I’ve given up on traditional meal planning. I get overwhelmed looking at the extensive ingredient list required for a week of dinner. I don’t have the time or interest to pre-chop veggies, portion out meats, or make freezer meals. As a result, we have good weeks and bad weeks when it comes to dinners. But overall, I think we do OK. Takeout is limited, most of our dishes are cooked fresh, and we incorporate a decent amount of produce into our daily diets. Here’s how we do it.
Pick a (nonspecific) theme
Meatless Mondays is a good one, but Taco Tuesdays and Wing Wednesdays are getting too granular. Instead, designate a day for soup, chicken, pasta, etc., themes that you can easily adapt for multiple recipes. And it doesn’t have to be the same day every week either. Just choose seven options and run with it – use them in whatever way is the easiest. Think about your family’s favourite meals for each category, and aim to use each dish once or twice a month rather than relying on the same recipes weekly. Build a repository of recipes for each of your themes using an app (or printouts and a binder) to browse when you’re stuck on what to eat.
If you’d like an easy way to keep track of two weeks’ worth of meals, download this free printable meal planner. 👇
Stock your pantry
Try to keep on hand the most common ingredients needed to make your favourite, simple dinners. For us, that means pasta sauce, crushed and diced tomatoes, coconut milk and a few boxes of broth. We also try to have ground meat and frozen veggies in our freezer at all times. These basic elements form the building blocks for a dressed-up pasta, tortellini soup, and fried rice, meals that are quick to prepare and decently nutritious.
DIY with a bit of help: meal boxes
Our family indulges in meal boxes once every month or two. They can be expensive to use weekly, but it’s an excellent option to have on hand when dinner fatigue gets too real. These kits arrive at our doorstep with everything we need to make three delicious dinners. They’ve introduced us to new spices, flavours, and food pairings we would have never tried on our own (we loved the penne with sweet dijon and Brussel sprouts). So aside from the convenience of having several meals taken care of, we’ve also had the opportunity to expand our comfort zone and add new foods to our dinner rotation. If you’re not ready to commit, many meal box services publish their recipes online for you to browse and gather inspiration. (There are lots of meal boxes, but two great options we can recommend are Good Food and Hello Fresh… both are yummy!)
The almost zero-prep meal
It’s been over a year now of this ‘new normal’, and some weeknights are extra hard. For those, I use the (almost) zero-prep meal. My favourite involves a bag of shelf-stable gnocchi, one chopped onion, and some sliced mushrooms. After a quick sprinkle of salt and pepper and a 15 minute roast in the oven, dinner is ready. Other options?
- A pot of rice served with a canned curry or stew
- Boiled pasta with tomatoes, oil and spices
- Quesadillas – tortillas with an assortment of favourite meat, cheese and veggies inside and warmed through (either in a skillet on the stovetop or in a sandwich press, if you have one).
If you’re burnt out from school closures, juggling your needs and responsibilities, and worrying about the health of your family and friends, give yourself some grace. Use smoothies to get some veggies into the kids. A plate of cut-up grapes, cheese cubes and crackers is a perfectly decent meal for a toddler (or even you). Use that frozen dinner. Food is food, and we shouldn’t feel guilty about doing our best during an exceptionally challenging time.
And when all else fails, there’s always pizza.
Kimberly Leung hails from Toronto and moonlights as a freelance writer and content creator. She likes her coffee regular, her cereal sugary, and her meals cooked by someone else. She loves her kids but she can’t wait for the day they stop waking up at 5:30 a.m. (and, no, a later bedtime doesn’t work). She lives in a tiny house with her husband, 2 kids and their middle-aged cat.