Deployment Series: Meal Planning (Take It Down a Notch)

Cereal for dinner? Ice cream for breakfast? You’ve no doubt heard the jokes and seen the memes about how military moms let it all go during deployment. There is some absolute truth to the jokes for sure, but did you know there is actually a way to feed your kids mostly healthy meals for months on end without using every pot and pan in the house?

That’s right. For this third installment of the monthly deployment series (introduction here and second installment here), we are going to talk about how to collectively TAKE IT DOWN A NOTCH when it comes to meal planning without sacrificing our kids’ health in the process.

First of all, you are likely aware of these, but let’s just agree on a few universal truths during deployment when you have kids:

  • People in your house want to eat everyday, several times a day
  • Someone needs to prepare this food
  • Someone needs to do the dishes
  • Someone needs to grocery shop
  • Someone is responsible for providing nutritious, delicious meals (at least most of the time)

Now, I don’t know how the division of household responsibilities works in your family, but when my husband is home, he rocks at dish duty, swings by the commissary once in a while, and makes a mean chicken wing. I’m happy to do the heavy lifting (metaphorically speaking only) in the kitchen to prepare most meals, but it’s so nice to know he’ll be scrubbing the pan I forgot to grease while I’m kicking my feet up after dinner.

Enter deployment.

It’s all on you. All of it. Shopping, cooking, cleaning, house-keeping, car maintaining, child-rearing, etc., etc.

Save your energy in the kitchen, sister, if you want to keep your sanity intact. It’s been said that deployment is a marathon, not a sprint, and it’s the absolute truth. One day at a time. Only a fool thinks she’s going to prepare homemade pizza every Friday during deployment (ask me how I know).

Those lofty expectations will leave you depleted and defeated.

And there’s no time for that.

Instead, I take my “normal” meal planning strategies and modify in stressful situations.

I kept *forgetting* to fill out the chart. The kids still survived!

Here are 5 of my real-life strategies I use to minimize effort and energy in the kitchen while feeling good about what my family is eating when there is an empty chair at the table for months on end:

  1. Keep the End-Game in Mind = NO DISHES: Ok, maybe not no dishes, but you want to end up with very few. Maybe you’ve discovered a new recipe for pad Thai that you’re dying to try. No! Save it for when you have help with dishes! You will be so tired from chopping, prepping and shooing hungry kids away that by the time you’ve sat down to feast on your glorious creation, you won’t want to lift a finger. Do yourself a favor and keep a finger food platter in heavy rotation for dinners: hummus, carrot sticks, cheese, crackers, lunch meats, apples, grapes, etc. It’s grazing at it’s finest. Wash down with a glass of milk (or wine for you) and you’ve got yourself a true happy meal. Our dishwasher broke on month 8 of a 9-month deployment and I have no shame in telling you we used paper plates and plastic utensils for a few weeks. You do what you have to do.


  1. Cook Once, Eat 3 Times: When my husband is home, a pan of lasagna feeds our family of 5 for dinner plus one hefty serving of leftovers for him to take for lunch the next day. When he’s gone, the same pan will feed us Monday through Wednesday. Your children won’t eat the same the thing 3 nights in a row, you say? I say switch up the sides (steamed broccoli/Caesar salad/carrot sticks) and you’ve got yourself 3 unique meals. Any casserole will stretch for the better part of a week and you can divert your energy from the kitchen to, oh, say, mowing the lawn.


  1. Shortcuts and Luxuries: You know those pre-cut packets of vegetables that cost more because the work has already been done for you? This is the time to splurge, Sweetheart. Anything that saves you a knife and a cutting board is your friend. Also, you know those meal subscription companies like HelloFresh, Blue Apron and Sunbasket? They can be pricey, but coupons are readily available and may be worth trying during deployment. My kids loved seeing what was in our dinner box and helping out with the prep. Plus, it totally cut down on my grocery shopping and added welcome variety to our tacos, spaghetti, pizza, repeat routine.


  1. Old Favorites: You will be mentally, physically and emotionally taxed during deployment (oh, just me?), so having a few meals in your arsenal that you could make in your sleep is key. I’m talking about meals so simple you don’t even need a recipe. Just add a quick veggie side and you’re good: tacos, spaghetti or other pasta + sauce, grilled cheese sandwiches, simple breaded baked chicken and cheeseburgers.


  1. Never Turn Down An Offer: Friends from church offer to bring over a meal? Yes! Neighbors offer to have you over for a BBQ? Yes! Your mom sends you a gift card to the Olive Garden? You’re using it tonight! The kids’ school is having a Hawaiian Luau? You’re going! Do you hear me? Any chance for someone else to feed you and your family is a #win

You’ll be back to whipping up fancy things like carbonara and flank steak soon when you have your teammate back, but for now, it’s all about saving your energy.

Remember, survival mode doesn’t have to be all ice cream and cereal.

It’s tempting for this to count as dinner, but you can do better!

Most days.