I could eat cereal every night for dinner. Seriously. Just rotate Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Honey Nut Cheerios, and I’d be completely content. To be quite frank, I am so tired by the 5 o’clock hour that I just want to get through the bedtime routine and sit. And eat cereal.
I started intentionally planning our meals last year because we were in a season where we were just passing each other in the doorway – one person in, one person out. We have a more routine schedule now, but our week nights and weekends are still busy bustling in the door around 5 or later, and then personal, work- or school-related events in the evenings.
First, I find meals. Finding meals is probably the hardest part of meal planning for me. This is mostly because I try to mix things up so we don’t eat the same thing every week, and I also don’t have a ton of time to pour through cookbooks. My main go-to source? Pinterest. It’s an easy way to find meals and an even easier way to organize the meals. I keep three specific boards for dinner: Tried and True Recipes, Dinner Ideas, and Crockpot Meals.
First, I consider our schedule for the week. On the nights Chris gets home later than normal, I try to have something cooked that can stay warm (in the crockpot) or that can easily be reheated. I typically have a couple evening events for my job each month, so I will typically schedule leftovers. I also schedule leftovers at least once a week anyway just to allow for a break (and a hefty dose of grace) and so that food doesn’t go to waste.
I also see what we have on hand. I’ll look in our freezer and see if there is anything I can throw into the rotation before I plan out the meals. This saves us money in the long run.
I make sure to check the weekly sales. I tend to plan meals around meat or veggies that are on sale for that week. For example, asparagus is usually $4.99 a pound. Last week, it was on sale for 97 cents! Needless to say, we had asparagus a few times.
Of course, I always plug in meals I know we love as well as brand new recipes to try out. We have about 10 meals or so that are a tried-and-true fixture in our dinner rotation. I try not to have the same thing in a two- to three-week period. It’s not science, but it helps mix things up a bit.
Next, I write it out. Throughout the week, I’ll throw meal ideas into my planner, and then transfer them to our chalkboard wall on the weekend. It’s a great visual reminder for me as I am prepping dinner and it keeps Chris from having to ask, “What’s for dinner?” (He’s been known to do this as early as 7:30 a.m.) If I’m really on top of it, I might even have meals planned out weeks in advance.
Finally, I hit up the grocery store. Grocery shopping is sometimes the thorn in my side when it comes to the weekend because first, it’s a non-negotiable expense, and second, it’s usually accompanied by a restless toddler. If I can get in and out efficiently, under budget, and with a happy kid, I consider it a success.
After I find meals for the week and plan out our dinner schedule, I make my list according to what each recipes needs, the weekly grocery ad, and any coupons I have on hand.
By going into the week with a meal plan, I spend way less than what I would if we didn’t have a menu and our evenings are much less chaotic.