Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Meal Planning 101

It is 5pm.  The kids are cranky, whiney and needy.  The dog is barking to go outside.  You open the fridge and pantry to find a can of kidney beans and some stale crackers, a bag of wilty spinach and limp carrots plus a 2L of flat coke.  "What's for dinner?", the kids ask. What's for dinner?!?!  You want to pull out your hair and scream and then curl up in the fetal position, sucking your thumb.  After a few minutes of humming and hawing and crying kids, you give in, order a pizza and swear that tomorrow will be different .... until you find yourself in the same spot the very next day.
We have all been there ... it is the plight of every mom, whether they work, stay at home, or somewhere in between, the What's For Dinner question is one that haunts us all!  When I had my fourth baby, all of my cooking ability went out the window.  Literally, I could not cook to save my life.  I could not even think of planning a meal, and getting food on the table was usually more trouble than it was worth.  I am not even sure what we ate for the 4 months after she was born or how it got there.  I was a mess and I needed help.  I had heard about meal planning and thought it was a great idea but really had no idea where to start.  After a particularly horrendous week of meals and some fervent prayers, I sat down and decided to just give it a go.
I did not have the foggiest idea of what it meant or how to do it so I decided to just try a few things and see what worked.  I made a list of ALL of the meals I make regularly and anything I had made that I would like to make again.  Then I made a list of recipes I had been wanting to try, with either websites or cookbook names and pages listed beside them.  I drew out, by hand, a blank calendar, dated it for the next 3 weeks and started filling in the spaces with meals.  I tried to balance each week out with chicken dishes, beef dishes, pork dishes, vegetarian dishes, and tried not to double up on any ethnic meals like asian, indian, italian or mexican in one week.  If something required a unique ingredient that I did not often use, I tried to find other recipes that I could make in the same week or two that used the same ingredient so that I could use it up.  I tried to include one meal I had not made before into each week and then when we did try them, we decided if we wanted to add them to our "list".  I tried not to make the same meal twice for at least a month or more.  I wanted variety and I wanted to try new things but still have space for our old standbys.  Suddenly, cooking became fun again.  Shopping for food was easier because I just looked at my meal plan and knew what I needed to buy to make everything for that week.  I was wasting much less food, and my family was so well fed, comparatively.
You do not have to be extravagant.  Be honest with yourself about what you can and will cook and what your family does and will eat.  Try to introduce things to them slowly, little bits at a time.  If the won't eat green vegetables, try to sneak one in once every two weeks and then slowly build it up.  You also have to realize that you won't stick to your plan 100% of the time.  There are days when things just don't go your way and you end up eating leftovers or breakfast for dinner.  There are times when you just do not feel like eating what you have planned so you change things around.  You may not always get to the store in time and things get put off for another week ... or three.  I also give myself one day off a week where I don't cook.  Whether we go out for a date night, order in, or Dallin makes dinner or we just eat leftovers or whatever we feel like whipping up, I don't have to plan and think about dinner one night each week.  For me it is usually Saturdays but you can do what works for you.
The real key is to get yourself a plan that will work and that you CAN and WILL make.  Start with a week at a time (which is what I do now) and see how it works for you.  Make a time for yourself when you will sit down and write out your plan.  Put it in a place where you can see it.  Before I started posting mine here 6 months ago, I taped it to my fridge.  I saw it every single day and at a glance could tell you what we were eating all week (and month) long.  It was so handy and really cut out a lot of stress.
The next time your kids ask the dreaded question, be ready for them.  You can point it out and say, "THIS is what we are having, and it will be ready in 30 minutes!"


  1. this is a great how-to post. I love it and I need it. I am totally in the phase of not cooking and can't think of anything worth cooking right now and it stinks. I'm going to try Tami, thank you for the kick I needed to start :)

  2. Tami, Thanks so much for sharing this inspiration. My trickiest thing is the thinking up. I love to hear of your ideas on here and think of your great cooking. We miss you and it feels great to be able to see how your family is doing! You are just so great! Thanks for sharing!!

  3. Such great suggestions. I am definitely trying to be better with planning, and this gave me hope that I can do it! Love you:)