocery shopping every other week. I make a two week meal plan and shop every other week. We get our milk delivered and I make our bread, so we can easily shop less often if needed.
Preparing Long Before Dinner
Each day, I pull out my menu book at least by lunch time to decide what we want for dinner that night. This gives me enough time to thaw meat and raise bread. For a slowcooker meal, you often need to decide the night before so you can prep it in the morning.
Another perk of choosing at lunch time what we will have for dinner is it gives me an idea of what time I need to start dinner. I know about how long it will take me to make it.
My Favorite Cookbooks
Oh yes, I have my favorite cookbooks. Here they are.
Our Best Bites is hands down, no contest, my favorite cookbook that I own. If I was forced to own only one cookbook, this would be the one–no hesitation. I can’t say enough good about it. The recipes use very fresh ingredients and are easy to follow. There is also a picture for every recipe, which I think is fabulous. My brother-in-law said something to the effect that this cookbook has made many men very happy.
Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook is another great cookbook. This is my go-to if I want to make something and don’t know where to find the recipe (because I forget the Internet exists when I am cooking for some reason). This has just about everything in it. I use it for banana bread, corn bread, waffles, sugar cookies, and candies without fail.
101 Things to Do with a Slow Cooker and 101 More Things to Do with a Slow Cooker are super fabulous for slow cooker recipes. I have made almost every recipe in each book. Soups, main dishes, and desserts…yum.
These are my three favorites. I use a lot of family recipes, too.
I don’t use the internet much for cooking (I do think that is strange…). But I do have a couple of favorites.
http://www.ourbestbites.com/–Yes, Our Best Bites was a blog before it was a book!
http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/–Pioneer Woman. I also have her cookbook. I like her cookbook, but it isn’t all things I would make. Some of my ultimate recipes, though, are on her website, so I love the website. I love her sense of humor 🙂
That is how we do our meals. We keep it simple where we can and interesting where we want it. Please share how you do meals! How do you plan? What are your favorite recipes?