I don't care how cool and urban and hip a parent you are, facing the plain reality that you need to put dinner on the table for your family, one way or another, every night of the week until your kids go off to college could turn anyone into a slack-jawed, casserole-loving, Prairie Home Companion-listening, ketchup on the broccoli-allowing, Rachel Ray wanna-bee.
It's the conversation we hear the most around the proverbial water cooler, in the literal school yard, and it comes up everyday on the other-worldly message boards. It's unavoidable, inescapable, it's the dark secret we all harbor as we're out with our Bugaboos and Jimmy Choos looking above-it-all...at some point we have to go home and feed our children.
Anybody can cook a meal and we've all succumbed to take-out occasionally, but, every night for the rest of our kids' childhoods is a lot of tacos! So what's the answer? Well, sometimes being really cool and above it all means you are able to do something dorky and take it in stride. That's where I think menu planners fall. Menu planners are website services which will email you a week's worth of meals with grocery lists so that you can spend less time fretting over decisions like mac and cheese or beef stroganoff and more time, well, doing something better than that.
There are a bunch of sites out there. We excluded anything that suggested pigs in blankets, was so complicated it made menu planning into a life-style, or seemed to be written by a red-state-crockpot-loving-wacko on principle. These are our favorites:
SavingDinner started as a column on the truly scary FlyLady site. Leanne Ely is a nutritionist and sends weekly menus in several different categories including Regular, Vegetarian, Low Carb, Body Clutter (covers meals all day, not just dinner), and (ahem) Crock Cooker.
The Scramble is a stand out for it's more eclectic recipes and a chatty newsletter.
Our current favorite recipe site is allrecipes.com, so their menu mailer, called Cooknik, is an immediate favorite. It's a mix of traditional and more eclectic recipes, but it's backed by the resources of the site as opposed to the other mailers which are more homespun.
Lastly, Menus4Moms.com has the unique distinction of being free. So if you want to give menu mailers a try truly risk-free it might be a good place to start.
If menu planners seem too much like the gateway behavior to the dark side of parenting there's always FreshDirect. Besides bringing groceries right to your door and basically eliminating the chore of shopping and schlepping groceries, they've added one-click recipes and prepared meals. But that only gets you so far---we're talking EVERY NIGHT FOR THE...yeah I know, shut up.