Now that school has started back up again, so have all of the kids' extracurricular activities! Between school drop-off, pick-up, tennis clinics, swimming practice, Boy Scouts, and working, sometimes I feel like a full-time chauffeur!
A couple of years ago, we developed a system to help our family run more smoothly. One of the most important components is a written meal plan that I complete every Sunday morning. Pre-planning our lunch and dinner menu for the entire week keeps the family on-track health-wise, helps create a grocery shopping list, and prevents me from worrying about, “What should I make for dinner tonight?!”
Here's what it looks like (and here's a free copy of a blank meal planner for you to download).
The kids bring a lunch to school four days a week, and I let them buy school lunch on Fridays. Planning for four school lunches (as well as lunch for myself and Scott) used to be such a chore, until I started a new strategy:
Tonight's main protein becomes part of tomorrow's lunch…but reinvented, so that it didn't seem like we were just eating leftovers for lunch.
For dinner on Wednesday, we will have grilled salmon with San-J Thai Peanut Sauce.
The next day, leftover salmon goes inside Vietnamese Summer Rolls, along with lettuce, cucumber and carrots.
Dinner: Salmon with Thai-Peanut Sauce and Steamed Broccoli
This meal is ready in 15 minutes! Salmon fillet goes into a hot frying pan. San-J's cooking sauces make it so easy to turn any ingredient into healthy, flavorful creations.
While the salmon is cooking on one side, just brush some San-J Thai Peanut Sauce (or other flavor of your choice) onto the salmon. Cook about 3-4 minutes per side. My salmon fillets are really thin, so they only took a couple minutes per side.
Steam broccoli on the stovetop, or even in the microwave for a couple of minutes. For microwave steaming, add the broccoli florets to a microwave-safe bowl. Add a couple tablespoons of water, cover bowl with plate. If you're only cooking broccoli for 2 people, cook for 90 seconds and then check. Broccoli for four people, usually about 2 1/2 minutes (it also depends on how big you cut your broccoli). Simply drizzle olive oil on steamed broccoli, a squeeze of lemon, and a sprinkling of salt.
Dinner is ready!
Lunch: Vietnamese Summer Rolls with Salmon
Okay, you have to try these summer rolls! They are light, refreshing, and simple to make with a couple of important pointers. Let's prep some ingredients:
Thin slices of cucumbers are cut in seconds with a julienne tool.
Stab one end of cucumber with a fork to anchor the cucumber down. Swipe the tool to create perfect julienne slices. The fork is important…the tool has very sharp teeth, and the fork keeps your fingers and hands away from the teeth.
Stop when you see the cucumber seeds. It's hard to julienne the watery seedy center.
Just rotate the cucumber, anchor with fork, and continue with another side.
You can use the same tool to cut carrots….or buy matchstick-cut carrots from the store, which is what I did. Here are the ingredients: carrots, cucumber, leafy lettuce and Vietnamese rice paper.
Don't be intimidated by rice paper rolls, they are so easy to use. Here are important tips:
In a large, shallow bowl, add hot water. Not boiling hot, just hot to the touch. Take a rice paper and dip into the hot water for 3-5 seconds. The rice paper is a little bigger than my bowl, so all I have to do is rotate the the rice paper so that all sides get wet. But remember, just 3-5 seconds total is all you need! Don't soak the rice paper in the hot water, just dip it. Shake off any excess water.
The rice paper is now wet, but still a little stiff. That's ok. Fold it in half, like a half-moon.
If your lettuce has a hard center stem, I recommend removing the stem. It will make rolling easier.
Just fold the lettuce in half and tear the soft, leafy part away from the stiff stem.
Now, place the lettuce leaf on one side of the half-moon.
Add cucumber and carrots.
Now the leftover salmon.
By this time, the rice paper will be soft and ready to roll. Start with one end, and roll.
Ingredients will peek out, but that's the beauty of these rolls!
Now there are ready to be packaged up for lunch.
In the lunchbox, I have the summer rolls, a little ice pack, a small container of extra San-J Thai Peanut Sauce for dipping, and a fruit.
If you are making these the night before, I highly recommend wrapping each roll loosely in plastic wrap. That prevents the rice paper from drying out.
Summer rolls are great for transforming leftover into something new. It will work with practically any meat or seafood! Try shrimp, very thinly sliced steak, chicken breast. Even roasted vegetables will be fabulous rolled up.
More dinner to lunch transformations
The key to your dinner meal doing double-duty is to reinvent the dish, so that it doesn't seem like you're just warming up leftovers for dinner.
- Store-bought rotisserie chicken for dinner -> chicken salad sandwich in a croissant for lunch (add sliced almonds for crunch)
- Ground beef lettuce cups for dinner -> tacos for lunch (keep the tortillas or hard taco shell separate until ready to eat)
- Roasted vegetables for side dish for dinner -> roasted vegetables on pita bread with hummus for lunch
- Roast chicken for dinner -> Pasta salad with diced chicken breast for lunch (add peas, cherry tomatoes, Italian dressing)
- Rice and beans as side dish for dinner -> Quinoa salad with rice and beans for lunch (add avocado, cooked shrimp)
- Steak for dinner -> Steak quesadillas for lunch (pack all the fixin's too: sour cream, cilantro, a wedge of lime)
Tips for successful meal planning
- I only plan lunch and dinners. Breakfast is pretty much on a rotation: eggs, turkey sausage, cereal, fruit, toast, etc.
- Keep weeknight dinner simple. Save your long and complicated recipes for the weekend! Not all dinners have to include a main dish and 3 sides. We've been sticking to one main (protein) and one side (vegetable).
- On Sunday, I stock up on pre-made, plain protein like simple grilled sirloin, poached chicken breast, or dice up a pre-cooked ham from store. This is my emergency “stash” that I keep in the refrigerator. If I really run out of time, I can use any of these ingredients to make a giant salad in 10 minutes. Right now, I've got diced ham (I use for omelets in the morning), poached chicken breast (yesterday's snack was a lettuce wrap with guacamole and a piece of chicken) and pre-cooked shrimp (I just buy already-cooked cocktail shrimp from the store) for an anytime-salad.
- Plan meals together as a family. I've found that when the kids have a say in what the family eats, they'll eat more and not complain!