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When it comes to meal planning, this mama used to claim she never did it. But I do. And though I’ve been hesitant to admit I have a system, the truth is, I care to make to make healthy, kid-friendly, but easy meals on a rotation that makes sense. Because my kitchen is the one room I spend the most time in. I don’t want it to be a source of stress.
“What’s for dinner?”
“I’m so tired of everything we make.”
“I need a few more healthy but quick meals that my kids will like to add to our dinner rotation.”
At least one stay at home mom is right now dreading the thought of preparing yet another meal that we just ate last week.
I know this is true.
Yes, I admit I get in dinner ruts. I do. But not very often, and especially not when I just chill out about cooking and do what I know works. Part of what I love about my approach to super cheap grocery budgeting, is that on the whole, grocery stores and the seasons choose my meals for me. I buy whatever meat is on sale (and often further discounted to sell quick) and whatever produce is cheapest, which usually means it is in season.
(This is another reason I love summer. ALL the produce is the best, the cheapest, and abundant.)
We are mostly milk-free in our house, which rarely affects dinner, but we especially limit dairy products with our son, which means he doesn’t always get sour cream and cheese as toppings. I admit that I do cook with milk (for mashed potatoes or boxed mac and cheese) and butter, so if you need vegan friendly meals, you will have to alter some of these yourself.
Otherwise, generally speaking, my kids eats everything, so sorry if the following list includes a whole bunch of foods your kids won’t touch. It turns out, good dinner time habits eventually create pretty good eaters. It didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen. Finally, though we are not strictly Paleo, we are pretty good about sticking to a low carb and low sugar lifestyle.
So here’s how my dinner planning list works. Pick one main dish out of the first column, up to three sides from the middle column, and if you want, up to one side from the right column.
I’m being perfectly honest when I say it just isn’t that hard. Many of these meals can be prepared in advance (or doubled for another meal a week later), and most utilize the very few spices, rubs, dressings, or sauces I already have in my fridge and pantry.
I’m not a foodie.
But I’m not a bad cook either.
Meals Based on Price and Seasonal Freshness
Meat (choose 1)
Sides (up to 3)
Optional Side (choose 1)
|– Chicken Breasts
baked or grilled, wet sauce or dry rub- Dark Meat Chicken on the Bone
baked or grilled, wet sauce or dry rub- Steak– Hamburgers– Beef Roast, Stew Meat, Meatballs
crock pot with enough stuff to create its own gravy- Pork Chops
baked or grilled
– Pork Ribs or Roast
– Fish (any)
|– raw: green salad, cut up veggies w/ranch (cucumbers, broccoli, peppers, carrots), pickles, sauerkraut, green or black olives, coleslaw, chopped salad, Dana’s cold pea salad w/bacon,
– oven or grill: roasted root veggies, sweet potatoes, zucchini, summer squash, asparagus, baked beets
– stovetop or microwave: peas, green beans, lima beans, collard greens, black-eyed peas, corn, snow peas, pea-pods
– from the garden: okra, sugar snap peas, sliced tomato w/basil, cantaloupe, cucumbers/pickles, summer squash
|– potatoes: roasted red potatoes, baked potatoes, mashed potatoes with gravy, potato salad
– rice: white rice, rice pilaf, wild rice, Spanish rice
– pasta: egg noodles with butter, hidden veggie pasta with butter and parmesan, macaroni and cheese, pasta sides from a box
– bread: garlic bread, sourdough bread, rolls, toasted buns, homemade crusty bread
Then, here is a list of my favorite “One Pot Wonders.” This means that with a little prep on the front end, you can deal with minimal cleanup on the back end. These are my go-tos for nights where I won’t be home until late, we have a babysitter coming, or I just know I don’t want to be in the kitchen prepping dinner at 5 o’clock.
One Pot Wonders
|Beans and Rice
stovetop or crock pot
|Kidney or black beans, smoked or kielbasa sausage, chili powder, salt, pepper
Optional: chopped onions and garlic, chopped kale or spinach, other spices
serve with: white rice, shredded cheese, sour cream
|boneless skinless chicken breasts, pack of taco seasoning, salsa, corn (frozen or canned), beans (pinto, black, or cannellini)
serve with: soft tortillas, hard tacos, or tortilla chips, shredded cheese, sour cream
|White Chicken Chili
|any deboned chicken (whole roaster, white meat, dark meat), white chili beans (great northern or cannellini), sautéed onions and garlic (blend with a can of beans to thicken chili base), chicken stock, canned coconut milk, cumin, coriander, onion powder, chili powder, salt, and pepper
serve with: tortilla chips, avocado, cilantro, shredded cheese, sour cream
|Classic Red Chili
|ground beef and/or sausage, chili beans (any), sautéed onions and garlic, packet of chili seasoning, canned diced tomatoes, tomato paste
serve with: crackers, corn bread, tortilla chips, shredded cheese, sour cream
Finally, I’m going to add my very quick (non organized) list of kid-friendly go-to meals. Because, let’s be real. We all eat these from time to time. I try to limit these, however, to only once a week, and usually do it on a night where I just really didn’t make a plan for dinner.
Kid Friendly and Quick, but not necessarily Healthy Dinner Ideas:
- Fish Sticks
- Chicken Nuggets
- Tacos, Enchiladas, Nachos, Soft Tacos
- Ravioli, Tortellini, or any other frozen pasta from a bag.
- Soup and Sandwiches
- Breakfast for dinner