Weeknight Meal Planning Tips + a Month of Recipes

Published on January 01, 2020 - Updated on January 03, 2020

Weeknight Meal Planning Tips + a Month of Recipes

Keeping our active kiddos healthy and happily fed can feel like a full-time job, but I have developed a method over the years that cuts down on stress and exposes the kids to new foods: monthly meal planning for weeknight meals. That can sound daunting, I know. But by taking the time to plan when I have it, cooking meals during the week is much easier when time is tight.

Planning a month of meals at one time helps visually balance a menu, collects a large number of recipes to work from, and makes sure you match up meals with your schedule. Here's how to get started:

1. Plan alongside your family calendar -- yes, things with kids are constantly changing, but they'll be some events you know of ahead of time and can plan for (regular extracurricular activities, times you're traveling, etc.). It will give you a sense of how much time you have to work with on a given night or whether you'll need to cook at all. Try to schedule easy dinners, slow cooker or Instant Pot meals, or leftovers on nights that you know you'll be short on time. Save the more complicated recipes for when you've got extra time -- hey, it might happen! And in case it never does, I've listed a full month's worth of weeknight meal ideas below that all work when you need to get dinner on the table quickly.

2. Focus on variety with a few standby favorites -- try to vary cuisines, proteins, and cooking techniques throughout the week. Sure, my kids would eat tacos every night (and we often eat some type of them multiples times a week), but focusing on variety will help kiddos try new foods. I aim for a balance of chicken and beef, while also mixing in seafood, other proteins like lamb, and vegetarian options. As the one doing all the cooking, I also like to change up cooking techniques and will grill, sauté, roast, and bake different meals to change it up.
If there is a recipe you or your kids really like that you know will get eaten by everyone with no complaints, put it in your plan for several times a month. It is great to encourage kids to try new things, but a lot of kids thrive on routine and seeing some standby favorites throughout the month can help.

3. Work in a few themes -- on a similar note, regular themes throughout a week are a great way to introduce new foods through familiar vehicles while helping you narrow the field of options for a given night. There is a reason we eat a lot of tacos -- Taco Tuesdays are a little hokey, but they work! Try introducing new proteins using a cuisine kids already know and you might be surprised. My kids' new favorite tacos are tofu! So pick a few themes and see if you can work them in each week.

4. Plan to make your meals visually appealing -- you don't need to go to great lengths here (although rock on if you do!), but I try to pair foods to create a rainbow of colors while also thinking about texture. For example, if I'm serving a stew, I try to top it with something fresh and bright like some lemon zest and parsley to add color and texture. And I try to plate it in a visually-appealing way. I know lots of kids really don't like it if their food is "touching," but you can arrange various elements on a plate in rows, use different containers on one plate, or set up a "party board" to accomplish a meal that looks inviting but keeps everyone calm at meal time. And I find making meals look pretty really goes a long way in getting kids to try new things.

5. Be flexible! -- as with so many family-related activities, planned meals don't always work out. The nice thing about having a big group of recipes to pick from is that you can shift things as needed. Have extra leftovers? Use them up. Everybody need a pizza night out? Do it. The goal of monthly meal planning should be to make things easier for you, so be willing to adjust as needed. Even though I meal plan a month at a time, I grocery shop for just 3-4 days at a time. That way I don’t end up wasting food and have more room to be flexible.

We hope this helps dinnertime happen in your house!

January's Weeknight Meals
I've rounded up some of my favorite main dishes that work well on weeknights -- add in whatever additional vegetables, fruits, or carbohydrates suits you and your family.

Wednesday - One Skillet Pork Chops with Apples

Thursday - Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos

Friday - Oven Fried Chicken with Honey Mustard Glaze*
*As a family preference, I always use chicken breasts instead of chicken thighs and any recipe here that calls for thighs works well with that replacement.

cooking salmon for kids

Monday - Backpocket Bolognese

Tuesday - Sheetpan Teriyaki Salmon and Vegetables

Wednesday - Slow Cooker Shredded BBQ Cranberry Chicken

Thursday - 15-Minute Lemon Garlic Butter Steak with Spinach

Friday - Healthy Baked Pesto Rigatoni

recipes for kids

Monday - Loaded Turkey Taco Bowls

Tuesday - One Pan Greek Chicken and Potatoes

Wednesday - Grilled Flank Steak with Rosemary

Thursday - Pork Medallions with Scallions and Magic Green Sauce

Friday - Stifatho

cook with kids

Monday - All American Chili

Tuesday - Thyme Roasted Chicken with Grapes and Burrata

Wednesday - Grilled Shrimp Tacos with Avocado Salsa

Thursday - Greek Lamb Burgers

Friday - Honey Mustard Chicken Chopped Salad

plan meals for the family

Monday - Mediterranean Chicken and Cauliflower Rice

Tuesday - Skirt Steak Tostadas

Wednesday - Chicken Pesto Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

Thursday - Sausage Ragù Over Polenta

Friday - Skillet Pizza Chicken

food for kids

Thoughtfully captured by:
Rebecca Green
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