“So, what’s for dinner?”
I used to cringe when I heard that phrase. Because my answer was frequently followed by “Ewww!” or “How come we can’t just have mac and cheese again?”
These days, however, my kids get excited about dinner, because I let them (somewhat) call the shots. In honor of this being National Family Dinner month, we sat down with our calendar a few weeks ago, and they helped me sketch out a weeknight meal plan for September. Getting their input ahead of time = no disgusted faces at mealtime.
Start with the schedule
Much like planning summertime suppers, our first step is to get a handle on which nights will be calm and which will be chaotic. We marked down all of the soccer games, piano lessons, several tailgates and the nights we have supper at our church. The less busy the evening, the more time I have to spend in the kitchen.
Themes away, day by day
Simplicity and predictability are the next ingredients. Why reinvent the wheel every month? Mondays we typically do Soup Nights, Tuesdays are Taco Tuesdays and I bust out the Crock-Pot on Wednesdays. After “Anything Can Happen” Thursdays, we’re usually ready for pizza or some other Italian dish on Fridays. Obviously we shake things up every now and again; my younger daughter insists on regular “Breakfast for Dinner” nights. And if we didn’t occasionally eat up the leftovers – what my stepmom calls “Must Go” nights – my refrigerator would explode.
Of course, no “plan” is perfect. I’ve been sidelined at dinnertime more than once by a missing main ingredient. For those nights when you don’t have time to run to Festival, it’s key to have a Plan B. The freezer and the pantry are your two best friends.
Keep in your cupboard several types of soups that your kids like – either Campbell’s in a can or the just-add-water bags from Bear Creek. If you have a habit of forgetting to defrost your protein the night before, seafood items such as shrimp or cod tend to thaw really quickly. Another family favorite? Pizza quesadillas. If you didn’t get a quesadilla maker as a wedding gift (like we did), you can put mozzarella cheese, pizza sauce and any miscellaneous toppings between two large flour tortillas and zap it in the microwave until it’s hot and the cheese is melty. Delish.
Here’s a look at our September menu, with a quick disclaimer: I use many of these recipes as guidelines but personalize them to my family’s preferences. Using real cheese instead of processed, for instance, and fresh garlic instead of garlic salt or powder. But hey, do what works best in your house!
Monday – Chili, typically served with corn bread
Tuesday – Fish tacos with guacamole
Wednesday – Pesto chicken Florentine
Thursday – Breakfast for dinner (This one you ladies can figure out on your own!)
Friday – Pizza and caesar salads (Same same!)
Monday – Carol Ann’s quick clam chowder
Tuesday – Chicken taco bowls
Wednesday – Hot beef sandwiches in the Crock-Pot
Thursday – Grilled cod (I serve this with red potatoes)
Friday – Cheeseburger macaroni
Monday – Zuppa Toscana (Olive Garden’s sausage and potato soup)
Tuesday – Chile chicken enchiladas
Wednesday – Turkey breast in the Crock-Pot
Thursday – Crab cakes and fries
Friday – Chicken Club Pizza
Monday – Chicken and wild rice soup
Tuesday – Taco pizza
Wednesday – Swedish meatballs and mashed potatoes
Thursday – Grilled shrimp with couscous (My kids like Far East Roasted Garlic & Olive Oil)
Friday – Sloppy Joes
Does your family have a favorite, go-to dinner for busy nights? Please let me know in the comments!