Does the dinnertime hour give you anxiety? Are you constantly stressed about what you’re going to make for dinner, only to give up and order pizza? If you’ve ever stood in front of your refrigerator wishing a hot meal would suddenly appear, you are not alone.
Meal planning used to intimidate me. I thought that it was only for those mothers who grocery shopped once a month and spent entire weekends freezer cooking. (For the record, there is absolutely nothing wrong with either of those things, those methods just haven’t worked for me as a long term solution).
What has worked for me is this simple method. It involves pencil, paper, and about 20 minutes per week. 🙂
1. Begin by making a list of dinner (only dinner, for now) meals your family enjoys. Include your go- to meals, as well as those you make less often. Make your goal to come up with 15. Consider including a couple of Italian meals, Mexican dishes, or soups if this is something your family enjoys. Our boys love having breakfast for dinner, so this is something I plan for weekly. Keep in mind, your meals don’t have to be complicated. If soup (canned or homemade) and sandwiches is something you’re family gobbles up, write that down! 🙂
2. Using a blank calendar, look at the next two weeks. Using your list of dinner meals, add one on each day of the calendar for the next two weeks. As you are doing so, consider any events you have planned. Are there church potlucks, family events, birthday parties, or soccer games? Pencil those in. For our family, Wednesday evenings are Bible study. Getting dinner prepared and cleaned up before church is usually hectic, so I recently began scheduling our “breakfast dinner” (usually sausage, eggs, muffins or pancakes, and fruit) on this night since it is fairly quick to prepare and clean up. Think about your life and the ease of the meals on your list. The evenings you have events, be sure to plan for easier meals. Even if you plan to order take out on Friday night, write that down.
3. Once you have your list of meals completed, begin a new list. Jot down the ingredients you will need for each dinner.
4. Now, take inventory of your pantry and fridge, comparing the list you just made to those you have available. Mark through the items that you have in stock. This might seem a bit backward, but it helps me to ensure I have the ingredients I need. Each and every item I need to prepare a complete meal (usually– depending on which kids are around!) makes it on the list. This is important, as getting all the necessary ingredients will save you time (no additional trips to the store) and money.
5. After I’ve taken inventory of what I need, I recopy it onto my “official” grocery list, which is broken into categories. My list has seven columns and is divided into the following categories: dry goods, household / beauty, bread / soda, meat, produce, dairy / refrigerated, and frozen. I am a pencil and paper kind of girl, so I keep blank copies of these in our family binder (I’ll talk more about this in another post) and one on the side of the fridge so that I can write down staples when we run out.
6. You may have noticed that I plan dinners only. While you could certainly use this method to plan your breakfasts, snacks, and lunches, I use a more relaxed technique for this, since we eat many of the same things over and over. For example, we typically eat oatmeal, eggs, and fruit 3-4 mornings a week. The remaining mornings I might make pancakes, waffles, or muffins. Whichever I choose to make, I double the batch and have enough for the remaining mornings of the week. The same goes for lunches and snacks. We eat a ton of fruit for snacks around here, so our grocery list is always produce heavy.
7. Once you have everything on your list for the week (or two weeks if you prefer), head to the grocery. If you frequent the same store routinely, consider adjusting your grocery list according to the layout of the building. This will save you both time and steps!
If you aren’t in a habit of meal planning and find that dinner time gets you down, give this method a try. It has been a blessing to our family for the past several years!
Do you have tips or hints that simplify your meal planning? I’d love to hear from you!