What’s for Dinner?

I am by no means a foodie. I love to eat and I enjoy baking, but I dislike cooking. But I really dislike figuring out what’s for dinner every night. And I bet most other moms out there do too. A few years back I attended a session given by Sandi Richard about menu planning. Her approach was like nothing I had ever heard of before and it made a lot of sense. I purchased one of her cookbooks and tried a few recipes, but didn’t really give the full menu plan a try until I had my first son. It took a bit of time and energy at first to get organized, but it worked very well. Well, somewhere along the line I sort of forgot about it and we fell back into dinnertime chaos. Finally after yet another supper of heat’n’eat pasta, my husband said, “I really liked it when we were doing those meal plans.” I realized that he enjoyed having a good tasting supper, but even more so, he liked that fact that things were more peaceful at dinnertime because I wasn’t scrambling and pulling my hair out wondering what to make.

So I dug out the meal plans I had created, and even made a few more. They have made shopping and dinnertime a lot easier and more relaxed around here. I thought I would share a few resources as well as a few of my own suggestions.

Meal planning isn’t complicated. Just follow these basic steps.

  1. Start by listing all the meals you know your family enjoys at dinnertime. There were really only a handful of recipes in my repertoires so I looked through a couple of websites known for easy to fix, family & wallet-friendly meals (try Kraft Canada and Campbell’s Soup). I added a few of their simple, easy to fix recipes like One Dish Chicken and Rice Bake and Cheeseburger Pasta to my list.
  2. Choose 5 – 7 dinners from your list to make a weeks plan. Some meal planners advocate planning only 5 dinners per week and winging it the rest, but I like to plan for all 7 nights…even if I know that one night is take-out or leftovers. I try to vary each weeks plan – a couple of chicken recipes, a beef recipe, maybe a pasta or stir fry, and I usually slot in a pizza night once each week. Once you make 3 or 4 different plans you will have a whole month’s worth of dinners organized, but even 2 different plans can be rotated and repeated to provide menus for a month.
  3. List ALL the ingredients in the amount needed to make each meal. That’s right…even the salt and pepper! That way you make sure you have EVERY INGREDIENT NEEDED TO COOK EVERY RECIPE. This is crucial to making your plan work and not abandoning it at the last minute because you are missing a key ingredient. Yes, this the step that can take a while, so you definitely only want to do it once, so when you are finished, place it inside a plastic sheet protector for safe keeping. This will become your grocery list for the week.
  4. When you are ready to go shopping, take your list and “shop” your cupboards first. Use a dry erase marker and cross off all the ingredients you already have in the house and do not need to purchase. One of the best hints I ever heard was to do this on the OUTSIDE of the page protector so you can re-use the list! Add your staple ingredients for breakfasts and lunches onto the outside of the page protector as well. You are ready to shop! When you return, simply wipe the page protector clean and store it for the next time you use that menu plan! (I love the feeling of being super organized when I put my list back in my household notebook for the next time!)

That’s it! As you can see, it may initially take an hour or so to make a couple of menu plans, but you will save so much time, energy and money in the end that it will be worth it.

Here are a few great online resources for menu planning:

Kraft Canada offers tonnes of recipes and ideas on how to cut dinnertime chaos. Check out their menu-plans-in-a-bag that include a pre-made grocery list. This is a great place to start.

Fixing Dinner. This is the website for the TV show of the same name on the Food Network. It is hosted by Sandi Richard and each week she walks a family through the menu planning process. The website lists the menu plans and recipes featured on each show and provides an accompanying grocery list. This is a gold mine for menu plans…really good stuff.

Simple Mom explains her menu planning process here. (She creates 2 menu plans each month and rotates them) and also lists menus and recipes for a full month.

The Organizing Junkie offers Menu-Plan Monday where you can share your weekly menu plan or look at someone elses. There is lots of inspiration here. And, it’s nice to have a feeling that you are not alone in the crazy game of “What’s for Dinner”!

Hope this helps you start taming your dinnertime chaos. I would love to hear how it works out for you if you try it, or to get some tips from those of you who are pros at it!

Happy Scrapping!

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