Tag Archives: dinner

A fun dinner menu for your family’s meal planning

Every week, we take the guesswork out of dinner planning by putting together a menu for the entire week. I’m lucky to have married a man who cooks, so he and I switch off weeks for cooking. On Saturdays, he or I will create the dinner plan for the week, creating our shopping list from that menu plan.

Btw, I talk a lot about time saving tips like meal planning in my book, Reclaim Your Creative Soul, a guide to organizing your full-time life to make room for your craft. I even include a 30-day meal guide and coordinating shopping list! Find out more about it here.

Back to the meal plan…. Usually we just jot it down on binder paper and pin it to the refrigerator. The kids appreciate knowing what we’re eating each day (although, sometimes it dictates whether they’ll be home for dinner or not), and we never stand in front of the refrigerator feeling lost because the plan is already created.

Lately, though, I’ve been playing around with creative menus, putting together fun templates through Word as if I was creating an actual restaurant menu. Here’s the latest:



We usually have the more involved meals on the weekends (though tonight I’m going out, so the rest of the family gets pizza). During the week, I make meals that take very little prep time and are 30 minutes or less to make. By midweek, we generally have a lot of leftovers, so I always incorporate a make-your-own meal night (plus, the teens really should make their own food at least once a week). And Fridays we either go out or have breakfast, because by the end of the week, I’m so over cooking.

This template I used isn’t anything fancy. I just took an already created Word template for a menu, but tweaked the background and the wording.

Would you like to download it for yourself? CLICK HERE for a word doc you can easily edit.

P.S. The photo I have above is not on this week’s menu, but one you may want to try. It’s Honey Ginger Soy Chicken from the Mom 100 Cookbook. Find the recipe here, along with information on the great cookbook it came from.

What are your family’s favorite dinner ideas?

Summertime Dinner Menu

Grilled Mediterranean Vegetable Panini (Photo: Alex Farnum/Sunset Magazine)

This week I’m feeling like I need to be on vacation, or at least pretend like I am.  The weather is in the 90s, the kids are at their dad’s house all week long, and I plan on wearing dresses and flowers in my hair every day I can.

This week, I am celebrating summertime!

Of course, hot summer nights means the oven needs to be used as minimally as possible.  So I have planned items I can cook ahead of time during cooler hours, or that require the BBQ or stove top.  This week I am adamant about not being heated out of my house by cooking.  And I also don’t want to be stuck at the stove for a really long time.  This week’s menu takes all of that in account, and just radiates all I love about summertime.

Inspired by Sunset Magazine’s Quick & Easy Summer Dinner Recipes (though not all menu recipes come from Sunset).


– BBQ Chicken
– Baked Potato
– Bush’s Baked Beans
– BBQ Corn


– Cod Tostadas: fried tortillas with a thin layer of refried beans, top it with cod, avocado, Trader Joe’s mango salsa, thinly sliced cabbage, minced radish, cilantro, and sour cream.  Whether it all stays on top is another story….
– Trader Joe’s Corn Salsa (so good, it should be a side dish)
– Spanish Rice


– Falafels: Halved pita pocket, Trader Joe’s Tahini Sauce, feta, lettuce, tomato, baked falafels
Tabouli Salad


– Veggie Panini: grilled eggplant slice, grilled portabello mushroom, mozzarella cheese, roasted red pepper, arugula salad, ciabatta bread brushed with balsamic vinegar and lightly grilled before assembling.
– Polenta


– Turkey burger and sweet potato fries for me.
– Manly beef burger with regular fries for the Mr.
I’m trying out kimchi (pickled cabbage) on my burger to give it a little low-calorie zing.  Mr. W won’t touch it.


Chinese Chicken Salad
– Baguette & Brie
Who says you can’t mix up your cultures in one meal?


– Mahi Mahi with Trader Joes Thai Green Curry
– White Rice
– Grilled Peppers & Onions

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!

The Family Meal

In our household growing up, family meals were sacred. As kids, my sisters and I weren’t aware of how significant this tradition was. We just knew that it was expected that we would be sitting at the table when dinner was ready, all of us coming from separate directions to meet in one place to enjoy our meal together. Sometimes this was the only time that we were all together as a family. We used this time to catch up on each other’s lives, share the highs and lows of our day, and continue staying involved in each other’s lives as we grew and changed. This was especially vital when we were teenagers, when our words more closely resembled grunts and nods. A good meal had the power to open up our vocal chords to include a few words in between our caveman speak.

With my own family, I have continued this tradition. With the busyness of our schedules, there are some nights that we don’t sit down until 8pm. But as a rule, we are all together, using the table as a sounding board for everything that is going on in each other’s lives. Mealtime is a perfect opportunity to improve table manners, including appreciation for the meal and clearing the table when finished. It is when difficult situations at school are brought up by one of my kids so that we can tackle it together. It’s when we share a laugh, or discuss a frustration, or just go over the schedule for the week. Sometimes we even come up with a topic for the night and discuss it wholeheartedly together (Trisha Novotsky had some great suggestions for that in one of her forum posts). There is no TV on, cell phones and computers are put away, books and newspapers are not invited. It’s when we take a break from the go-go-go and enjoy a meal together in celebration of the tight-knit unit we have become.

