Sometimes it is a struggle to get any food on the table, let alone a "real meal." Like many things in life, this is made easier by prior planning. There are a few ways to go about menu planning.
My mom used to keep a yellow tablet in the kitchen and, every week, she would write what she wanted to cook for dinner. We knew Mondays were Tuna Night and we could watch TV during dinner, since she loved watching Monday Night Football and tuna was easy. She would make a grocery list from the menu list, and shop weekly. She had a rotating repertoire, and would add to this from new cookbooks or friends' recipes, or from articles in the newspaper or magazines. There are plenty of forms online if you don't want to make your own. This routine helps eliminate wasted food and unwanted purchases at the store, and helps streamline to keep last- minute shopping trips to a minimum. You could make 4 or 6 or 8 menus and just rotate them so that your family has variety but you aren't constantly menu planning.
There are websites and apps to help you with this, of course. We use an app called Our Groceries. It puts your lists on everyone's smart phones, as well as on the computer, and syncs them. You can put groceries directly on here, or input your recipes and the ingredients will automatically go onto your grocery list. Oprah recommends The Six O'Clock Scramble, a website and app which does the same thing-- except that weekly menus are planned for you. You could also purchase a menu planned for you from websites like Nourished Kitchen, which will send you seasonal recipes and grocery lists weekly.
Another way of menu planning is to go the opposite way: to go to the store and see what looks good/ what is in season, and buy it then make menus. When I do this, we get a few nice meals, but it never seems to be enough for the week. Or I end up buying too much and Friday ends up Meatloaf night and everything that is left from the week goes into the bowl with some ground beef and spices and gets cooked up.
A variant of these is to do theme nights: call each day a name and do a variant of that topic weekly. For example, Tuna Monday, Taco Tuesday, Pasta Wednesday, Slow Cooker Thursday, Pizza Friday, Mexican Saturday, and Leftover Sunday. Other nights could be restaurant night, meatloaf night, soup night, salad night, Fish Friday, or Tapas night. I like menu planning this way, because it adds a bit of routine into the routine and the family starts to look forward to certain nights.
You could also do the weekly cooking spree method: spend a day per week cooking, and eat those two or three dishes all week long. When we do this, we get pretty sick of roasted chicken or lasagna by the middle of the week, and end up going out. I have recently thought it would be a good idea to do this, then store the food in the freezer in one meal portion sizes. Then, as the weeks go on, we would have a larger and larger selection in the freezer. But we would have to first empty the freezer and second, not eat it all as it is new.
Whatever way you decide to do, advance menu planning helps reduce stress. Knowing what will be cooked in advance will reduce wasted food/ time/ energy. Plus, it helps you feel like Super Mom!Pin It