How I Learned to Meal Plan… And Stop Asking “What’s for Dinner?”

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meal plan title

After I started working my first “grown-up” job (Monday-Friday, at a desk, business hours… you get the picture), I had to put more time into thinking about what to put on the table for dinner every night. It is way too stressful for me to come home after a long day and then figure out what I am going to cook. Sometimes, my indecision about dinner was leading to me basically giving up and getting dinner out, more often than I liked. I love cooking. I love it to the point where I don’t always see a point in going to restaurants, because I will generally like what I have cooked more than what a restaurant will serve me, and I find cooking to be relaxing. I am weird like that. I love restaurants for special meals: celebrations and date nights, but not so much for the answer to “What’s for dinner?”.

Eventually, I get fed up with having to rush to put dinner together at the end of the day, and had to think of a better system for planning meals. I took to Pinterest, which is a great source for almost anything, and quickly found tons of resources on meal planning, and how it can help save time, money, and keep food from going to waste. These are all things I love. So, I gave it a shot! And, for the most part, I think it works great! Not only do I know what I am making for dinner well in advance, I have all the ingredients for those meals, and can move things around if I’m not in the mood for a certain dish on a certain day.

This is how I do it:

  1. I generally make my meal plan for Monday-Sunday on Saturday or Sunday morning, though it depends on when I go grocery shopping.
  2. I like to look at our family’s schedule for the upcoming week. Are there any nights where we don’t have to cook dinner (work events, friends/family, date nights)? If this is the case, I make a note of it so I don’t pick out more meals than we will be making that week. Also: are we having people over? If we are, is there anything I have to keep in mind about the meal (young kids, big groups, dietary restrictions)? Knowing this will help me pick out a meal that will make everyone happy.
  3. Then, I look through the pantry, fridge and freezer. If there is anything that needs to be used up, I make a note of that as well, so I can make something that uses that ingredient, and prevents it from going to waste! I also see if there is anything that is practically jumping off the shelf to get made. I also look at grocery store ads in case anything is on sale. It is cheaper to build a meal plan around ingredients that are on sale.
  4. Next, I ask if there are any cravings. Not just with me, but my husband too. Generally, he will say no, or tacos, or pizza. Of course. Those are the easiest meals to plan for, since it doesn’t take any searching.
  5. Once I get all that information, I look for recipes and ideas, keeping in mind anything from my list above (meals with others, food to use up, etc). I look for recipes in tons of different places, this includes cookbooks (did you see all the cookbooks I have in that first picture?), my recipe box, Pinterest, magazine, or this huge 5 subject notebook that I use to compile recipes I want to try or am working on. Note: I only meal plan for dinner, since my husband and I both eat breakfast and lunch at work. On the weekends, I will sometimes plan meals, but otherwise I just throw something delicious together.
  6. While compiling the recipes for the week, I keep a list of any ingredients I will need, which will be the basis for my shopping list.
  7. Finally, I strategically decide when to have which meals. If people are coming over, we will obviously be eating the meal that I picked for that night. Otherwise, I model my meal plan like this: If there is anything that is going to spoil quickly, I will make the recipe with that ingredient on Monday. I do easy recipes Monday-Thursday (it’s during the workweek, so I don’t want to come home and cook dinner for 2 hours). Anything special or time-consuming I do on Friday-Sunday. I also think of recipes that have excellent leftovers, and try to have those Sunday-Thursday. That way, thinking of what to have for lunch at work is easy!

notebooks edited

The picture above is my notebook that has most of the recipes I use in it (notice how the pages are all crumpled? That thing is well-loved). I use a planner not just to plan out blog posts, but also to plan out my week and the meals I’ll be making.

Once I have everything worked out, or, if I need help deciding when to make which meals, I will enlist the help of my husband. He likes being able to help me out, and it also makes him excited for upcoming meals we will be having. Once everything is set, I write my meal plan out on a board I created:

menu board edited

I love this board….

This is how to make a meal-plan board:

I found a big frame that had 9 openings (actually, my Mom did, this frame was a gift from her!). Honestly, as long as the frame has 7 openings (or 5 if you just want to plan for the work week), it will work. In 7 of the openings, I put cute scrapbook paper, along with letters so I would know what day the opening stood for. I also put cute scrapbook paper in the 2 leftover spots. The top middle one has our last initial in it, and the middle one is used for further planning. I have used it to make prep schedules for the weekend before the week of the meal plan. Last week, I used it to write down what meals I would be making the week before the meal plan. That way, I was able to erase the board early, and have the next meal plan ready to go.

Since there is glass in the openings (it’s a picture frame, after all), it’s perfect for writing on. I used to use dry-erase markers, since they are so easy to use. They smudge, however, and that can make it tough to read, and look messy. So, I got wet erase markers, and I am so glad I did! The writing doesn’t smudge, and it’s easy to read!

Another nice thing about having the meal plan in a frame like this is that I can switch out the scrapbook paper whenever I like, to match the decor in our kitchen, or if I just want to change it for the season. I have had the same paper in mine for over a year, and I am not sick of it yet! I love that I can hang it on the wall, and it’s not only easy to find, easy to read, and is a functional decoration, but it’s also a conversation starter when we have people over! I have had people comment on how they love the idea, and comment on meals on the plan!

Do you have any special tricks when it comes to meal planning? Are you like me, and sometimes have a hard time keeping organized and sticking to the plan? Let me know what you think in the comments!

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7 thoughts on “How I Learned to Meal Plan… And Stop Asking “What’s for Dinner?”

  1. Ally B. Jones

    I so need to get in that train but I am moody. I only have to tend to myself though you.would think that would easier…

    • I think tending for myself was harder sometimes because it’s tough to not cook for a crowd! I’m usually not much into planning, but it definitely helps in this case!

  2. I love your meal board! I want one – great idea! I draw up my weekly shopping list in a Friday and do the shopping on Saturday morning. I also plan our meals ahead – that way we don’t buy unnecessary things. I have a problem with the veggies though – we eat pretty healthy meals Monday – Thursday – protein with veg, so I can only buy veggies that will last until Tuesday. I’m now thinking of buying for the whole week, cooking and freezing them but I love fresh veg! Can I have your recipe for chilli, lime and kale soup? I love love love this post! Awesome!

  3. I need to do this. I’m tired of asking what’s for breakfast/lunch/dinner, especially when they tell you, I don’t know. I wish I have a magic wand that caters to the palate of my not-so-helpful bunch. Thanks for dropping at RWS!

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