If you ask 10 people how they meal plan for dinner you’ll most likely get 10 different answers. For some families the parents trade off the responsibility every other night and for other families it's daily trips to the grocery store or ordering take out. After asking everyone I know how they do it, reading articles online about how you should do it and then trying every possible mix and match of techniques I’ve finally found a system that works for me. Here’s how I meal plan for my family, what I did to get started & what I wish I knew before I tried it all.
- Create a collection of dinner time meals to choose from. Open all the tabs on your desktop, pull out the cook books & recipes you’ve torn from magazines over the years. Make a list of your (and your family’s) favorite meals. Be sure to include a variety of flavors and level of involvement needed to cook the meal. For example, include your quick & easy dinners that you’ll need for a busy weeknight. (My go-to is a frozen ziti & bagged Caesar salad. I “fancy it up” by adding fresh basil, freshly grated parmesan cheese & slicing up some cherry tomatoes to toss in the salad.) However you make the list & wherever you keep it is up to you. Just make it convenient to get to & easy to add to.
- Take time to sit down & meal plan. Is there a day of the week where you sit down to review your schedule to prepare for the upcoming days ahead? (If not, I highly recommend you make this process part of your life. More on that in another blog.) Part of my Friday morning routine includes looking at my schedule for the week ahead. What days will I be home early to cook? Are there days I know I’ll be grateful for leftovers? What day can my partner prepare dinner? Are we going out any evenings? Are there any celebrations to have together as a family like a birthday or any big tests the kids need a solid meal for the night before? Answering these questions makes clear which days to cook, to have leftovers & when to get your grocery shopping done or delivered.
- Pick your meals for the week. You’re in charge! Get everyone involved and let the kids or your partner pick a meal for the week, too. Know that you can’t make everyone happy all of the time but at least you can guarantee someone will be happy at dinner time!
- Make your grocery list and check it twice. Check your inventory with what you need before buying your groceries.
- Read through the recipes, especially if they’re new. Doing a little bit of research makes sure you’re not surprised with needing to soak or simmer something for an hour, or needing a food processor if you don’t have one. (A tip I’m still learning the hard way on occasion… )
- Follow your plan but stay flexible. Life happens. Sometimes you don’t want to cook. Sometimes an old friend is passing through for the evening & a last minute dinner out with her is necessary for your quality of life.
And yes, you guessed it, there are tons of benefits to meal planning.
- Saving money. No random aisle roaming buying stuff you don’t need. It might not feel like it at first while you build up your kitchen arsenal of herbs, spices, seasonings & sauces. Plus kitchen tools, gadgets & quality cookware. Oh, and to make leftovers last you can’t forget storage bags & containers!
- Saving Time. Again, it might not feel like it at first while you get used to this new routine but stick with it, soon it’ll be like second nature.
- You're in control. You get to pick the cuisine for the evening.
- Eating healthier. Less takeout means less sodium, less fat, smaller portions & more fresh whole foods.
- Less stress. I mean, I’ll take it. Please.