One of the most stressful parts of a busy weekday is getting dinner on the table. Between work, the kids’ school and extracurricular activities, it can be difficult to have a nutritious meal ready at a reasonable hour. Luckily, there is a solution- with a little advance planning and some basic organization, dinnertime can turn from a burden into a breeze! I devised this handy step-by-step meal-planning system when our son started preschool- see if it works for you!
Step 1: Buy a Dry-Erase Board
…Or a chalkboard, or really even a piece of paper tacked to the fridge with a magnet will do. The point is, get something on which you can write the days of the week, and the corresponding dinner for each day. Not only will it give you a visual reminder of what you plan to prepare each day, but a quick snapshot of it with your phone can serve as an ingredient shopping list for the grocery store.
Step 2: Make the Meal Plan
Appoint a certain day of the week to create your meal plan. I like Sundays, because it is the least busy day of the week for me (and therefore ideal for both planning and shopping), but you can choose any day that works best for you. Take a moment to assess the contents of your kitchen and see if there are any ingredients that can be used for meals prior to taking your trip to the store. This will cut down on unnecessary spending and get you focused on meal possibilities. Then, plan a healthy, enjoyable, and above all EASY meal for each night of the week. Things that can be pre-made on the weekend and then quickly reheated (lasagna, casseroles, etc.) are always a good idea.
Step 3: Take a Picture- It’ll Last Longer
It’s handy to have a pic on your phone to jog your memory if you find yourself at the grocery store with no idea what you are supposed to buy. Having a photo reminder of each week’s list also helps to avoid reruns of the same dinner too many weeks in a row. (Mom, meatloaf AGAIN??)
Step 4: Time to Shop!
With your list in hand, time to hit the store. Try to choose an off-time, when lines will be minimal. If your meal-planning day is Sunday, like mine, may I suggest going during the local football game? It’s like a ghost town at the grocery store when all eyes are glued to the game.
Another option is to try a home grocery delivery service like Walmart to Go- you can select your groceries online at your leisure, and a delivery driver will bring them right to your door the next day for a small fee! A perfect solution for the busy parent on the go (especially if you’ve ever had to bring a toddler into a crowded store.)
Step 5: Prep What You Can
Once your ingredients are in the house, take time to peel, chop, rinse or even cook anything you can ahead of time, to minimize the time spent on preparing dinner each weeknight. For the ultimate proactivity, invest in some kitchen prep bowls (I like the ones by Rubbermaid, $12.56 on Amazon.com) and have your washed, sliced or chopped ingredients already pre-measured and ready to throw into whatever you are cooking. Talk about a timesaver!
Step 6: Stick to the Plan-Mostly
After a hectic day it is oh, so tempting to forego dinner preparation and pick up a nice greasy sack of fast food on the way home from work, or to load the family in the car and head to the nearest casual dining restaurant, but try to resist the temptation. Not only will the home-cooked meals be healthier for you and your family, but it will also keep a little extra cash in your wallet and keep everyone on track for other evening activities such as homework, bath time and bedtime. Alas, nobody’s perfect, and you should not be too hard on yourself if you go off the rails once in a while. I have a built-in “cheat” day that I call “Fast Food Friday”- a scheduled day of takeout bliss that is written right into the weekly meal plan. As a certain fast food chain once said, “you deserve a break today.”
Got more meal-planning tips? We’d love to hear them! Please share in the comments section.