Tag Archives: meal planning

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

Meal plan for a busy week

Where the magic happens. The normal view of my kitchen table on meal planning day.

Mr. W and I have taken to switching off weeks for cooking dinner. At first it seemed like it might be overwhelming, but it’s proved to be a brilliant plan. We might have to spend 7 days in a row cooking every single night, but the next 7 nights we get to be blissfully served dinner while the other cooks. By getting a full week off, we’re both eager to be more creative when it is our turn to cook. And we’ve both had fun experimenting with the meals to see what kids like and don’t like, and try out new recipes. Plus, it’s easier to plan on leftovers when you’re the one who’s cooking.

Another thing we’ve done for the past year is plan out our meals every week. Since our weekly cooking menus are Sunday to Saturday, we plan it on the Saturday before and then write out our shopping list from the items we need on the menu. I love that we never have to worry about what’s for dinner! And the kids refer to it constantly to know what we’ll be eating.

Unfortunately, sometimes our weeks land on a highly scheduled week. This is the case this week. It’s my turn to cook, and I have a very busy schedule ahead of me. But rather than ask Mr. W to take over my week of cooking (thus giving him two weeks in a row), this week I’m improvising the meal plan to fit our schedule.

Note: Many of these meals are not considered Paleo when eaten as a whole. I generally skip the parts that aren’t considered part of the plan, eat around them, or just implement the 80/20 rule and enjoy something not on the plan for once.

Meal Plan for June 3-9

Miso cod and miso salad with rice.

(Adult softball from 5:30-6:30)
~ Miso Cod
~ Miso Salad
~ White rice
Miso hungry!  Sorry, forgot to warn you that there was a bad joke up ahead.  For this meal, the salad dressing will be made early and set aside. The cod will marinate while we’re gone and then broils for 10 minutes max. And the rice only takes 20 minutes or less in the slow cooker. We’ll be eating by 7pm. This meal was discovered last week in The Mom 100 Cookbook, and our family couldn’t eat it fast enough. I promise I’ll include a recipe post on this one soon so you can copy it.

(Taz’ baseball game till 7:30pm)
~ Shrimp Louie Salad
~ French Bread
I chose a light dinner for this night because the weather has been so warm. Warmer weather just calls for lighter fare, you know? I will make this meal the night before so that anyone who is at the house can just serve themselves, and the Taz and I will eat when we get home.

(Taz’ baseball game till 7:30pm, Mr. W’s church group till 8:30pm)
~ Baked Gnocchi/Roasted Eggplant/Mozzarella casserole
~ Cranberry/Pecan/Apple Salad
~ Leftover french bread
The recipe for the casserole came out of a cookbook called The Naptime Chef, my latest favorite recipe collection of easy gourmet meals for busy moms. I love this book! For this meal, I will prep it the night before, and then depend on my daughter to throw it the casserole in the oven at dinner time so that Mr. W and the older kids can eat before his meeting, and Taz and I can eat when we get home. Because I have french bread thieves in the house, I will hide the bread under a rock until it’s time to eat.

(Hair appt until 7pm)
~ Chicken Sausage & Tortellini Soup
~ Buttermilk biscuits
Hey, a girl has to get her hair did, right? Unfortunately this appointment was made before I knew just hoe hectic this week was. But no worries. I can make this meal easily on Tuesday night, and it will be ready for everyone just to heat up on their own when it’s dinnertime.

(Meeting till 7pm)
~ Teriyaki chicken bowls
DQ’s cooking night! My daughter figured out that if she cooks, she doesn’t have to do any of the clean-up chores. As a result, she is now perusing my cookbooks every week and taking over one of the nights to cook us all a meal. It gives Mr. W and me a break in cooking, and she’s learning how to cook for a family of 5. This one is easy since it’s just stir fry simmered in teriyaki, and then set over rice from the rice cooker.

(Taz’ picture day for hip-hop)
~ Polenta/Marinara/Mozzarella
~ Grilled Prawns
~ Simple salad
This meal is really easy. I’ll be home by 6pm so very little prep is needed the day before. I get the polenta in a tube at Trader Joes and slice it into 1/2 inch pieces. I fry them in coconut oil on each side, then cover it with warmed marinara, sprinkling it with cheese. For the prawns, I will skewer them the night before, and then marinate them in olive oil, garlic, lemon, cayenne pepper, and a little kosher salt. These can be cooked on the grill, on the stove, or under the broiler. I’m using the broiler this time. For the salad, whatever veggies are left in the fridge from last Saturday’s shop will get thrown in.

(DQ with friends, Taz with his dad)
~ Sushi night!
We usually choose one day a week where little to no cooking is necessary. Most weeks we have leftovers. Sometimes we have breakfast for dinner. Since there’s just the three of us, we’ll be indulging in a little raw fish decadence. Yum!

What’s on your plate this week?

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!