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tips for effective meal planning

POYEL: Secrets to Successfully Getting Dinner on the Table

Time for another Project Organize Your ENTIRE Life check in.  We’ve already addressed meal planning a bit but today I want to lay out the complete action plan for getting dinner time totally under control.  


Step 1: Have a System for Finding Meals


The quickest and easiest way to conquer dinner planning is to have a system for finding recipes each week.  So far we’ve featured two options for doing this here on POYEL: Mel’s 6 week meal plan (complete with recipes and grocery lists) as well as a free trial membership, and the chance to win a lifetime membership, to the meal planning super site Relish!  Of course, there are other options too.


I used to just sit at the kitchen table with my favorite cookbooks, recipe websites, and meals in my head and create a weekly menu.  At one point I even started to create a spreadsheet listing all my family’s favorite chicken meals, fish meals, veggie meals and etc. to make it a bit easier.  Ultimately I switched to Relish! because I loved that it would take my chosen meals and generate a shopping list (and even conveniently categorize the items by where they could be found in the store) but that’s a luxury, not a necessity.  All you really need for this step is a system that works for you.


One additional thing that I’ve found works really well for me (and that many of you have written in and said works for you) is to assign a theme to each night.  An example would be something like this:


Monday – Fish
Tuesday – Slow Cooker
Wednesday – Chicken
Thursday – Veggie
Friday – Mexican


Doing this makes it easier to ensure variation in your family’s meals.  It can also help with time management and cut down on wasted food.  For example, I work Tuesday afternoons and don’t finish until dinner time.  By making Tuesday slow cooker day I can ensure that nobody starves on those nights.  Similarly, since we grocery shop on Sunday, making Monday fish night helps to ensure that it’s nice and fresh.

Step 2: Figure Out the Easiest Way to Shop with Your Kids


This is the hardest part for me so let me just say straight off that the easiest way may be not to do it at all.  With a 20 month old and a 3 1/2 year old it seems like someone always wants a new snack, wants to walk instead of ride, or has to go potty.  There’s just no getting around it.  So for now we’ve settled into a routine of taking care of the grocery shopping during nap time on Sundays.


If weekend or night shopping doesn’t work for you then you need to figure out the best ways to keep your kiddos happy at the store.  Many of you have written in to say that snacks go a long way.  Depending on your child, distributing the snacks in a fun way may get you even more mileage out of this idea.  See here for a particularly cute dispensing system found by my pal Maddie.


Taking the concept a step further, one reader wrote in with this great tip:


I meal plan on Sunday or Monday, then go shopping on Tuesday after story time at the library. My daughter’s happy, we’re already out, and she gets “market lunch”: bagels at the bakery, slices of salami at the deli, a fruit roll-up in produce, and some string cheese. They scan the empty wrappers at check out, then she has a banana in the car. Meals are simple (tacos, pasta) unless my husband is able/willing to cook or entertain children.


Along with the adorable “market lunch” idea, she also makes the incredibly important point that timing is everything when it comes to kids and grocery carts.  Do everything you can to ensure they’re in a happy place before you try to plop them into one!  Click through for the rest of the action plan…



Step 3: Make a Habit of Thinking About Dinner Ahead of Time


Take 10 seconds every night and look at what you’ll be eating for dinner tomorrow.  Slow cooker meals are crazy convenient IF you remember to start in the morning… not so much if 3 o’clock rolls around and you realize your pot roast should have already been cooking for 4 hours.  Whether it’s setting an alarm on your phone or just keeping your weekly menu out in the open, do whatever it takes to get in the habit of thinking about dinner in advance.


Step 4: Cook When You Have Time


Let’s face it, for many parents 5 o’clock just isn’t a very convenient time to start chopping and sauteing.  There’s a reason, after all, that this time of day is known as the “witching hour”.  The kids are often starting to get tired, a bit cranky, and more than a little needy.  Instead of trying to come up with ways to pacify them and cook dinner, I’ve started doing as much meal prep as possible earlier in the day.  If I’m working in the afternoon, for example, I’ll put S down for nap and start cooking with C around noon.  We address whatever can be chopped or mixed and then sit tight for a few hours.  Obviously this won’t work for everyone’s schedule but it’s worth thinking about doing some of your meal prep in the morning, the night before, or on the weekends if possible.

Step 5: Have a Back-up Plan


I mentioned earlier this week that we’ve gotten into the habit of making one or two freezer meals with C on the weekends.  While it’s not necessary to have a freezer full of meals, it is nice to have something you can throw in the oven when the day has unexpectedly gone awry.  Having a few super simple recipes in your toolbox can also help.  One reader wrote in with this suggestion:


I wanted to leave you my easy go to dinner!!
Take 6 boneless and skinless chicken breasts and put them in the crock pot. Take a whole bottle of bbq sauce (I like to take original and honey and do half and half) and pour it all over the chicken. Then take 6-8 of the mini corn on the cob and wrap them in foil and put them on top of the chicken. Cook on low for 8 hours!
I usually make rice to go with it when I get home. Everyone loves it and its super easy!


Hope you can use this,


That’s what I’ve got for you, now it’s your turn.  Any meal planning or dinner prep tips or tricks you can share with the group?


This post is part of MPMK’s “Project Organize Your ENTIRE Life”. You can read all about it here, check out all of our projects here, and join thousands of POYEL facebook group members here.



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