Simple Meal Planning for People Who Loathe Meal Planning

Simple Meal Planning for People Who Loathe Meal PlanningIn this season of life, cooking is hard. When I cook with my kids in the kitchen I am forced to do the job that only an octopus is ergonomically equipped to do. Considering that I am six arms short of an octopus, I am blessed that the three-year-old is a helper. He loves to pour the olive oil into our meals–even when the recipe doesn’t call for oil.

Last month he seasoned the soup with soap when I wasn’t looking.

The precocious 10-month-old also insists on enjoys being in the kitchen during meal preparation. This usually involves her completely emptying the food pantry and gnawing on raw sweet potatoes.

It’s complicated, to say the least. 

But it’s important. I treasure having my kids in the kitchen with me and making them a part of the process. Additionally, I value having healthy home cooked meals for my family.

Although I don’t want to do it everyday. 

The result is that most weeks I feel like a failure in the cooking department. I start out the week with the plan to cook dinner each night. But I always fail.

The failing starts long before the cooking. It’s the meal planning that I truly loathe. First I have to make the menu, gather the recipes, put together the grocery list, do the shopping…there is so much that goes into it before I even think about cooking.

There are many weeks when Sunday rolls around and I just don’t feel like meal planning.

Actually, I don’t feel like doing much of anything. 

So I don’t. 

That’s why I am making changes. I needed simple meal planning. In this season of my life, I will not attempt to cook dinner every night. I also won’t feel bad about not cooking enough. Instead of striving to cook dinner every night and failing every week–here is what I am doing differently.

Decrease The Number of Meals Cooked

I used to try to plan all the meals each week and cook every night. Then I felt guilty when I didn’t pull it off. Not anymore. Now, each week I am aiming to cook 3 times and to purchase one prepared meal.

Honor Thy Leftovers 

This life with small children means the bar is lower. Leftovers are officially a sought after meal. So I will consistently double or triple all my recipes to make enough food for the nights that I am not cooking.

Get a Framework for Simple Meal Planning

I needed a framework to help me effortlessly plan out meals each week. I wanted the meals to by varied, with familiar favorites and some new ones thrown into the mix. So I came up with a framework that is perfect for our family: Something old, something new, something prepared, and some kind of stew. 


Our meals will look like this:

Simple Meal Planning for People Who Loathe Meal Planning

  • Something old. A familiar favorite. In our house this is usually a protein and vegetables, all tossed in olive oil, salt, and pepper and put in the oven.
  • Something new. I am aiming to find one new, simple recipe for each week. Only one.
  • Something prepared. This is something I am buying from the store that is ready to put onto the table. Think rotisserie chicken, pre-made veggies, etc. No cooking tonight!
  • Some kind of stew. I will have one slow cooker meal each week. This way, I can get it ready earlier in the day and head out on an adventure with my kids in the afternoon hours.
  • The rest of the nights? We are embracing leftovers.

During this tough season, we are opting for simple and healthy meals. I am going to give myself some grace by cooking less and embracing leftovers. Because the reality is, I am not an octopus. I only have two arms which makes cooking with small children is a difficult task for any human.


What does meal planning look like in your house? How many times a week do you cook?

Denaye Barahona

Denaye Barahona is a loving wife and mama of two. She's a therapist for moms, an author, and the host of the top-ranked Simple Families Podcast. Denaye holds a Ph.D. in Child Development and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has been featured on the likes of The Today Show, Netflix, The Wall Street Journal, Real Simple, Forbes, and numerous other media outlets.