Meal Planning and Dinnertime Preparation
by Jennifer Tankersley
I once read somewhere that home cooks have on average 21 meals that make up our repertoire of common family meals. I thought this was very interesting and set about to writing down what my 21 meals are. I actually came up with 23 meals that my family enjoys on a regular basis. By creating this list, I now know what I need to keep stocked in the pantry. You won't have to stress over what's for dinner tonight if all you need to do is to just take a look at your list! Feel free to add more than 21 meals to your list. The more you list, the easier it will be to come up with dinner tonight. This list is for your staple meals. It is not the place to add the meals you want to try out someday. Go ahead and do that if you want, but put your experimental recipes on a different list. Don't worry if all you seem to come up with is just many different versions of Mac & Cheese!
Now that you have your 21 meals, this challenge will be a snap (or maybe just less painful)! One of the best strategies I know when it comes to meal planning is simply to plan ahead. I use a list that I call my Menu Planner to plan a pay period's worth of meals (for me, that is every 1st and 15th of the month). My Menu Planner page is a list that shows the numbers 1 through 31 for every day of the month in the left-hand column. Next there is a Breakfast column, a column for Lunch, and the largest column for Dinner. Dinner is our family's major meal so I am more specific for that column. Breakfast and lunch are more casual so I just list a few suggestions for me to refer to throughout the month. Feel free to refer often to your 21 meals list in order to help you fill in you Menu Planner.
My next step is to print out a grocery list and then I write every ingredient that I need from my Menu Planner into my Grocery List. Now when I go to the store, I get only what I need instead of what I MIGHT need at some point. That saves me money and it saves my refrigerator/freezer/pantry from having all kinds of odd and unnecessary items.
Mealtime with your family will be much more enjoyable when you take just a few steps to prepare. Challenge your family to help you create your Menu Planner list by asking them which meals they would like to enjoy in the next planning period (one week, two weeks, maybe even 1 month). When you get them involved, you are more likely to have greater success throughout the dinner experience.
Jennifer Tankersley is the creator of www.listplanit.com where you can find a Menu Planner and several grocery lists and over 300 other lists, checklists, and planning pages to help you put your world in order.
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Would love to hear your comments. Do you plan ahead? Do you stick to your plan?