Summer break is here for many of us — and just around the corner for the rest of you — which means we’re all trying to remember how to cook with kids in the house. Right? It’s like once the kids smell the sizzle of dinner on the stove, they’re immediately starving. Or they choose dinner-prep time to start that 4,782 piece LEGO set or to make their own batch of glitter slime.
Not to mention, when do we find time to plan and shop for dinner with the kids around, and still stay on a budget? (Because, no, ordering in every night isn’t an option for all of us.)
If you’re starting to panic like we are, you’ll want these tried-and-true, sanity-saving summer meal planning tips to make your life easier without breaking the bank. They’re working for us!
Related: The 4 best meal planning apps to use on the go. Life savers!
1. Use our weekly meal plans
With kids around, it’s hard to find time to sit and plan meals for the week. And I hate being stuck in a tacos-burgers-pizza rut. The weekly meal plans that Stacie posts here every Friday are brilliant and have become an especially indispensable resource since summer break has started. I just print off each recipe, make my grocery list, and am done. No thinking required.
And if you want to make sure that you never miss a plan, sign up for our newsletter and it’ll be delivered to your inbox every Saturday.
2. Get your groceries delivered
The fastest way for me to blow my food budget is to take my kids to the grocery store. “Pleeeeease, mommy,” times four is enough to wear any parent down. Not to mention, it’s just hard to have them with me — or, uh, running amok — in the store. We’d all rather be playing in the backyard or hanging at the pool, so I’ve been using some of our favorite grocery delivery services to shop sales and have my groceries delivered straight to my kitchen counter. This, my friends, is a life saver.
3. Join a neighborhood meal club (yes, they exist)
I have a handful of friends who have joined meal planning clubs, and they find it really helps keep dinner inspired. There are a few different ways to do it: One group of neighbors simply share recipe ideas with one another via a Google doc. The members of another friend’s group take turns printing out recipes, shopping for ingredients, and delivering everything to the homes of the other group members on their assigned week. One week on, three or four weeks off? Seems like a good deal to me.
I even have a friend who takes turns on cooking duty with her next door neighbor every other night, cooking a double portion on her night and having a meal delivered on her night off. The key is, get creative and do what works for you and your friends.
Related: Let these 6 great grocery delivery services do the shopping for you.
4. Get your kids involved.
If you can’t beat them, join them. Right? Stacie and I have both had a lot of success letting our kids pick recipes from cookbooks for kids (so that the recipes are easy to follow) and cook dinner for the family. There’s less complaining about the food, plus you get to train a little sous chef (our guide to teaching kids cooking skills by age helps) who, believe it or not, can actually become a helpful assistant by around 9 or 10 years old. Put in the hard work when they’re little, and it will pay off.
5. Save screen time for cooking time.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and screen time is a powerful commodity around my house since I put serious limits on it. I find that saving screen time for when I need to cook is especially helpful when the kids are home all day during the summer.
After breakfast, we turn screens off for the rest of the day, which is easier to do when they can be outside most of it. Then, by the time I need to start getting dinner ready, they’re itching for screen time enough to actually pay attention for a full 30-45 minutes, which is just what I need.
Related: 7 food products from the supermarket every home cook should keep on hand.
6. Grill outside, if possible.
If you have a home with a grill, use it to your advantage. In the summer, I grill as much as possible, letting my kids run wild in the backyard while I cook. You can grill almost anything — even pizza — and barely need a recipe. In fact, keep some homemade pesto or compound butter on hand, and you can literally just throw meat, fish, or veg on the grill and have dinner done in minutes. Plus, grilling means almost no clean up. We even eat outside, too, so we don’t even have to wipe down the kitchen table afterward. It’s a serious sanity saver at the end of a long day.