Last week I wrote about an old friend (blog code name: “Babs”), who has written to me out of desperation asking for guidance in planning and executing meals for her family.  Some readers have expressed curiosity about how things are going for Babs and whether or not I’d be willing to share the meal plan I created for her.  Since I’m a sharer — and since it’s approximately 400 degrees in our attic right now, which is where our computer lives and therefore where I sit and sweat over this blog — this is the first of what will likely be a few installments of catching up to Babs and her gang.

Based on the foods she told me her children (and husband) enjoy, I offered her the following meal plan for Week One:

Sunday: Roast chicken, broccoli, salad, and mashed potatoes
Monday: Spaghetti with bacon, garlic, and peas; salad and fruit
Tuesday: Chicken and broccoli quesadillas, fruit platter
Wednesday: Ham steak and corn salad with tomatoes
Thursday: Fend
Friday: Homemade baked chicken fingers, mac and cheese, and a vegetable of the family’s choosing
Saturday: Pork chops, grilled vegetables, rice or cous cous

It’s a somewhat less adventurous menu than what my family might eat in the course of a week, but the principles are quite similar: Lots of easy fruit and vegetable sides to lighten the workload and give everyone something to eat if they’re feeling fussy; creative use of leftovers; one night without a “main protein” in the center of the plate to reduce dependence on meat.

Babs responded to me after implementing the menu for a few days.  Among her remarks: “I decided to keep a log of what my family eats…and although your menu didn’t get rave reviews, I can’t tell you what a relief it is to have it all planned out.  It put my mind at ease and made shopping a lot more focused.”

In Week 2, I recommended the following menu:
Sunday: Spaghetti with marinara sauce, garlic bread, salad
Monday: Breakfast for dinner night
Tuesday: Homemade pizzas, salad, fruit
Wednesday: Leftover chicken fingers from the freezer, rice, favorite veggies
Thursday: Slow cooker chicken taco wraps
Friday: Turkey burgers, sweet potato fries
Saturday: Fend night

The response this time was much more enthusiastic.  According to Babs, “Breakfast for dinner was an insane hit!”  (Yay!)  Also, she served broccoli twice during the week and found that both girls, plus her husband, really enjoyed it.  To spice up the salads I recommended she continue to serve (to keep a healthy option always on the table), they also tried raw red bell pepper for the first time and discovered that her husband and the 5-year-old are big fans! 

Most importantly, I think, Babs found herself unable to stick to the plan because of end-of-year activities and a tough schedule.  I always wonder how people will react to a challenge when they’re acclimating to meal planning, but Babs was predictably upbeat about it.  “I feel like we had success in a lot of areas,” she wrote — I should say so, judging from her report.  She also commented, “I am happy that it will be very easy to just hop right back on the menu train, because it’s already preplanned!  YEAH!!!” 

This time, her sign-off said it all: “Feeling so inspired and grounded, I feel like I can almost use my real name!  Babs.”

Of course, it hasn’t been easy for her to just adapt, and she’s working really hard — I get lots of (more than welcome) questions from her about how to prepare certain items, or what I’d recommend as a substitution for an ingredient her kids don’t care for.  She’s also had to adjust the plan significantly in some ways to make it more compatible with the family’s lifestyle and preferences, which is totally understandable.  What I think is remarkable, though, is that in the space of two weeks — just two weeks — on a meal planning system, she’s been able to not only reduce her own stress level, but has gone from feeling like her kids never eat anything at dinner to having them eat at least a decent amount at nearly every meal; plus, they’ve tried and liked some new healthy items.

I’m hoping to keep working with Babs and helping her fine-tune the use of the meal plan.  She’s so open and willing that it’s been a real pleasure to offer her whatever assistance I can to make things easier around her dinner table.  We’ve got two weeks left on the first month of our collaboration, and I’m sure there will continue to be ups and downs; but I know she’s determined to stick to it and make things work in the end.  We’re providing a real framework for a family dinner model that will be healthy in ALL ways — nutritionally, yes, but also emotionally and spiritually for the whole family.