Monday, January 30, 2012

Mondays with Martha: Menu Planning

We've all heard the research about how eating as a family sets kids up for success and helps them avoid problem behaviors like drug use. The problem is that with all the kids' activities (especially as they get older), it's hard to get dinner on the table. Between 4 and 6 we're acting as tutors, time managers, chauffers, and baby holders. Getting a hot, healthy meal on the table and having everyone there to enjoy it isn't easy. But planning ahead can help. We just need to find the motivation and inspiration to do that menu planning.

Enter the food nanny. I've been browsing through this book this week.


She has some great recipes, but the real takeaway for me was the idea of having a theme for every night of the week. I've done menu planning before, where I plan a month's worth of menus to rotate through. And it works for a while. Until life gets busy or I lose my inspiration. But I think using themes for each dinner would make it easier to think of menus. And if planning menus is easier than not planning them, then theoretically I'll stick with it. Plus, it's nice for the kids to sort of know what to expect each night. That way they can stock up on snacks if it's a theme they don't like.

The themes she suggests are not elaborate, with decorations and such, just basic categories for each night: Comfort food. Pizza night. Grill night. Mexican. Italian. Fish and meatless. Breakfast dinners. Crock pot. Soup night. Freezer meals. Main-dish salad.

So if you need a little inspiration, take out a piece of paper and make a heading for each night. Think of your activities for each night and find a category that fits in with your schedule. For instance, Mondays we have to fit in dinner between music lessons and Jeremy's evening meetings, so it has to be a make-ahead meal. Tuesdays we don't have evening activities, so it can be a meal that takes more work at the last minute. Here are my categories: Monday: crock pot. Tuesday: breakfast dinner. Wednesday: Italian. Thursday: Vegetarian/fish. Friday: pizza. Saturday: comfort foods/easy/grill. Sunday: Mexican.

Now fill in your chart with four different meals in each of those categories. Don't forget to add side dish ideas. Next time you go to the store you can buy 2 weeks' worth of food, and then the off week you can just pick up bread and produce and you'll be all set.

If you're thinking ahead to the Superbowl this weekend, Martha and Rachael both have great recipes for you to browse.