Kids help mom prepare dinner


This Is How I Take The Mystery Out Of Menu Planning

Mar 15, 2019

Feeding a family day in, day out in a way that tastes and feels good to everyone at the table can feel like a challenge. As a single parent, I feel this truth intimately, knowing that I am the only adult responsible for cooking for our family.

To combat the ennui and almost fear of “what the heck are we going to have for dinner?” I started to approach dinner using my background in marketing and brand strategy, and I discovered a handy trick to make dinner go a lot smoother. It’s a concept that works for countless restaurants and is now alive and well in my own home. I brand every night of the week, not only to make it something to look forward to, but to take the mystery out of menu planning.

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Meatless Monday, taco Tuesday, celebrity chef Wednesday, breakfast-for-dinner Thursday and pizza/popcorn/movie night (a.k.a. Friday). This approach has reframed how we plan our week at the family table and made dinner the enjoyable experience it's meant to be. Knowing the nightly categories that we’re working with, my kids and I can actually sit down and plan our dinners together, which makes them feel included — and happy knowing they’re going to eat what they love — and makes me feel like I’ve won the lottery in terms of making my adult life easier.

Meatless Monday almost always means some kind of pasta — think lemon, parmesan,  garlic and a handful of arugula or sprouts thrown on top. Taco Tuesday involves shrimp, fish, veggie ground or crumbles, or ground beef, often in soft tortillas to roll up, but sometimes as a taco bowl or in the occasional hard shell. Other Tuesdays, we mix it up and make this night all about quesadillas and guacamole.

I used to stress so much about the perfection of dinner, until I realized I was missing the point.

Celebrity chef Wednesday puts one of my daughters in the kitchen with me, learning to cook our family favourites — like sole meuniere — and it is awesome. Sometimes this means the kids helping me to measure and pour the right rice to water ratio, learning to cut a pepper, or even simply how to make hot dogs. It’s a perfect opportunity to get some much-needed one-on-one time and gives my kids really basic kitchen skills to empower them from a very young age.

If you haven’t already included one night of your week as breakfast for dinner, your world is about to change in all kinds of great ways. Waffles, challah French toast, breakfast burritos…these are huge hits in our family, and they transform regular weeknights into feeling like Sunday brunch. Sometimes I set up a “kid-mosa” station with freshly squeezed orange juice and sparkling water when we are feeling extra fancy (and, when I happen to have a whole whack of clementines that need to be consumed, stat).

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And then, my favourite night of the week: Friday. The pizza/popcorn/movie trifecta has become an institution in our house, and a ritual that we each look forward to. We air pop popcorn together (and maybe add a few gummy bears), put on our comfies, order delivery and use this one special night to eat dinner in the living room while watching our movie. It’s the ultimate in family bonding for the age and stage that we’re at and has become a true pillar of our happy family culture.

Every night is still a well-balanced meal that yes, includes veggies — even if they’re raw — and has been taken back to the basics of enjoying a meal together. Planning and shopping has become so much easier for me, and we even keep a running grocery list on the fridge where the girls know to write down something that we’re out of, or something they want for the week. The girls are expected to set the table and clear their dishes when we’re done, and it feels like we’re really doing this together, living this family life.

Figure out which “branding labels” work for your family culture and get them into place. I used to stress so much about the perfection of dinner, until I realized I was missing the point. The point is to be together, sharing food, making memories and catching up on the day. Easing up on the pressure I was putting on myself to make it perfect ended up making them perfect, because now our focus is simply on our own joy around the family table.

Article Author Leisse Wilcox
Leisse Wilcox

Leisse Wilcox works in influencer marketing and brand strategy, is a mama of three and wants to spend the rest of her life laughing and listening to Motown by the lake.

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