Of course, family meals aren’t always the perfect picture of the Rockefeller family.  For those of you with toddlers, I know you have a totally different image in mind.  Noses turned up at what’s set before them, food being catapaulted across the room, their idea and your idea of when dinnertime should be a totally different time, mom or dad up and down during the mealtime to cater to each child’s needs.  Believe it or not, this is when it is vitally important to insist upon family meal time.  Toddlers learn from imitation, and if they are witness to what it looks like to eat a meal together, they have the opportunity to learn how to calm their mealtime antics and eat properly.

And as an added bonus, eating together can help fight obesity.  Think about it, if you’re talking with each other during mealtime, everyone is eating slower.  And your body has more time to process food and let you know when you’re full.  Consider that piece of diet advice free of charge.

If your family has strayed from the tradition of a family meal, let me urge you to pick it back up.  There is something magic about sharing and enjoying food with those you love around you.  Celebrate your family, and gather around the table tonight!

Busy Day Dinners

recipesBecause school is in, during the next few months there will be plenty of blogs and forum topics by me about the lack of time available. I know I am not alone in this boat, so I have been trying to share as many time-saving tips that I have. And the one area that takes a beating because time is so scarce is dinner time.

It is tempting to skip a nutritious dinner on busy nights in favor of a high-fat quick choice like McDonalds or Taco Bell. Or maybe you have a cabinet or freezer full of processed food like Macaroni & Cheese or TV dinners that you can make in 5 minutes flat. Yes, the kids love it and will eat all of it. Yes, it really is quick to make. Yes, that is your derriere getting larger, your kids getting chunkier and slower, and your wallet getting slimmer. But it really isn’t that hard to get everything done in your schedule AND sit as a family over healthy, home-cooked dinner.

The most important rule when it comes to any meal is making a weekly menu. This heads off the annoying “What’s for Dinner” question. But it also allows you to create a shopping list while you are planning your meals. As I write out my menu, I also write out the ingredients I will need on a separate piece of paper that will become my shopping list. I cannot tell you how important it is to make your weekly menu BEFORE you go shopping, or even how important it is to go with a list. Just those two tips alone will save you lots of calories and money that is wasted on impulse shopping.

Here is an example of a weekly menu, something that my family would most likely have throughout the week. Notice that some days are dedicated to leftovers. It is always a good idea to make more than you need, and to get your family used to eating leftovers. I make sure to have a container of freshly washed, cut up lettuce to make a quick salad to add to most meals. Also, we do most of our more involved meals on the weekends, and save crockpot cooking and easier dinners for the weekdays when we are busier. Finally, we eat a LOT of chicken and a bit of fish. It’s healthier than other meats, and our household enjoys chicken and fish much more than red meat.

Crockpot BBQ Chicken

Chicken Roll-ups (using leftover BBQ Chicken, wrapped in a tortilla)
Zucchini and bell pepper stir-fry (to add to the roll-ups)
Shredded cheese, salsa, and NF yogurt (instead of sour cream)

BLT’s (bacon, tomato, mozzarella, basil, lettuce and mayo on whole wheat bread)*
*I don’t generally eat bread in the evening, so I actually use lettuce leaves and just make wraps out of this. It tastes incredible, and is extremely easy on the stomach

“Wine Country Meal”* (the kids nicknamed this one. It’s when we make a smorgasbord of foods that don’t need cooking, and arrange them in a special way. We will usually drink sparkling apple cider in wine glasses with it, and may even have lit candles to create ambience)
*This meal will be Caprese (leftover mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil with drizzled balsamic), grapes and apples, and crackers with cheese and turkey lunchmeat, or a tuna salad to spread on the crackers.

Rotini Pasta

Crockpot Tortilla Soup
(more on the Crockpot below)

Crockpot Tortilla Soup leftovers
Buttermilk Biscuits

When I make my menu, I try to use a lot of the items I already have in my house so I don’t have to do a huge shopping trip. And I try to buy in bulk those items that I use consistently: tomato sauce, garlic, pasta, etc. We generally go grocery shopping once a week, and our weekly total is $75 – $100. This not only includes dinner items, but also items for all of our lunches and healthy breakfasts, and necessary household items like TP or toothpaste. When you think about how much it costs to eat dinner out, and then multiply that by 7, you can see how tremendous the savings are!

I can’t end this without giving major props to the best invention ever made. Every busy household will agree with me, it’s all about the Crockpot. I love my Crockpot. I still don’t feel like I use it nearly enough. But when I do, I seriously question why I even put it away. It is way too easy to prep your meal in the morning, or even the night before, and come home in the evening to a home that smells wonderful and a home-cooked meal waiting to be served. Honestly, I don’t know how I handled sports and school before the Crockpot. There are so many quick and healthy recipes that can be made in the slow cooker. And with a little bit of extra planning, you can actually be free from cooking meals in the evening and enjoy sitting as a family around the dinner table at a decent hour.

The best website I have come across for slow-cooking is “A Year of Slow Cooking”, by Stephanie O’Dea. She blogged for a whole year, a recipe per day. Her blog is filled with so many great ideas, from Tortilla Soup, to soap, to Christmas ornaments, to BBQ pulled pork. I own several great Crockpot recipe books. But most of my recipes come from her site. She even has a book: Make It Fast, Cook It Slow: The Big Book of Everyday Slow Cooking, coming out next month.

I hope this helped a little bit. Do you have some tips for busy households? How about some great dinner recipes? Leave a comment or mosey on over to the SantaRosaMom forums and leave your two cents!