If you do a Google search about “meal planning,” you will find a lot of people out there who are more than happy to explain their system for planning what they will eat for dinner each night. Most plans are pretty similar to each other, although some do have slight variations from the standard method.
But, if you are like me, you will have a very difficult time finding anyone who is explaining how to go about meal planning for breakfast, lunch, and snacks.
Now, don’t get me wrong. They will provide you with lots of ideas and recipes for what to eat at these meals, especially when it comes to packing lunches for your kids to take to school. Cyber-land is seriously overflowing with ideas for packing school lunches. But ideas and recipes just by themselves are not really what I’ve been looking for.
Maybe I’m crazy, but what I have been looking for is a simple system (or template, if you will) for deciding what I will feed my family during the day. Once I have the template, I can fill it in with ideas and recipes myself. I already have one for dinner (and most other people do too). It goes like this:
- Choose a main dish (usually some combination of meat, sauce, and maybe some vegetables or pasta added to it)
- Choose a starch as needed (rice, bread, or potato)
- Choose a vegetable or two to go to the side (fresh, frozen, canned, or a simple salad)
This works great for me in deciding what to put on the dinner for table. And honestly, I hardly even think about it the concrete terms that I just described; I just simply do it.
However, for some insane reason, breakfast, lunch, and snacks have been more tricky for me to come up with this kind of a template for. A lot of this has to do with my desire for these meals to be super-quick. Also, because I put so many sandwiches in packed lunches, at home I try to avoid those. So, I reach for the boxed cereal (for breakfast), the mac & cheese, or hot dogs, or frozen burritos (for lunch), and the packaged crackers (for snacks). But I never feel good about serving those things, even with a fruit or vegetable to the side. So, you can see why for several years now I’ve lived with a stress that stems from both guilt about what I am serving my family combined with lack of knowing really how to do it any different.
In January my family (like many people!) was home a lot more than usual due to snow days. Since I’m married to a teacher, that includes everyone, and I found this particular stress being pronounced more than usual. Every time I turned around, someone was saying “I’m hungry; what can I eat?” or worse, after a meal, “I’m still hungry; what else can I eat?” See, my children are bigger now, and need more food – but they are still pretty particular just like when they were little (that’s also been a long-time stress).
On one of these snow days, I started writing (just like I do sometimes to relieve stress), and I filled up a page front and back very quickly of everything about feeding my family that is stressful to me. And then I thought, “I have got to do something about this!” Clearly, what I’m currently doing isn’t working.
As I’ve been writing this, I have remembered that last year I signed up for the USDA’s Super Tracker. While it was too time consuming for me to continually enter what I was eating, (which is why I did not keep up with it), I suddenly just realized that it can be a great planning tool, at least for a couple of days. Maybe if I just plan two or three days using this web-site, I could come up with the template that I’m looking for!
Hmm. . . I think I’ll try it out, and I will let you know!