Simplifying Family Dinner with a Weekly Meal Schedule

June 22, 2012

in House & Home, How-To's

meal plan

When it comes to planning and preparing family dinner, there are two fundamental truths we have to face:

Cooking dinner for a family is hard.

Having a plan takes you most of the way there.

I used to drown in anxiety with regard to what’s for dinner tonight, and originally overcame this condition by starting to plan meals a week at a time and buying groceries with those in mind.

Recently, we’ve taken this model even farther by establishing a permanent weekly dinner rotation, primarily to help with the pickiness of my six-year-old, who is at a delicate age and is seeking both structure and a greater degree of independence all at once. We deemed that clear expectations that come with a rhythm and the resulting repeated exposure to certain types of foods will both provide the comfort of predictability and help her expand her tastes, while simultaneously minimizing the anxiety of everyone involved.

Because I am, after all, a food blogger, I wanted some sort of a balance between structure and flexibility, so instead choosing specific dishes, we made our rotation out of types of dishes. And since this change was primarily for and about my daugther, I included her into designing it. The whole thing took about five minutes, and we never looked back.

Here is our particular example, reflecting our preferences and resources:

Monday: Pasta (usually noodles and red sauce)

Tuesday: Meat and Fries

Wednesday: Meat with Mashed Potatoes and Gravy

Thursday: Soup or Stew Day

Friday: Meat and Rice (stir-fry or pilaff)

Saturday: Tortilla Day (burritos, fajitas, tacos, etc)

Sunday: Forage-for-yourself Day, although this summer we plan to turn Sunday evenings into backyard-campfire cookouts with my husband in charge – a start of family tradition, I hope!

And here is the repertoire of dishes I draw upon for the above rotation:

Monday Pastas:

Spaghetti Bolognese (almost always)

Russian Meatball Pasta (also known as bitki)

Beef or Venison Stroganoff with Blue Cheese (or without)

Tuesday Meat & Fries:

Paprika Potato Wedges

Best Oven Wedge Fries

Russian Skillet-Fried Potatoes

Easy Oven French Fries

Russian Meatballs (also known as tefteli)

Pozharskie Kotlety (Russian chicken patties – they are ah-may-zing, try them today!)

Blue Cheeseburgers

On occasion, I might deep-fry some fish, in which case I deep-fry the potatoes as well (I do all of my deep-frying in my enameled dutch oven) – just be sure you do the fries first, fish second.

Wednesday Mashed Potatoes & Gravy Dishes:

Smothered Chicken

Beef Shanks

Pot Roast

Murphy’s Hot Hamburger (only I serve it with mashed potatoes rather than fries, although it is also good with fries)

Chicken-Fried Steak (only instead of buying cube steak I use beef sirloin steak or venison round steak, which I cut in half horizontally to make it half as thick and then into 3-inch by 3-inch-long sections, which I pound to 1/8-inch thickness with a kitchen mallet between two pieces of wax paper)

Thursday Soup or Stew:

My soup and stew repertoire can be found here.

Friday Meat and Rice:

Azerbaijani Pilaf, with variations

Beef or Venison Stir-Fry with Ginger-and-Lime Marinade

Saturday Tortilla Dishes:

Azerbaijani-Style Kebab Wraps

Azerbaijani Lyulya-Kebab Wraps

Pepper-and-Onion Beef or Venison Fajitas

And, like everybody else, I also like ground-beef burritos, where I brown my ground beef with onions and spike everything up with a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste and ground cumin.

The only thing not mentioned is the side of green and/or fresh vegetable, which varies with seasons and is therefore left open.

While regularity is not something that I naturally gravitate towards, I can attest to the fact that structuring our family dinners in a this way made an enormous difference in the levels of acceptance and peace during supper, not to mention facilitating planning and preparation.

Do you have a weekly dinner routine? I’d love to hear about it!


1 deliaknits June 28, 2012 at 10:31 pm

This was the best decision we could have made for our family. I do think though that i will encorporate your rotation idea into it. Then maybe planning will be easier.
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2 Tammy July 19, 2012 at 8:38 pm

I agree. This completely takes all anxiety (and guilt) that comes with not making a good dinner. I find the best way to keep it budget friendly, is to plan only based around whatever is on sale, local, fresh from garden (or someone else’s), CSA, etc. It keeps it interesting; even though I find myself replaying the most popular for the picky kids.

3 Sofya July 19, 2012 at 10:31 pm

I cook spaghetti bolognese every Monday.

4 sarah July 29, 2012 at 4:58 pm

This is a great idea! I am so happy to have found your blog, its very inspiring. I have recently adopted the weekly meal planning technique and I will be glad to try your variation and see how it fits into my very young family. Thanks!

5 chet October 5, 2012 at 11:32 am

i cook for one most of the time, and planning like this is still so helpful…especially when you are a single person with full-time work and a love of making and enjoying home-cooked food!

6 Chris January 21, 2013 at 8:17 am

This is such a great way to plan, so much better than asking “so what does everyone want for dinner?” since the standard answer from teens and hubby is “I don’t know, whatever sounds good mom”. My inspiration is sadly lacking these days, but maybe I can make this work.

7 Sofya January 21, 2013 at 11:13 am

A year later it is working well for us. In reality I now make about 3 dinners per week, four max. Hubby’s got lots of evening meetings.

8 tania December 4, 2013 at 2:26 am

Molodetz. Vkusnye rezepty, a glavnoe eto vse napominaet o dome. Amazing blog! Spasibo I Merry Xmas!

9 Mavis April 27, 2014 at 2:14 pm

I’m right there with you. I noticed that even when I am morning sick and behind on pretty much everything I could still make dinner. Because I planned it on Monday and bought all the stuff. Half the battle. When brainstorming a menu I pull the same trick. A casserole, something Mexican, a soup, beans and rice, something ethnic, and something grilled. My problem is that I still haven’t found enough 5-star recipes to put on autopilot. I’m still cooking all across the board. But I feel the leg work I put in will pay off someday and I can give my girls a foolproof cookbook when they marry. If only someone had done the same for me. ;)
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