Overall Meal Planning Strategy

No more worrying all day about what to cook and how to make it happen.

I’ve been cooking dinner continuously for more than 40 years. I’ve raised 4 children in that time. And believe it or not, I only started meal planning about 3 years ago.

If I had known the freedom that taking the time to plan would give me, I surely would have started sooner. My present self tells my future self what to cook.

And that means no more worrying all day about what to cook and how to make it happen. And then sometimes finding myself feeling fraught – hungry eyes looking at me to feed them and nothing prepared to put in front of them.

Planning ahead also helps with the food shopping and prepping. On Friday, I can look ahead and order the groceries I need for the coming week. And on Sunday take the proteins out of the freezer and put into the fridge to begin to thaw. On Sunday, I may also do some food prep with produce or make a dressing or sauce.

Steps to Get You Going

  1. Are there meals you want to make weekly, bi-weekly or monthly? Make a list of the meals you want to see on repeat and how often.
  2. Make a list of the repeating weekly, bi-weekly and monthly events that you participate in that will affect your dinner planning – no cook nights like date night, when you need an easy night like during sports games, planned leftovers or just YOYO (you’re on you’re own).
  3. Make one more list of all the fill-in meals that you enjoy but only want to see occasionally.
  4. Begin the actual calendar by blocking out dates that you won’t be cooking – vacations, Sundays, holidays and planned eating out.
  5. Add in the meals from your repeating lists. And, fill in the rest of the calendar from your occasional list.

What it Looks Like for Me

I plan 2-3 months at a time. And it takes me several hours. It’s definitely a time investment. But the payoff is huge every time I open my planning app and see “what’s for dinner.”

There are seasons and cycles in the life of every family. Right now, I’m feeding 6 grown bodies – Me, Andrew (my husband), our grown daughter, two teenage sons and our “Pop” who lives in the house with us. It’s not uncommon for us to have friends over or to be celebrating with food.

Because I feed two men and two teenage boys, our menu right now is more meat and potatoes comfort food. It’s casual and familiar. I fill in with lots of in season vegetables. And you can believe that during the summer, fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers from the garden are on the table at every meal.

Here is the progression that I use to fill in the calendar.

  1. Fill in dates that I know I’m out of town – probably visiting the grandkids. It’s called YOYO (you’re on your own). Andrew will bring home Real & Ready from our store for everyone to eat.
  2. Block out Sundays because I never cook that day. YOYO.
  3. Fill out Saturdays with some more elegant and complicated meals that we love – lasagna, steak, stuffed chicken w/ pasta, etc.
  4.  Fill in every other Friday as “date night.”
  5. On the remaining Fridays I make something fun and easy – pizza, hot dogs, sloppy joes or soup and sandwich.
  6. Pop doesn’t eat with us on Wednesdays so I fill in all of those with the dinners he doesn’t like – tacos, cold plate, spaghetti, macaroni & cheese, chili, etc.
  7. That leaves Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays…
  8. My family has told me that they want cheeseburgers every week. Not my favorite but it’s easy. We compromise at every other week. So I fill those in.
  9. We also love breakfast for dinner and there are several combinations of that which include eggs, breakfast casseroles, sausage biscuits, gravy biscuits, muffins, pancakes, French toast, grits, hash browns & fruit. I fill in a breakfast every other week.
  10. Salmon is easy and healthy. I fill that in every other week with varying  sides – mashed potatoes, grits, rice or a vegetable casserole. I don’t specify a vegetable. It’s whatever is in season.
  11. If it’s a cold season, I’ll fill in with some soups and stews. If it’s a warm season I’ll fill in with some salads, sandwiches or quesadillas.
  12. Now there’s only a handful of blank spots left so I fill in with all the random dishes that we enjoy – hamburger steak, meatloaf, grilled chicken, teriyaki chicken, etc.

And just like that, it’s all done! Here’s the actual screen shot from my planner.

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