IT’S THAT QUESTION I DREAD: “WHAT SHOULD WE HAVE FOR DINNER?”
Or, how it seems to have adapted into, “What’s for dinner?” – insert eye roll emoji here.
Meal planning wasn’t something I ever saw myself doing before having a toddler, and yet it’s become something that massively helps me in my weekly schedule. I am one of those people who loves routine, but doesn’t want to feel like I’m living for my routine if that makes sense (can you tell I’m a Gemini!?). Meal planning always seemed so… involved.
Well, I’ve got some tips to make weekly dinner planning simple, easy, time and cost-efficient to make you (and my) life easier!
THE 5 BASICS OF PLANNING MEALS
As I mentioned, I found the concept of meal planning really overwhelming and tedious. Plus, I’ve always been a bit of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants type, so I don’t love being locked in. I’ve narrowed down a few things that are game-changers in terms of meal planning our dinners each week that take into the considerations of my husbands changing schedule, not feeling repetitive or bored, and even factoring in leftovers. I also have some App suggestions for grocery lists and budgeting!
Here are my 5 basics of meal planning:
- Inventory what you have
- Note schedule changes / Anticipate the prep
- Plan for leftovers
- Shop the sales
- Consider supplementing
I’ve also created a handy little printable PDF weekly meal planner to help you (and me!) keep organized. I highly suggest you print off, then laminate if your fancy, or just cover in clear packing tape if you’re me, so you can write with an erasable marker and reuse over and over!
INVENTORY WHAT YOU HAVE SO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU ACTUALLY NEED
This isn’t nearly as involved as the word inventory would lead you to believe. I simply look in my freezer, fridge and cupboard for what I have that needs to be used up. I make sure to mark these things down on my planner. I am terrible for heading to the grocery store without a plan and aimlessly wandering to come up with dinner ideas. Noting what I already have, helps me know what I actually need.
For example, if I have a freezer full of chicken breasts, I want to use those before buying more. I might notice that I have broccoli in the fridge that really needs to be used, and I’m getting low on soups to pull out for easy dinners. It’s just a quick glance so that I know a) not to buy those ingredients and b) to use them.
APP RECOMMENDATION: I use OurGroceries for this. It allows me to easily add all the items I need into a list that is organized by type (produce, bakery, pantry, dairy etc).
NOTE SCHEDULE CHANGES/ANTICIPATE THE PREP
For us, this is a big one. My husbands work schedule changes constantly. He also works a late shift each week so I like to anticipate that I might not have the time/energy/desire to cook that night when its just for me and my picky toddler. For you, this might be a night where a kid has soccer practise or when you’re working late and your spouse/partner/teenager/roommate is cooking.
I always write schedule changes on the planner so it gives me a clearer idea of what dinners to have on which days. Spoiler alert, this is usually a great night to pull out the aforementioned soup or leftovers 😉
This is also where I note what days my spouse is home so that I (or him… but let’s be real here) might have more toddler free time to cook up more elaborate or labour intensive meals. It’s all good and dandy to plan out a week’s worth of delicious dinners… but are you biting off more than you can chew? I find myself having to be super realistic about what I have time for on some nights of the week. On a weekend day I have time to build a lasagne or make a chicken pot pie from scratch, but when I’ve got a toddler running through my legs at 530pm on a Wednesday? No thank you!
So when I think of meals we’d like to eat that week, I consider the days and nights when I will have time for prep work.
For example, for an easy, relatively prep free meal night: spaghetti and meatballs, Greek chicken pitas, quinoa salad. More elaborate meals might be roasting a chicken, pasta sauce from scratch, prepping something that takes a little extra time like deboning fish etc.
PLAN FOR LEFTOVERS
Speaking of leftovers… I plan for them. I try and incorporate one meal a week that is leftovers. I plan this, by scheduling it for a day or two after a day when I know I can the time, energy and will to cook a meal that can be plentiful enough for leftovers. Meals that work extra well for leftovers are curries, stews and soups which tend to taste even better after the flavours have more time to develop. I also love to do whole chicken in the Instant Pot and then use the carcass to make stock for soup and the leftover shredded chicken for things like salads, soups, tacos etc.
SHOP THE SALES TO STICK TO THAT BUDGET
Possibly the biggest challenge for me, is to stick to a loose budget each week. The easiest way I’ve found to do this in a quick and efficient manner is to use an app to search the local flyers of my grocery stores of choice.
Now let me preface this all by saying: I legit don’t have time to go to 3-5 different stores to get all my grocery needs to save a few dollars. I completely get it if that’s what you need to do. For me and my family, time is the bigger struggle, so I choose a store that has my most important grocery needs at the best price. Using an app to be able to compare flyers lickity split saves me so much time. It also helps me choose what meals I might make. The front page of Save On Foods has Frozen Jumbo Shrimp as 50% off? Sweet, looks like we’re having grilled shrimp salads for dinner one night. What’s that? Cauliflower is on sale for $2.99 when its been around $6 for months? Hello, roasted cauliflower pasta and honey garlic cauliflower bowls! Catch my drift?
APP RECOMMENDATION: I can’t say enough good things about the Flipp app! It allows you to search for specific products, then tells you the price at all your local stores. You can see flyer previews and save items directly from them, and you can set up notifications for items you buy regularly to know when they are on sale.
*This portion of the post is kindly sponsored by Chef’s Plate.
Sometimes, you just don’t have it in you to come up with new dinner ideas. You’re sick and tired of everything and the risk of a Pinterest recipe fail when you’ve got a family to feed is imminent. This is when a service like Chef’s Plate can be your very best friend.
Chef’s Plate allows you to order a box of meals ahead of time, for those weeks when you need the decisions made for you. Not only does this cut out the grocery shopping, but it takes several days out of your week meal planning to give you a break! My favourite part about a service like Chef’s Plate is that it inspires us to try new dinner options that previously maybe I wasn’t confident in cooking or being able to find the ingredients in my local store. It opens up your recipe Rolodex and fresh ingredients are delivered right to your door.
Chef’s Plate offers a flexible subscription service that can be put on hold at any time, so you have meal options when you need them and not when you don’t!
SAMPLE OF OUR WEEKLY MEAL PLAN
So if you’ve read this far and feel inspired, here’s a sample of a weekly meal plan you might see in our household. I did a quick survey of our food inventory and noticed we had some salmon in the freezer, as well as broccoli that needed to be eaten.
MONDAY – Grilled Salmon Caesar salads
TUESDAY – Dan works late, so I’ll pull some soup out of the freezer
WEDNESDAY – Roasted Brocolli and Almond pasta
THURSDAY – Roasted Instant Pot Chicken + chicken stock from the bones (Husband is home, so more time)
FRIDAY – Takeout Night (we do this every few weeks)
SATURDAY – Greek chicken pitas with roasted potatoes (using leftover shredded chicken)
SUNDAY – Make soup using homemade chicken stock. This week it is Thai Carrot Ginger
I hope this helps anyone out there struggling to come up with a way to keep dinner time easy, fresh and organized!