- At the same time every week (whatever works best for your schedule) decide what you will be serving for dinner.
- Consider what days you will be able to make something more involved, and what days you will need something quick. Consider the "season" that you are in, and what is realistic for your schedule -- understanding that planning gives you a little more time to make things happen.
- Some people like to rotate their menu over a two week period -- so you have 14 things and you just keep rotating over and over again. This requires less "thinking about it". When you get sick of one dish or another -- switch that one meal out.
- Some people like to plan their meals by "type" just to give them some guidelines and make it quicker and simpler to plan. Monday is Soup Night, Tuesday is Pasta Night, Wednesday is Sandwich Night, etc., etc.
- Keep in mind that if you plan ahead, you will be able to cook more things from scratch. Such as beans -- in the morning throw them in a bowl of water and they will be sufficiently soaked and ready for cooking by late afternoon.
- Create a grocery list from your planned menu.
- Go to the grocery store only ONCE a week. This will save you time and money! And don't go roaming through the aisles after you have everything "to see if there is anything else you need". This is a marketeers dream come true. Prepare to spend an extra $50. Don't do it. As soon as you have everything, leave at once!
- Only buy what's on your list. (If you hope to save, give and/or stick to your budget this will be a huge help.)
Here are the top reasons why you should plan out your meals:
- You will save time at the grocery store.
- You will save money at the grocery store.
- You won't have that blank stare on your face when you enter the grocery store as you panic asking yourself -- OK, What am I going to cook this week?
- You won't have a stress attack trying to decide what you are going to cook this week as you try to keep your children from running wild in the aisles.
- You won't find yourself panicked as afternoon approaches and you still haven't thought about what you are going to whip up for the family.
- You won't find yourself rushing to get things done at the last minute because you planned for a meal that you didn't have time for b/c you picked something that sounded yummy at the last minute.
- You will save by being able to cook more from scratch.
- You will buy less take out and pizza.
For the Working Mother: The comment below was left by my friend an neighbor Katie who is very organized (she should be writing this) and works several days a week. She had some great suggestions, so I thought I would enclose them.
Katie Wrote: I work several days a week and have 2 young gals at home. My friends tease me, but what honestly works for me is that I plan our dinner menu for the week and actually write what we're having on the calendar (I'm sure you've seen this in my kitchen). Anyways, it helps me with grocery shopping and getting my family's meals ready as quickly as I can. There are always those occasions when we deviate from what was planned, but I try to stick to it as much as possible, if even for my own sanity during the evening hours. On the days that I work I always plan simple meals that I can pull together quickly like pancakes, sausage, fruit; pizza and Caesar salad; grilled cheese and tomato soup; or burgers on the grill with raw veggies, like cucumbers and carrot sticks. I love to cook and try new recipes and tend to do that on weekends and on my days home from work when I have a little bit more time. If, for example, I know I'm cooking chicken then I'll cook extra 'just with a little olive oil' and use it for soup or enchiladas the next night. When I make meatballs or spaghetti sauce I always make enough to freeze for another night. And when I make homemade banana, cranberry, or pumpkin breads, I always make two and freeze one. As a kid I didn't like leftovers; as a working mom - LOVE them! I cooked a chicken Monday night with all the fixins like stuffing, homemade mashed potatoes, and butternut squash. Of course there were extras and so I buttered a small casserole dish and layered the stuffing, potatoes, chicken, and gravy. My hubby was home yesterday so he just popped it in the oven and presto dinner was done and actually tasted better the next night. Hope some of my ideas are helpful!
For an At Home Mother with Young Children: For more thought provoking ideas (in case you missed this) my Sister-in-Law Tanya made this comment about how meal planning has helped her to simplify and organize her evening routine -- as she has a 3 month old, a 2 year old and a 4 year old!
Tanya Wrote: I have a new meal planning system that has been really helping me to simplify. I love to cook, but I am a creative type and tend to be indecisive and rather prone to last minute inspirations. Considering I have a 4, a 2, and a 3 month old I needed to do something different!!! I was overwhelmed at the grocery store and could barely function while managing the little ones. My daughter was over sleeping for preschool because we were eating dinner so late. Sandy sat down with me and helped me come up with an emergency plan designed for my current situation, but as I have been doing it I think it would be great for anyone trying to simplify. The basic idea is that I have a category of meal that I make for respective nights of the week. For example Monday is soup night, Tuesday is "out" night, weds is pasta night, Thursday is meat night, and Friday is sandwich night (paninis make it a bit more interesting). Weekends are more spontaneous. It makes planning and going to the grocery store so much easier. Out night is supposed to be either take-out, or eat-out but has ended up being left-over night. Thursday is my usual shopping day so I can get fresh meat or fish. For now I am limiting myself to some very simple recipes in each category. I have not found it at all boring. In fact by limiting myself I have been more enthusiastic about cooking.