What’s for dinner? That is the question that plagues my nightmares! TOO many times I find myself asking this question at 5pm! NOT the time to be doing so! By that time everyone is tired and hungry and no one wants to answer that question. It usually ends up being answered with a trip through the local fast food drive-thru. When you have dietary restrictions like we do with gluten, that’s not much of an option anyway!
Since dinner is going to come around everyday whether we want to face the fact or not, why not make it easier on ourselves? The answer? A simple menu plan.
I’m not talking some elaborate plan with a brand new recipe to try every night of the week! Just a little organization in place of the usual meal chaos.
Menu planning doesn’t have be complicated! It requires a small investment of time, but the rewards are well worth it!
Meal planning helps you to eat healthier and saves you TIME, MONEY AND YOUR PRECIOUS SANITY!
I’m sold! How about you and I explore together how to start meal planning. I have combed the www for the best ideas I could find and present them for your consideration….and hopefully your INPUT as well!
KEEP A MEAL JOURNAL
Since I just did a post about journals yesterday, this one really resonated with me! It makes perfect sense. Keep a simple journal of the meals you cook throughout the year, then take a look back for inspiration. It’s a great way to remember things you used to cook and to see what you were eating the same time a year ago.
I saw many ideas in my research from people who use online websites or apps to both plan and shop for their meals. Here are just a few I came across:
Food Planner – Keep an integrated meal plan, grocery list, and recipe collection that can sync between multiple phones, tablets, and the web. Allows you to plan your daily meals using a selection of recipes downloaded from all of your favorite cooking blogs and recipe sites.
Plan To Eat – Easily drag recipes from your recipe book to create your personalized meal plan, and then add additional ingredients, events and notes.
Springpad – Simple notebooks that help you save, organize, and act on the many different projects and tasks you have going on in your life.
SayMmm – The service offers free tools for planning meals, organizing recipes, and shopping for groceries.
Use a shared Google Calendar just for meal-planning.
I love Pinterest for menu planning because it’s like a bulletin board of all my favorite recipes that I can see at a glance. I scroll through my food board and see what looks good for the week ahead. Pinterest is great at presenting great SEASONAL food ideas as well.
PLAN AROUND SALES
Look at grocery circulars (either from the newspaper or online) to see what’s on sale for the week and plan meals around that.
Check out this post from earlier this year for more on that: 4 Simple Steps To Cutting Your Food Budget In Half
Ask everyone in your family for a list of their favorite meals. From that make a master list of 10 to 20 meals and rotate them. Just add a salad or a seasonal vegetable on the side and you’re done.
TRY THEME NIGHTS
Assign a theme to dinner one night each week: tacos, breakfast for dinner, stir-fry, pasta, etc. Choose something the whole family likes and doesn’t take long to make. Write out 5 variations on the theme (if you choose a pasta theme, your list might look like: fettucini alfredo, spaghetti, lasagna, baked ziti, or macaroni and cheese) and rotate through them, adding more variations if you want. Like it? Add a second themed dinner night each week.
Having meals that won’t provide leftovers (like homemade pizza) are better for Fridays, because leftovers are easily forgotten over the weekend. Meals relying on fresh foods (seafood, things without a long shelf life) are best done earlier in the week so you don’t have to go to the store twice during the week. Crockpot meals are good for the middle of the week when things are hectic with work and school and you don’t have a lot of time to cook. Sundays and Mondays prep a few things for later in the week, to make it easier on yourself.
LOOK FOR TWO-MEALS-IN-ONE OPPORTUNITIES
Use the leftovers from one meal in the next meal (roast chicken today is chicken tacos, salad or soup tomorrow), or double the recipe and freeze half for another dinner on a day when you don’t have time to cook. The more home-cooked, prepared food that you have stored in your freezer, the less stress you feel when planning your menu, and the less tempted you are to eat out. Make a little extra of everything, and if you don’t want it right away, freeze it.
USE WHAT YOU HAVE
Before you make your weekly shopping trip, check what needs to be used in the fridge, pantry and freezer, then choose recipes to make over the next week that include those items.
KEEP STAPLES ON HAND
Meals are easier and quicker to prepare if you keep your pantry well-stocked. Don’t run out of olive oil at inconvenient moments. Here are a few common staple items: canned tomatoes, eggs, dijon mustard, pasta, individually frozen chicken breasts, soy sauce, onions, canned beans, parmesan cheese, kosher salt, olive oil, canned broth, carrots, broccoli & cauliflower.
CHECK THE WEATHER
I never really thought about this, but our choices of meals are definitely affected by the weather. Look at the weather forecast. Is it going to be chilly soup weather or so hot you’re going to want to grill burgers outside?
WRITE IT DOWN
As helpful as technology is to plan your menu and shopping for groceries, ultimately your plan should be VISIBLE so you stick to it
Download a free meal planner sheet, get a small white erase board or chalkboard for your refrigerator. If you don’t write it down you will probably forget what you had planned to make. It will also serve as a reminder to your family so you can avoid the “What’s for Dinner?!” question. (Oh how I dread that question!!)
Last but not least…………
YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE A GREAT COOK TO BE A MEAL PLANNER
There are lots of great resources available to give you ideas of how to create simple and tasty meals. USE THEM, your family will never know!
Are you a menu planner? Share YOUR tips!