It’s nearing 5 o’clock and you haven’t a clue what you will make for dinner…sound familiar? You're not alone! Most people fall into 1 of 3 camps, 1) the planners with their family planners and grocery lists, 2) the non-planners who wander the grocery aisles, not a clue who will be home tonight to eat dinner and 3) somewhere in the middle are those who plan their meals and made a grocery list, but left it at home only to end up pulling through a drive-thru again… With a little planning, the dreaded “What’s for dinner?” question will not have you looking like a deer in the headlights and instead answering “Its pasta night! Dinner in 30!”
Many of us want to be more organized and try to plan ahead for a week of meals, but find it difficult for one reason or another to stick to the plan. There are many benefits to meal planning, you will save time & money, there is a tendency to eat more nutritionally healthy meals, and you have more quality time with your family!
Meal planning doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming! It can be as simple as making a menu and posting it to the fridge or as hi-tech as using a meal planning app on your smartphone. Here are the meal planning basics so you can start putting the power of being prepared to work for you.
Start with a menu
Choose 5-6 meals for the week and create a grocery list for the meals. Look for quick, tried-and-true meals that can be made without a lot of effort and save testing new recipes for the weekend and rotate them in your weekly menus later. For easy planning, pick a theme for each day of the week (heard of Taco Tuesday?), like Mexican Monday, Pasta Wednesday or whatever your family loves. It can be as simple as the main protein like switching between beef, pork and chicken throughout the week. Let the family get involved by picking the theme or meal one or two nights for the week ahead.
Use a calendar
Whether you have a family planner hanging in your kitchen, online, or use a smartphone; it helps to put the meals on the calendar so anyone can take a look to see what’s on the menu. I like to add the recipe link so anyone can start dinner ahead if I’m running late – no more “I didn’t know what you had planned…” and if you need to lay out meat to thaw, you have one place to check and remember! Does your family complain about meal re-runs? When you use a calendar to track meals you can easily see what you had last week or the week before to avoid menu repeats.
Make a grocery list
Most people know that shopping from a list not only saves you time and money, but it can also save your sanity! There are many list apps available for your smartphone such as GroceryIQ, Out of Milk, Wunderlist and the Notes app; to name a few. Grocery list apps have large databases of items that you can add to your list, most of them organize the list by the grocery aisle and some even offer coupons on items added to your list! Most of them also allow you to share lists so anyone can do the shopping! Retailers are jumping on board with online shopping and curbside pick-up at many large supermarket chains. Check out your favorite store's website to see if they have shopping programs available in your area. If you have their savings card, you can often add coupons to your card with out having to clip coupons and remember to bring them with you! Like I said, you are not alone in that 'somewhere-in-the-middle' camp...
Go to the Grocery
Yeah, most of us dread it, but you gotta get the food somehow. There are online grocery services in many major cities, but if you are like me and can’t get delivery, you have to go old school and shop at the store. When is the best time to go the store? Well, it’s not during rush hour which is usually as most people are getting off work or on weekend afternoons. Weeknights after dinner, between 7 and 8 pm, tend to be a less busy time to shop. You do run the risk of stock being low, so you might have to try a few different times and days at your store to see what is best for you. I shopped on a Monday at 9 PM the other night and had the store nearly to myself. Other than the meat and deli counter being closed; I had no problem finding everything I needed. My husband loves going to the butcher shop on Sundays anyway and picking up whatever we need for meat – it’s his thing and I am glad to let him do it! Some of us like pedicures, some like picking out a T-bone steak; we're not judging!
Whether it is on the weekend or one night in the week, try to look over your recipes in advance and see what you can prep ahead. Think about chopping veggies, marinating meat, get the slow cooker out for the next day, anything you can do to help you save time. You can even make meal kits in your pantry by storing items together for easy grab-n-go (don't forget to include the recipe!). I sometimes cook ground beef or chicken ahead and freeze for use later on. A huge time saver!
Whatever your plan, however you choose to track your menu; meal planning is the way to have less stress through the week and eliminates the what’s for dinner dilemma! Which camp do you belong to? Do you have your own menu planning tips to share?