Getting dinner together every night is a stretch for any of us. Add in full- or part-time work, kids, scheduled lessons and activities, date night, homework and church service and the task can seem impossible. There are gurus who advocate freezing a month’s worth of meals, going to the grocery store only once in two weeks, or couponing your way to a smaller grocery bill. If these fit your lifestyle, then try these methods out. For the rest of us, here’s a no-fail way to get dinner on the table in a consistent way.
First, take one minute to look through your pantry, produce drawer and freezer to take stock of what foods you have and what needs to be used soon. Armed with this information, write down five meals that you could make that week. I only plan for five meals per week, because inevitably something comes up that prevents me from having the time or motivation to cook a great meal. It leaves my kids are free to warm up leftovers, *cough* make ramen noodles, or for my husband to wield his skills with canned sauce and spaghetti. Whenever I’ve bought food for more than five meals for the week, food goes bad. I waste less food (and therefore, money) and avoid guilt by planning for only five meals each week.
If you have trouble coming up with varied meal ideas, start with thinking of different categories of dinners: soup, salad, pasta, stir-fry, bread-based (pizza, Navajo tacos, etc.), casserole. It’s easier to think of meals based on these categories than to try to pull five meals out of thin air. Using a variety of categories as the basis for meal planning from week to week also helps ensure variety, keeping your family healthy and interested in dinner together.
When I’m doing my weekly meal planning, I’ll think to myself, “I have broccoli that needs to be used up. I’ll make broccoli soup.” “There’s about a ½ cup of sour cream left in the fridge, so I’ll make that creamy pasta and peas dinner that my son likes.” And if I’m still stumped, I’ll look through some of my favorite recipe websites to spur ideas. Here’s a simple sample of one of my weekly meal plans:
M- Broccoli Soup and Fruit Salad
T- Chicken Wonton Salad
W- Zucchini Stir-fry with Brown Rice
Th- Pizza Night
Su- Creamy Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes and Peas
Lastly, write down what to buy to make the meals, and then go grocery shopping. By putting 15 minutes into menu planning each week, you’ll feel like your job is already half-done. Write out your meal ideas on the family calendar to remind yourself and to inform the family, and schedule the meals so that oldest/most fragile food is used up first.
This method works great and it’s easy to implement. It’s definitely worth a try as a no-fuss way to cut down your trips to the grocery store (as well as your grocery bill), and your frustration, confusion, and overwhelmed feelings regarding dinner with your family each week.