Y’all, I need to make a confession: I am always one unscheduled activity away from starving my children. It’s not so much that I don’t do any meal planning. It’s more that most meal planning systems don’t quite work for the chaotic schedule I keep. Thank goodness the boys are happy with a snack (or two, or twelve) to hold them over until I can pull together a proper meal for them. This year in particular has been even more of a challenge because at minimum we have something on the schedule three weeknights each week plus the insanity that is a hockey season weekend. Which often leaves me (and others) begging the question: how do you manage to feed them and not go broke or insane?
Let me assure you, I’m quite insane. Three children pretty much guarantees a loss of sanity, but I was crazy before that. I’m ok with it, so you can be ok with it too.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s address the food situation, shall we?
Getting dinner on the table generally requires four specific actions: 1- planning the food, 2- buying the food and 3- cooking the food and 4- eating the food. So we’ll go through each step and I can tell you how I do it. This may or may not work for you. I do not have any allergies to contend with and in general, my boys will eat most anything. Or I cook to what they will eat because after a full day of work and an hour long hockey practice, the last thing I want to do is fight with someone to eat what’s on their plate.
We pick our battles.
Planning the Food
Each week, I try to take a few minutes to think through what kind of week we have ahead of us and I use the following guideline to help me with meal planning so that I can get to the “Buying the Food” portion of getting dinner on the table. Most weeks I plan for the following:
- A 15 minutes or less meal (aka the Fright Night option)
- One “wrap” meal. Whether it’s tacos, fajitas, chicken wrap. Doesn’t matter but at least one meal is generally served in this easy-to-take-with-you format
- One sit-down meal for that magical night when everyone is home and we don’t have anywhere to rush off to
- One snack plate option
- One boy-friendly option
- One meat/starch/veggie option (or a “traditional” meal….however you want to frame that)
Additionally, I always have emergency food options in the pantry for weeks where we eat more (and therefore don’t have leftovers), or some night doesn’t work out the way I think it will and I need something faster. There is absolutely nothing wrong with frozen pizza or pogos for dinner in my house.
Buying The Food
As a kid, every Friday night we would load up into the pickup truck and head to the grocery store 20 minutes away. Now I don’t know that my dad ever gave a thought to meal planning, but I do know we bought basically the same stuff every week.
Fast forward a few years and I was a new mom. On maternity leave, I made Wednesdays my grocery day after I had Boy #2. I kept that up until we hit the Atom years and I had one player in Initiation, one in Novice and one in Atom. Wednesday nights became the night I needed to recharge the batteries. Grocery runs were far more haphazard. Some times it was Wednesday nights. Some times it was Saturday night. It mostly happened when we were out of cereal and milk, you know, the staples.
Then the magnificent introduction of online grocery shopping. I can not properly express how much I adore Loblaws PC Express service. Over the course of about 18 months, I have honed my online grocery shopping skills.
Every Monday morning, during my first work break of the day, I load up the website and start my order. I start with the basics that we always run low on. Milk, bread and fruit. Then I add lunch stuff that I know the boys need for school. The next part is trickiest because I have to take a look at the calendar and see what kind of nights we have ahead for the week. Based on that knowledge I make a list of what meals can work with the week ahead. I don’t assign them a day because I’ve learned that I do not like being told what to do. Not even when I’m the one telling me what to do.
Having addressed dinner, I do a quick browse of the sales looking for things I might have forgotten about or snack options. Our house loves a good snack. With that done, I schedule a pick up time for right after work and finalize the order. All that’s left to do is to pick up the food when I’m done with work and take it home. Slick, right? Except, I inevitably will get a text after I put in the order asking if I remembered to get X, Y or Z. But they have gotten to a point where they all know that once that order is in, I am not making another grocery trip until next Monday. They have accepted this as a matter of course and add their desired food to the white board for the following week.
Total time: about 15 minutes. 20 if I’m really struggling with the “What do I make for dinner?” question.
Cooking The Food
With the house stocked for the week ahead, we move on to the challenging part, the cooking of the food. Now I have a list of dinner options (thank you to the meal planning part mentioned above) from which I can choose based on my mood and the mood of the house. My mood is the deciding factor because I’m the one doing the work, for the most part. About halfway through my afternoon, I do a quick scan of the dinner options, removing what we have already consumed. From there I choose which one sounds good for the evening ahead.
On the drive home, I figure out when I need to start the cooking process based on what time one of us has to leave the house. Dinner is sometimes a staggered situation in our place. This means I make what I have planned for 5:30 but save a plate for HockeyDad and whichever boy is out of the house at that time. Dinner is served, lunches are packed for the next day and the kitchen gets tidied up in anticipation of the next meal.
Total time: anywhere between 15 minutes and an hour, depending on the demands of the day.
Eating the Food
I touched on it a little above, but the schedule being what it is means that more often than not this year we are eating dinner at different times. Or, better yet, we have to eat it in the car on the way to wherever we’re all going. The latter being more common on a weekend. I have served pasta and meatballs in to-go containers much to HockeyDad’s horror. To be fair, the car is new and the upholstery is a light brown (the dealership called it “sand”) colour. I’m happy to report his worries were unfounded. No stains occurred in the eating of the pasta.
I would like to say the meal in the car situations are few and far between but more often than not we have a game at noon and another at 5. Or worse, 6. Those nights are what we often refer to as “Snack Plate” nights. I will pack a lunch bag (or two) full of fruits, veggies, sandwiches, chips or popcorn. Whatever works. The one going on the ice eats in the car on the way there and the ones that are watching the game can snack their way through the game. This has the added bonus of keeping them occupied and out of trouble.
The other option is to have something sitting in the Instant Pot. My friend swears this appliance is a magical gift created by unicorns. I don’t think she’s far off the mark. Food goes in, cooks, and stays warm so that people can help themselves as they arrive home after practice or school or work, whatever. Magical.
Total time: HockeyDad, Boy #1 and I can scarf down a meal fairly quickly. No, it’s not the healthiest approach, but it’s better than getting hangry. The younger two need more time and are happier snacking their way through meals. So this one is really a crapshoot.
It is not a perfect meal planning system. Given the choice, I would prefer to rely less on convenience or frozen foods, but right now we are prioritizing food in bellies and less waste over everything else. Convenience foods are a battle for another day. Or season.
We pick our battles.
See you at the rink,