What's for Dinner?
1. Commit to making meal planning a priority and get everyone in your house on board.
It may seem more time consuming at first, but once you make it a habit it will become second nature. One way to do this is to hold a family meeting or a pow-wow with your partner and discuss how meal planning will impact dinnertime, as well as your shopping trips. Find a way to clearly communicate the weekly or monthly menu so everyone in the house knows what to expect. My husband and I use a dry erase board that also doubles as a place to write down items we run out of or need to pick up from the grocery. Families with older children may have better success with texting the weekly menu to everyone on Sunday evenings or posting it to a shared online calendar. Also ask for input on favorite dishes and foods, which will come in handy for the next step—mapping out the meals.
2. Map out your meals by week or month.
My husband and I are perfectly content rotating between the same 10 quick, easy, reliable meals. We have a list of all those meals, side dishes, and specialty ingredients they may require, like fresh ginger or herbs, and we use it to plan out our meals for one week. It may work better for you and your household to have the entire month’s worth of meals mapped out or maybe you need more then just 10 meals when making selections. No problem! Find the system that works for you and keeps you sane.
3. Keep it simple.
I cannot stress this point enough! Save the weekends for experimenting with new recipes and taking chances and play it safe Monday through Thursday. Crock pot dinners, casseroles, steamed veggies and fish, soups and sandwiches, theme entrees (Taco Tuesday is a personal favorite!), and breakfast for dinner are all on our list of reliable go-to meals in our house. Though some may argue it’s boring to eat the same meals month-to-month, when pressed for time there is nothing wrong with sticking to what you like and are comfortable cooking.
4. Shop smart and strategically.
Now that you know what you are planning to make, you can make a plan to shop smarter. Regardless of how you mapped our your meals (Step 3), I wouldn't suggest shopping for more than 5-7 days at once for obvious food spoilage reasons. Simply use your menu to make a grocery list but first make sure to “shop” your fridge and pantry for items you already have on hand. If you want to bargain hunt or coupon clip, try to carve out a specific time to do so on either Saturday or Sunday and then another chunk of time to go to the store. What works best for me is to commit to going to the grocery only once and at the same time every week. This prevents me from making multiple smaller, impulse trips that are wasteful and always seem to be more expensive than when I shop all at once.
5. Keep your kitchen and appliances organized and clean.
This may seem like an obvious tip, but the truth is, if your dishwasher is always full and your sink full of dishes, you are going to have trouble getting dinner to the table in a timely fashion. Divide and conquer! If you are making dinner, someone else should be doing the dishes and vice versa. Share the responsibility and rotate roles periodically to prevent burnout. Put away groceries strategically and make sure to clean out any old produce or leftovers on a weekly basis.
6. Plan for mistakes and expect the unexpected.
Life isn’t perfect and even the best-laid plans go array, right? Unfortunately, your meal planning methods, meals, and shopping strategies are no exception, but don't let one setback derail all your hard work and planning. If a meal doesn't pan out one night, you can always try again the following week or the one after that one. Just remember that there’s no shame in throwing in the towel every now and then—i.e., calling your favorite take-out restaurant!—as long as you get back on track the next night.