Looking for some new ways to spice up your family dinners? Feast your eyes on these five fun ideas for easier meal planning. From getting the kids involved (and giving you a break) to turning prep into a party, these solutions will help you get dinner rolling – literally, in one case! Check them out – and be sure to check out HelloJoey’s “Winner, Winner, Plan for Dinner” kit for more great tips on how to streamline and simplify your meal planning process.
Easy Meal Planning Solution #1: Monthly Meal Club
The Monthly Meal Club harnesses the power of batch cooking to simplify your meal planning mental load – and it has the added benefit of giving your family a little more variety and introducing them to some new dishes. It works best if you find three other families that are similar in size to your own and have similar food preferences, budgets, and restrictions or allergies.
Each week, one family will cook a meal – but instead of making one batch for their own family, they’ll make four and distribute one batch to each family in the club. All four families can sit down together each month to choose which week they’re free to cook and decide on dishes that will suit everyone’s needs. Then, all you have to do is cook a big batch on your designated day, but you’ll get one meal a week for the other three weeks of the month.
Easy Meal Planning Solution #2: Fend for Yourself Night
If your kids are old enough and have basic kitchen skills, designate one day a week as a “Fend for Yourself Night.” Establish whatever ground rules make you feel comfortable – like no candy or ice cream – but beyond that, anything goes. It might be a little dicey at the beginning, but stick with it and you’ll probably be surprised by how your kids rise to the occasion.
Not only is this a great way to help your kids get more comfortable in the kitchen and take some responsibility for feeding themselves, but if you have more than one kid, it also can help them to bond. They may team up to create a meal together – or they may just share whatever hodgepodge they’ve pulled together as a meal. Either way, you’re off the hook for making dinner, and your kids are gaining valuable life skills.
Easy Meal Planning Solution #3: Drive-through Dinner Crawl
Of course you want to teach your kids healthy eating habits and focus meals around good nutrition, but there’s a time and place for the occasional splurge. Schedule a Drive-though Dinner Crawl as a special occasion celebration or a once-a-month family treat, just like you might occasionally order pizza. If you’re adamantly against fast food of any kind, you can apply this idea to your favorite healthy markets or restaurants instead.
To prepare for your crawl, divvy up the courses (appetizer, main, veggie, dessert, etc) by pulling names from a hat (first name gets first choice) or whatever means everyone agrees is fair. Then, each family member chooses an item to order for the whole family from their favorite fast food place. Once you’ve decided where you’re going and what you’ll each order, jump in the car and start your crawl! You might wind up eating tacos with a side of mashed potatoes, but that’s a small price for making dinner more fun.
Easy Meal Planning Solution #4: Family Potluck
Every other week (or once a month), mark a day on the calendar to host a family potluck. Put a signup sheet in your kitchen or assign a dish to each family member based on their skills and age levels. If you’re feeling really inspired, have your family pick a potluck theme – like Sunday picnic with sandwiches and chips or Italian night with spaghetti and garlic bread.
While older kids can probably handle more complicated dishes like making pasta salad or cooking chicken in the Instant Pot, little kids can participate by buttering pieces of bread or dumping a bag of pre-washed salad greens into a bowl with some dressing. The idea is to allow everyone to contribute to the family meal and take responsibility for their dish. Make it fun and try to appreciate whatever dishes wind up on your table as much as you appreciate the night off from being solely responsible for dinner.
Easy Meal Planning Solution #5: Parent Prep Party
If you hate prepping a week’s worth of ingredients in advance, make it more fun by inviting friends to come help. Call three or four friends whose families have similar eating preferences, and plan a prep night where you all come together to slice, sauté, and assemble. Turn on the music, uncork a bottle of wine, and chatter while you chop!
Your prep party can unfold in a few different ways:
Have each guest pick a dish and shop for the ingredients. At the party, they can either prepare multiple batches to share with everyone else in the group – or the entire group can prep each dish together.
Choose one or two group meals and have one guest (who gets to skip the actual prep) shop for all the ingredients, dividing the cost among the group. Then, create an assembly line to make batch lasagnas or chicken parmesans for each person in attendance.
For larger groups, make “mix ‘n match” meals by having three guests bring meats, three bring veggies, three bring starches, and three bring sauces. At the party, you can each prepare your ingredients and then take portions of each home to use in meals however you choose.
Meal planning can feel overwhelming, but there are ways to make it easier and more enjoyable. Whether you have a family Food Network marathon to find new recipes or you simplify your shopping with a food delivery service like Imperfect Produce, embrace anything that helps you take the stress out of the process and lets you actually enjoy your family meals. After all, that’s what meal planning is really all about.
Want to learn more about meal planning in “Winner, Winner, Plan for Dinner?” Start your path to a solid parenting foundation in just 10 minutes a day. Check out the HelloJoey app.