Meal Planning Made Easy

The winter is upon us and it is the perfect time to work on your meal planning.  The days are shorter and full of school (or snow days), work, sports, homework and activities. The fast-paced afternoons and evenings, which leave us little time to make dinner every night. Even for those of us who love to cook, getting dinner on the table every night can be a challenge.

The hours between 4pm and 7pm are often referred to as the witching hours. Babies are fussy, kids are grumpy and grown-ups are tired. Now, add hungry to that mix and you can see why they call it the witching hours.

Often many families find they are scrambling at the last minute trying to decide what’s for dinner. Unfortunately most will find that they lack the proper ingredients or simply the lack of time or energy to make dinner. This leads to…you guessed it, take out.

Maybe one of your new year’s resolutions was to cook healthier meals for your family.  Now is a great time add more vegetables or try new recipes.

Meal Planning

Meal Planning is key to cutting down on the stress and confusion during the dinner hour.

  1. The first step in meal planning is to clean out and organize your pantry and kitchen. Make sure to check expiration dates. It’s important to know what you have and to have the right things on hand. Organize your pantry the way you eat. Keep the pasta with the tomato sauce. This way when you want to have spaghetti you only have to check on place for the ingredients.
  2. Create a list of meals your family eats. Be sure to get input from everyone. This gives you a great place to start. Now pick one or two recipes you want to try. I recommend saving them for the weekend when you have a bit more time to focus.
  3. Sit down with your calendar and plan your week. If you know you won’t to be home in time to make dinner consider making a crock pot meal that day. Or using a meal from the freezer.
  4. Once your meal plan is set, make your grocery list. It’s a lot easier to shop when you know exactly what you need. Make sure you also have the ingredients for your “simple go-to meals”. Always have a shopping list and always take it with you when you shop! Make your own essential list and create a template so all you have to do is check off a list and leave room for the additional supplies.
  5.  Write it down so you don’t have to answer questions.  The first thing my and Tara’s kids ask every morning as soon as he wakes up is, “What’s for dinner?”.  Having a Write N Wipe Weekly Dry-Erase Calendar on the frig eliminates these questions.  Below is Tara’s calendar of meals this week.  She uses the word “Smorgasboard” instead of leftovers since kids (and husbands) often don’t like the idea of leftovers.  But, pulling all the leftovers out of the frig and letting the kids choose which items they want to eat sounds great!
    Magnetic Dry Erase Weekly Meal Calendar

    Magnetic Dry Erase Weekly Meal Calendar

Meal planning is just the start. In a perfect world we would make a plan and follow it with no problems. But in the real world kids get sick, cars break down and you forget to pull the meat out of the freezer. So it’s just as important to have a plan B and sometimes even a plan C.

  • Simple go-to meals: Always have the ingredients for one or two simple meals on hand. A perfect example is spaghetti. A jar of tomato sauce and dry pasta can sit on the shelf and can be made in a flash. You can add whatever veggies or meat you have on hand. Find a few recipes that work for your family and always be sure the ingredient are on your shelf.
  • Try to prep ahead when you can schedule time after your trip to the grocery store to wash and prep you veggies for the week. If you have more time consider getting a head start and cooking a meal or two or at least chopping items ahead of time so you have them handy on the nights you need to get dinner on the table quickly.
  • Freezer Meals: Spending on day in the kitchen once a month can save you time and frustration several nights a week.
  • The 6 O’Clock Scramble: Still need help with meal planning. Consider signing up for an online meal planning service such as The 6 O’Clock Scramble. Every week you are sent a list of 5 recipes and the grocery shopping list. The website even let’s you customize your meals for what your family enjoys or for dietary needs.
  • Meal Swap: Consider joining or starting a meal swap group. Make one meal several times and swap with your friends.

Hopefully this will get you on the right track. In the next few weeks we will discuss Freezer Meals and Meal Swaps in further detail. Also be sure to check our website and Facebook page for quick and easy meals.

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