What’s for dinner?

Filed under: Articles,Kitchen,Kitchen/Dining Room — Colleen at 11:24 am on Thursday, February 25, 2010

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How can such a simple question be such a dreaded question?

The key to solving this daily dilemma is PLANNING. Creating a menu saves you time and money! You can plan your menu based on what is already in your pantry, fridge and freezer. Here are a few strategies to try:

1. Once a month cooking. This involves some serious planning, but you’ll reap the benefits. You plan meals for the month and prepare them over the course of a day or two and then store them in the freezer. Imagine only having to do dinner prep cleanup once in an entire month! There are some great resources available to make this method even easier, such as cookbooks catered to this method or websites such as this one.
2. Once a month meal planning and shopping. This is a method I’ve done in the past. Make a master list of all the meals you want for a month and then go shopping. (I prefer shopping on-line at a local grocery store that has valet pick-up—well worth the $5 fee when you have a large order.) I usually end up planning about 10 meals and then repeating them each once. With leftovers and meals out, having 20 meals planned a month is usually sufficient for my family of 6. I make the meals with the more perishable items early in the month. I also generally use freezer assembly techniques to double meals. For example, if I’m making chicken with a sauce, I double the sauce and a freeze half. The half that I freeze gets placed in a freezer bag. The freezer bag of sauce gets stored with the allocated frozen meat for that meal. Yes, I still have to cook the meat, but there is virtually no prep time–or mess! And since all the items are stored together, they don’t accidentally get used up. Also, the meal tastes more fresh because you’re not reheating it. Note: You’ll likely still find the need to for a few quick grocery trips for fresh produce and dairy, but you dinners will be covered!
3. Weekly meal planning. While the monthly planning definitely has it’s advantages, sometimes putting together the list can feel overwhelming. Instead, plan just one week at time. I have found that planning 4 meals a week is ample food for my family (again, factoring in left-overs, meals out, and the occasional “Spaghettio’s for Dinner!”). Each week, pair 4 meals together and create an ingredient list. Be sure to list ALL the ingredients you need, not just what you need to buy. A few tips:

Consider pairing meals together that have similar prep work. For example, choose 2 meals that require chopping onions and do all the chopping at once.
Also consider choosing meals whose leftovers can be recycled into another meal. I serve one chicken dish with egg noodles. I use the left over egg noodles for a beef stew later in the week.
Try to pick one recipe a week to double and freeze a meal. It’s great to have extra easy meals on hand for especially busy weeks or for having on-hand to offer a friend in need.

When planning the week, consider choosing one crock pot meal per week and 1 super easy meal (pizza, pasta, breakfast for dinner, grilled cheese and soup).

After 4 weeks, you’ll have 4 weekly meal plans that you can reuse! Why recreate the wheel? Label your first meal plan “A”, your second “B”, and so forth. Rotate the weeks and simply review your ingredient list and create a new shopping list!

Meal plans can be flexible. Since you’ll have meals for at least 1 week at time in your home, you can choose the meal from your list based on what you are craving or have time to prepare each day. Since I started planning meals, I’ve noticed feeling less stressed at 4 pm, my family eats healthier meals, and I’m saving money and time at the grocery store because I have a well planned week of food. I’m not buying those “just in case” items and I’m not making multiple grocery trips!

If you have a menu planning tip to share, please share it below!

Bon Appetit!