This is more about how I meal plan, less about children. I plan my meals around my CSA box. This is similar to what others have suggested regarding shopping sales. When I get the email that says what we'll be getting, I plan 6 dinners around the vegetables in the box and what we have on hand, and make a shopping list for the rest (my husband does the shopping in our house). I only plan 6 because invariably something comes up, and I don't want to waste food. I have some back up meals I can throw together from on hand things in the event we are home. I save all the recipes I'm going to make so that on the day of I just have to follow it. I also do some prep to get things ready when I first get the veggie box. This includes roasting veggies ahead of time, cutting things up, etc, so that during the week cooking is quick. Meal planning takes ~1-2 hours depending on how much prep there is (plus the ~30-60 min it takes my husband to go shopping). We eat left-overs for lunches.
Our meals are mostly vegetarian, but we may have ~2 meals a week with some kind of meat or seafood (if it's meat it's often more as a flavoring than the main event). We have a "meat is the main event meal" about twice a month. We eat lots of beans, whole grains, nuts, eggs, soy based protein (tempeh or tofu) and vegetables. Some yogurt and cheese as well, but not a lot. Sample recipes from this week have included: veggie burgers with roasted potatoes, chard and lentil soup, thai yellow curry, a quinoa - tempeh - roasted vegetable salad with a scallion-ginger dressing, pasta with sausage and rapini, and a white beans and kale stew.
I buy staples at Costco (canned goods, dry goods, nuts, oils, some things to stick in the freezer) every couple of months. So our weekly grocery shopping is usually composed of dairy products, things we've run out of, and the few special things required to make this week's recipes.
We may or may not have children soon, so I've thought about how to vary my approach for little ones. We tend to have 1 pot meals rather than a more traditional main + 2 sides, but I might try to delay assembly so that kids have some control over what they want to put in their dinner (and can opt out of something they don't like). Of course it depends on how picky your kids are, but from things I've read about the topic I would try an plan meals that include at least one thing that the kids will like (they don't have to like everything), everyone eating together so they are encouraged to try new things, serving vegetable courses first when they are hungry (could be as simple as carrot sticks with hummus, or a super quick pureed soup). Also, if you provide some info on what your kids like, I am happy to send you some recipes (I have many, many recipes).
This is a little similar to what I do now.
But I'd like to point out that what I've done has changed over time, for the last 15 years of meal planning on a budget. In that time I've lost a bunch of weight, had a couple of babies, changed jobs, bought a house...
We used to have a CSA with pickup on Thursday, and so Friday night I'd plan meals and Saturday I'd get the rest of the groceries. Adding one kid, and 6 years later another - changed things a bit because of the time constraints. Our CSA closed about a year ago and we switched to a produce delivery box.
What I'd *like* to do is get the produce box on Saturday (I already know what's in it), and plan meals for the next week.
- Look at our schedules - who works late on what day (I try to have leftovers or easier meals on my hubby's cooking nights), if there is baseball practice, etc.
- Look at the grocery flyers and see what's on sale that week
- Plan a few meals based on these ingredients.
- Look through cookbooks to try a new recipe now and again
What has *actually* been happening, because I'm super tired and over worked lately, is a lot of "winging it". Plus I pack 3 lunches.
Rather than make recipes with the stuff that we get, I just cook and prep the stuff that we get. This time of year:
- lettuce and greens. I eat salad for lunch every day
- Dinner veggies: cauliflower, carrots, kale, celery, onion, broccoli
So, Monday night is always the kale chip night, because it's my hubby's cooking night, and he's good at making them. With leftovers.
Then I just cook whatever is going to go bad first.
Kale chips, roasted cauliflower, steamed broccoli, sauteed onions/celery/carrots, and soup or stew
So every week, these or similar veggies are rotated, and they are almost always the same.
The roasted cauliflower is really good with Mexican beans & rice, or Indian curry
The celery/carrots end up in fried rice a lot of the time
Steamed broccoli is a good side for fish or pasta. One-pot pasta is our go-to Thursday meal (hubby cook night).
Most of the things I make are from staples like dried beans and rice. I buy frozen fish and frozen pizza at Costco, and frozen chicken at Trader Joe's.
I admit it's a bit boring, but I'm tired.
In the past I've used other methods:
- Basing the food on the night - taco Tuesday, pasta Wednesday, stir fry Thursday, etc
- Planning meals a month in advance - sounds hard but really worked at the time, because I took stock of everything in my freezer and pantry
- Cooking 2 big meals on Sat/ Sun, making 1 extra thing for lunch for the week, and having Weds be "crockpot day"
I like reading about all the other ways to meal plan, but you just need to figure out what works for you. And it might change. I'm a big fan of Jules at Stone Soup. I like reading the ideas, but generally don't use her "straight up" meal plans, just the general outline, because of the produce box.