Meal Planning: Making Dinner Easier One Week at a Time

Feel good about your cooking and time and budget planning.

Doing this one thing will change your life for the better: make a weekly dinner menu for your family.

In a typical household, there's a lot of balls to juggle: laundry, dishes, house cleaning, car maintenance, lawn maintenance, child care, child transportation, relationships with said family, and oh, feeding them. On any given weekday, planning a great family dinner can be a challenge, and without the necessary preparation, sometimes ends in a phone call to the local pizza joint, or an impromptu sandwich dinner.

Not that there's anything wrong with that! However, making a habit of ordering delivery, going through the drive-through or eating cereal for dinner isn't going to be great for the family's nutritional needs, or great for your wallet.

Taking an hour to plan a weekly grocery shopping trip will aid your family's health, save money, and relieve the stress associated with last minute shopping trips and meal planning. Here's how:

  1. Buy meats on sale or in bulk: Grocery shopping can end in disappointment if you try to find a cut of meat the day you need it for dinner. It can end up being an expensive purchase, or leaving you empty-handed if it's not in stock. Avoid this dinner let-down by buying meats when they are available or on sale. Often, if you get a store's "Big Buys" from the meat department, you can split them into several portions once you get home and be all set for a few dinners. Chicken breasts, pork chops, pork loin, and ground beef often are packaged in these bigger quantities. Look for pot roasts, pork roasts, and chicken roasters on sale, and buy them when they are available. Then, freeze everything! Take inventory of your freezer, and plan your dinners around what you already have.
  2. Find new recipes: It's often easiest to find new recipes when you have a main ingredient in mind. Websites like kraftrecipes.com or allrecipes.com let you to search for recipes by selecting an ingredient, allowing you to cook your staple foods found in your freezer in a variety of ways. Searching for recipes before you shop also makes sure you have all of the necessary ingredients on hand. I usually print or save the recipe to a file so I can access it easily the day I plan to use it.
  3. Use your coupons and store discounts: Now, I'm not an avid couponer, but once I have my grocery list done, I peruse the Sunday coupons to see if I can use any during my weekly trip. Once you're shopping, you can see if the store is offering any good deals on your staple products. You can usually save a few dollars by purchasing an item in multiples. With your grocery store card, the discount is yours. (Just know that you don't have to purchase the full quantity, say "10 for $10", to receive the discount on a product.)
  4. Save on time and money: Many people visit the grocery store in the afternoon or on their way home from work to grab something for dinner. They may be tired, rushed, and hungry and vulnerable to grocery store marketing. The roasted chicken smell or baked goods are wafting through the store, the salad bar is stocked, and the prepared and frozen dinners look mighty easy. Typically, every time someone goes to a store, he ends up buying something he was not intending to buy. An end of the day shopping trip may end with impulsive buying, and not the best meal planning. Avoiding a daily trip to the store will save you from the extra spending and the stress of shopping in a rush.
  5. Avoid the 5 p.m. dinner panic: The kids are home from school, there's homework and after school activities to get to, and you need dinner on the table in 60 minutes. Dinner doesn't have to be a nightly "Chopped" challenge. Meal planning ensures that you have ingredients on hand for a great meal without the need to ad lib or be extra creative in the kitchen. When you're packing lunches and getting kids out the door, pull out any meat needed for your recipe from the freezer to thaw, so cooking dinner is a breeze. Use that extra brain power for help with the homework!
  6. Have dinner waiting for you: There are days when we are so busy with after-school activities that it becomes difficult to find time to eat as a family, let alone time to actually cook a meal! Those are the evenings I plan for crock pot meals. Many crock pot recipes allow you to throw the meat in the crock pot still frozen in the morning, and it still will be ready and delicious come dinner time. Crock pot meals also allow for the food to stay warm for family members eating dinner at different times.

If you are not a meal planner, this could change your life. Give it a week, and reap the rewards of planning ahead!


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