Meal Planning for Working Parents

For working parents, cooking meals during the week can be a challenge.  For each $100 per month that you save from NOT eating out, you could have $100,452 in 30 years (assuming a 6% average return) in your bank account.  It is healthier for you and can minimize the additional expense of lunches (I make double the food we need and pack up the leftovers for everyone to take to school or work the next day).

In my own household, a family of 5, we created a theme for every day of the week to make meal planning fun. Below is the plan I am currently using.  Some of these ideas may appeal to you.  

Meatless Monday

This is almost always a pasta dish.  Here is a recipe we enjoy:

“Pesto” Pasta: My kids call this “pesto” because it is green and looks like pesto, but it is not really pesto.

  • Pasta: Cook pasta according to package directions.  I typically make 2 pounds to have enough for lunch the next day.  
  • Sauce: Roast 1 head of garlic (or if you don’t have time to do that, throw in minced garlic while you are sautéing the onion).  Sauté 1 onion, a few cloves of garlic (if you didn’t roast it separately), 4 chopped zucchini, 2 bunches of greens (kale or chard) and 2 sundried tomatoes.  Cook until everything is soft.  Add some of the pasta water and squeeze the roasted garlic into the pan.  Add salt, pepper and fresh basil, to taste.  Blend everything in a high-powered blender (I use a Vitamix).  
  • Finish: Toss the sauce with the pasta.

Tip: Roasting a head of garlic takes an hour.  I put it in the oven before I to pick up my kids from school.  By the time I need it, it is ready.  It is worth the time and effort.  

Taco Tuesday
  • Sauté ground beef in oil with your favorite taco seasoning.  
  • Set up stations for people to serve themselves with hard taco shells, the ground beef, refried beans, lettuce, tomato, avocado and cheese.  Everyone loves making their own thing and I typically do a taco salad for everyone the next day for lunch with chips.

Tip: I  save money and prefer the taste of dried pinto beans that I soak the night before.  I cook the beans the next day according to the directions, drain just some of the water, and add salt, pepper and seasoning.  I blend everything with a hand-held blender.  After living 11 years in southern California, I know this is not the “real” way to make refried beans, but it tastes good and has a creamy texture.  It is not something I make every week – I make a large amount once and freeze it in smaller containers for the next few weeks.

 Wacky Wednesday

We will sometimes have dessert before dinner (I know – we are really living on the edge) or breakfast for dinner, or we will have a picnic in the yard.  My go-to “breakfast for dinner” is brown rice cooked in the rice cooker, eggs over easy, 2 bags of frozen broccoli from Costco, microwaved, and roasted carrot sticks.  

Tip: I cook the frozen broccoli for about 1 minute less than the package recommends.  Then I sauté olive oil with chopped garlic in a pan, take the garlic out with a spoon so it doesn’t burn, then cook the broccoli in the garlic oil.  It is a method my Aunt taught me which is how her Mom (my grandmother from Italy) did it.  She of course used fresh broccoli and steamed it versus the microwave.  

Thankful Thursday

While we should be thankful every day, life is chaotic, so at least once a week we make sure we take time at dinner to say what we are thankful for.  This is often a meatless dinner, too.  One of the family favorites is this veggie chili with corn muffins.  

Tip:  Both the chili and corn muffins freeze well, so if you are inclined to make huge batches, it is something easy to have on hand.

Friday – Pizza / Movie Night

We are all wiped on Fridays so I typically make a smoothie with banana, frozen berries, kale and almond milk for everyone as soon as we all get home around 5pm.  That buys some time for me to make pizza.  My most recent favorite is this crust and this sauce (I sub water or wine for the chicken broth).  That being said, after going to Chicago this fall for a financial planning conference, I am going to try deep-dish pizza next time.

Tip:  I make the sauce in bulk and keep it in the freezer.  

Saturday – Kids cook

The kids are in charge of dinner on Saturdays.  They set the table, cook and clean up.  They keep asking to make this salmon dish.  They like that everyone gets their own little foil packets.  This is also the only night we have sweets for dessert.  Every other night it is just seasonal fruit, but Saturday we will make cookies, crumble or ice cream from scratch.  

Tip:  I had to get over the fact that my kids are messy and that the dinner won’t be perfect.  It is more important that they learn responsibility and think making dinner is fun.  

Sushi Sunday

This meal has not been perfected.  I typically make rolls that fall apart and turn into poké despite all the You Tube videos I have watched.  Last Sunday was the first time I successfully constructed a roll that stayed together and was edible, though not great.  I offset the cost of the fish by serving a lot of frozen edamame in shells from Costco, avocado and homemade cucumber salad.

While I am not an expert in meal planning, these theme nights and recipes have helped me stay motivated, especially during the week when we are tired and short on time.  

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