Avoiding the 'What's for dinner?' mystery

I think one of the worst part about nearing the end of the day is the “what’s for dinner” mystery. The last thing I ever want to do at the end of the day is to figure out what I want to make that evening, and hope I have everything in the refrigerator to make it.

What if I told you a way to stop this nightly battle once and for all?

In our house, we no longer wonder what we’re making, and dinner making is a breeze. This is because we sit down every Saturday and create a meal plan for the next week. We keep the list on the door of the refrigerator so the kids always know what to expect that night for dinner. And it has taken away a ton of headaches in the dinner-making department.

I totally recommend meal-planning for your family too. However, to truly make it easier there are a couple tips to follow:

Know your schedule
When we create our meal plan, we keep the week’s activities in mind. I have a huge whiteboard calendar of the month’s events, and we chart our meals according to what’s going on each day. On busier nights, like soccer games or school concerts, we’ll plan for a meal that doesn’t take a ton of prep time or that we can prep ahead of time to just throw in the oven that evening. On nights where there isn’t much going on, we might make something a little more elaborate as well as prepping a dish for later in the week. We keep in account who will be cooking that night, planning a meal that person can cook easily and making sure to note who the executive chef will be on the menu. By the way, whoever cooks doesn’t have to clean up (and yes, we both take turns).

Plan for leftovers
Some nights I like to make a whole roasted chicken for the family. It’s cheaper to cook the whole thing, plus you can make a tasty giblet gravy from those innards. But instead of cooking just one chicken, why not cook TWO? That extra chicken will make a tasty meal of chicken tacos later in the week, chicken salad sandwiches for lunch, salad with grilled chicken pieces, crockpot tortilla soup, or chicken enchiladas for Mexican night. And even if those leftovers won’t be used that week, they can still be frozen for another week. One of my favorite leftover meals is “breakfast burritos” – a tortilla filled with egg, potato, bacon, beans, and cheese, and then grilled on each side to seal it shut. I try to fold a few extra every time I make these, then wrap them in foil for a quick meal a hungry kid can reach for in the freezer.

Create your shopping list
While planning out our meals, we also keep another piece of paper close by to plan our shopping list at the same time. When we write down a meal, we list the ingredients we’ll need. This ensures we won’t be scrambling for capers when we’re making Chicken Puttanesca or ketchup when we’re making hamburgers. Note: I can’t stress how very important a shopping list is every time you go to the store. Not only will this ensure you come back from the store with everything you need (and limit the amount of trips back to the store during the week), it ensures you’ll spend less money. Stores are designed to encourage impulse shopping – which is a HUGE money-waster. Did you really need that bag of chips or package of beef jerky? Not unless that was what you specifically came to the store for. Go through your cabinets and refrigerator and only list the things you absolutely need. And then go by that list while shopping. Having what you need written out in front of you makes it easier to spend less time in the store, and less time around things you might be enticed to buy that you really don’t need. However, impulse shopping is still a possibility, list or no list. If you see something you want that isn’t on your list, seriously question whether you really need it. More likely than not, you don’t.

Include the kids
This week, Mr. W and I were in a meal plan rut. We felt like we were just making the same thing every week, and it was getting really boring. So we dedicated the weekly menu to our kids. We asked the kids to tell us all of their favorite meals, and we used them for each night’s meal. The Taz chose spaghetti one night and pizza for another (shocker…). Mr. W’s son asked for mexican casserole at the beginning of the week and sausages at the end. And DQ requested meatloaf and mashed potatoes for a cozy night in. It took a little bit to get some meal ideas out of them, but they suddenly could think of a bunch of things we had forgotten we even knew how to make. And we know that every night this week, at least one kid will be happily chowing down.

Allow for flexibility
Things happen last minute – school project is due tomorrow, a party invite without warning, company is coming over, the zucchini needs to be used up, or that steak dinner just doesn’t sound as appetizing as it did on Saturday when you planned your meals.  We always keep some “cheat” meals in the freezer, like a frozen pizza or something equally convenient, for occasions like these.  Or we’ve been known to switch meals midweek to a day that seems better.   Always remember that the meal plan is not written in stone, and should be just as flexible as you are!  And when in doubt, breakfast makes a fabulous dinner.  🙂

Have any dinner ideas that are a winner in your house?  Leave them in the comments!

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2 thoughts on “Avoiding the 'What's for dinner?' mystery”

  1. I’ve been doing this for a while now. We have a dry erase board on the fridge. I used a wet erase marker (the ones used on those old fashioned overhead sheets) to write “M”, “T”, “W”, etc to indicate the days of the week. Each week on Sunday I plan the menu for the next week, and write those with the dry erase marker. And yes, knowing your schedule is very helpful so you know when to plan fast meals. I also use my dry erase marker to write the weather forecast during the summer, so I know which days I’m not going to want to use the oven, or stand over the stove for 30 minutes. On days where it is going to be really hot, I use my crock pot. After dinner each day, I erase that meal from the board. I actually then go a step further, and mark the meal on the calendar. This helps for future weeks so I can see how long it has been since we had a certain meal. Otherwise, I tend to make the same things over and over. At the end of the week, my menu has been erased, but the days remain, and I’m ready to set up the next week. Another advantage, it helps so you can make sure to get a variety of meals. I usually try for one beef, one pork, one chicken, and one pasta dish each week. If I wasn’t planning out the menu, we would probably end up with lots of pasta and beef, and no chicken or pork.

    I love the tips you give out on this blog…. Keep ‘em comin’!

  2. Especially since starting the new job with giant long hours, this has become a necessity. I don’t plan things out down to the ground, but I have found that generally, deciding on meals for the week on the weekend is a must.

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