Planning out meals ahead of time definitely takes work, but it saves labor as well as mental energy in the long run.
The easiest way I have found to do this is to sit down and write out all the meals your family enjoys. If you can’t think of many, ask the kids. For my kids, their initial suggestions of “Pizza! And hot dogs!” eventually give way to food that I actually cook. I personally like to plan breakfasts and lunches, too, so I have three lists of meals.
Write down about seven meals, think through the recipes, and note any groceries needed. I find it easiest to plan one week at a time and make the grocery list right then. If there is a list ready, anyone can take care of grocery shopping.
As you cook, double the recipe and freeze the rest to pull out on busier days. Easy meals to make ahead include sloppy joe mix, spaghetti meat and sauce, and taco filling. Some foods can be reheated and enjoyed for several days in a row — think chili, soups, goulash, etc. Hot breakfasts like pancakes and french toast are easy to double, can all be stored in the freezer, and then popped into the toaster on hectic mornings.
Make a habit of simple sides like cooked vegetables with butter, veggie sticks, apple wedges, or a green salad. Many children will eat fresh vegetables more readily than cooked, so go with it. Put a bowl of sugar snap peas and bell pepper slices on the table. It doesn’t need to be fancy.
Holiday meals in particular
Some family traditions call for a lot of specialty food. If there is no way to simplify the food, do as much prep work as you can ahead of time. Plan out an afternoon and put everyone to work, chopping veggies, measuring out ingredients and bagging them up, whatever you can think of that will simplify the big day.
Some of us grew up believing that the hostess does everything. But that’s not the case these days! Accept help. Assign dishes to dinner guests. If visitors are coming several days ahead of time, let them know that you need some help doing prep work for the main meal. Sit together and make it fun.
Allow yourself to cut corners.
Pick out the traditional foods that have to be homemade and rethink the rest. Are there good quality options that you can buy pre-made? I avoid as many additives and prepared food as possible, but if I can get delicious dinner rolls from a local bakery, I’ll buy them and save myself hours of baking.
It is better to focus on a few requested dishes and enjoy the day than to be completely exhausted and resentful that we’re not as appreciated as we think we should be for all our efforts.
There is no shame in purchasing menu plans. If the process takes too much time or wears you out- definitely make it easier on yourself and purchase a plan! I recommend emeals.com and Realplans.com
I like emeals.com because they have a simple plan, where the recipes are easy to follow and don’t take much time to prepare, use ingredients I’m familiar with and most of the time I have all the pantry staples of spices that are needed.
If you are on a specialty diet for health reasons, then I do recommend RealPlans; they host menu plans from different bloggers, so you can choose something that fits your needs and your family’s preferences.
Menu plans make our lives easier, if you have time to sit down and plan out a week of meals, then awesome, do it, or if you sign up for a menu plan service for the next couple months, both simplifies SO much, just in knowing that you have a plan and you have the groceries, it’s one less thing that you have to think about.