Some Fall Tweaks to Our Meal Planning Strategy

Snacky Supper
The snacking plate: my favorite kind of simple supper.

Happy fall! School has been back in session for about a week here, and I am trying to wrap my head around the idea of R being a first grader.  We’re slowly adjusting to the new schedule, although the whole homework routine hasn’t really started up proper as of yet.

Maybe because of the transition into more set routines and cooler weather, or September generally feeling like a fresh start kind of month, I’ve been giving some thought to our current meal rotation. (More on the specifics of that in a later post.) I would say I am generally happy with it, but I am noticing a few things I would like to work on that could make things even better.

My happy place is generally when things don’t necessarily get made as scheduled, but there are enough items floating around for a quick, nutritious meal.  For example, this past week there were leftovers from shrimp tacos and vegan Alfredo sauce in the fridge, and a pork roast in the slow cooker that became pulled pork for company.  Meals and snacks for days!

There are a few sticky spots lately:

  • The big one: When to prep and prepare ingredients. A meal preparation day never seems to stick for me.  It is not often what I want to do when the kiddo goes to bed, or on a Sunday afternoon. However, if I don’t spend some time in advance, I feel like I use more time than I would like preparing meals on a daily basis, whereas a weekly longer session could cut down on incidentals.  Working from home is fantastic for being able to take a few minutes to move things along and start dinner earlier.  But it also makes it easier for my day to get hijacked with chopping and prepping.
  • Neglecting to think about breakfast, lunch, and snacks for myself and my family. Still.  Getting better, but still.
  • Lack of serendipitous leftovers. Something I hadn’t really considered is that often I will plan a meal with purposeful leftovers, so that the next night is literally no work. Which is fantastic – but with snacks and lunches often being a question mark, having that extra food available for those times would make sense. Which would mean preparing a new meal more often throughout the week. Hmm…
  • Neglecting pantry ingredients. I am often not sure what’s actually in there, which brings us to…
  • Cluttered pantry and freezers. Enough said, really. They are never going to be perfect, but it frustrates me when I cannot find what I am looking for.

Over the next few weeks, I plan on trying out some tweaks:

The biggest one is probably letting go of any pretense that meal prep and planning can or should be a certain way.  We (and especially women) are exposed to many cultural narratives of what feeding our families is ‘supposed’ to look like. That is a whole other topic, but the main point is, life happens! Many times it just is what it is, and if we and our families are basically fed, that is a win.

(As a side note, I really enjoyed this article from The Kitchn last week on how meal dynamics change in different seasons of life.)

Taking leftovers into account more often and adjusting accordingly, AND plan for very simple meals.  For example, it’s okay for every Sunday to be scrambled eggs and toast and smoothies (this worked great for us this winter after family skating, which took us well into the evening). I tend to be good at throwing things like this together last minute, but I would like to plan for them more.

Toying around with a weekly ingredient prep session.  A few years back, I used a meal planning service that actually was fantastic, except it did not work long term as I discovered that constant variety was not really working great for us (who knew?).  But, one helpful habit I took away from it was preparing ingredients well in advance, including sauces, marinades, breadings, etc. that would survive for a day or two in the fridge or on the counter. This actually took very little time for the most part, and made a huge difference to getting a meal on the table.  I am going to think about how to approach this so I stick to it consistently.

Cleaning out and tidying up my pantry and freezer.  Yes, this is obvious, but I really avoid it.  However, the time it would take to make this happen and be able to find things properly will probably save me a lot of time in the long run.

I will report back!

What about you? Are there any meal planning hacks or kitchen tweaks that have made your life easier?  I would love to hear them.