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Tuesday Tip | Think about dinner BEFORE dinnertime

If you are a person who can come up with great ideas on the fly simply by looking through your fridge/pantry, then you just keep on being you.

(I’m envious of your skills, and this post is not for you.)

For most of us, though, going into 5 pm with no dinner ideas is a quick ticket to takeout.

I’m the sort of person who does best with a whole week of meal plans. This lets me mainly stick to one grocery trip that provides my dinner ingredients and it just feels more efficient to me.

Also, I find that the further in advance I plan, the better my brain works.

A week in advance, I have plenty of ideas. 

The day before, the ideas dwindle.

And by 5 pm the day of, I can barely think of anything I know how to cook.

<cries on the floor in a pathetic heap and orders subs>

baked ziti


Maybe you need to devote 15-20 minutes to menu planning once a week like I do.

Maybe you need to decide on the next day’s dinner each night.

Maybe you need to think about dinner for a few minutes in the morning.

One-Pan Chicken and Veggie Ramen Bowls

Figure out what kind of thinking-ahead works for you, and then do it! Fight the takeout!

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Wednesday 10th of April 2019

I am all about meal planning--but making the grocery list is no fun. I was doing a complicated google calendar to schedule/pinterest board to file recipes (plus cookbooks plus my memory)/list app to make the grocery list. I just tried out and its amazing--I think you would like it too. It is definitely a big upfront time cost but I really like the concept and have found it to be really robust (which I think in the end will outweigh that it takes a bit to get it up and running since its all personalized.)


Wednesday 10th of April 2019

Hi! I am thoroughly enjoying reading everyone’s comments! Kristin, question: what meal is in the third photo of this blog? It looks delicious - pasta, sauce, chicken, cheese. I’d like to include that in my meal planning rotation.

I started meal planning about 15 years ago when my kids were young, because trying to figure out at 5:00 what to cook for dinner TOTALLY stressed me out. At the time I came across an article that said making fewer trips to the grocery store saves money. So I decided to meal plan and shop for two weeks at a time, based on our the timing of our paycheck. I use a steno notebook (each week gets its own column) and only write in pencil (so I can make changes or switch things around). I use a few lines for each day, and also record family activities that will impact my cooking. This format also allows me to forward to the next page any meals that don’t get used up, or look interesting. For meal ideas I look at blogs, ask my family for input, refer back to other weeks in my notebook, look at the school lunch menus, and anywhere else I find recipes or meal planning calendars. I hate shopping, and only do a “big shop” every two weeks, and make 1 or 2 *quick* trips as needed during the week. It works for us and is easy.


Tuesday 9th of April 2019

Honestly, I've tried weekly meal planning and fail miserably. I know that schedules and plans feel like security to some, but they make me rebel. I'm also terrible at following recipes.

What I do find keeps dinner on the table on time is thinking about dinner at breakfast. That gives me enough time to take out meat from the freezer if needed and makes for a more interesting meal come 5pm.

We do end up eating a lot of the same meals again and again, but I'm ok with that.


Tuesday 9th of April 2019

Years ago my husband and I designed a daily spending record and suddenly realized we were spending over $1000 a month for the two of us on food. It was insane and happening largely because we both worked very stressful jobs that took us out of the hours a day, so eating out was our default. We tried meal planning but neither one of us had the appetite for daily cooking and cleaning. So, for almost the last 12 years I make a huge pot of soup on Sunday and we eat the same thing for dinner every night until Friday. That night I have my McDonald Fish Fillet and he eats an omelet. Saturday we plan some fancy dinner for Saturday and Sunday, and go out and buy the ingredients for those meals plus anything we need for the upcoming soup of the week. It is boring but for us it saves money and is healthier and minimizes clean up and cooking stress. I now work from home but we still do the same thing. I know it is not for everyone but it worked out the best for us. And when I feel like rebelling at the same old soup, I think about the money we save (we spend about $350 a month on food now, including the costs involved in having a huge garden that provides food we can and freezer for the year) and ask myself, "Does this taste better than _____ (whatever we are saving for, like buying our next car for cash...)" The first thing we did was put the almost $650 we were saving every month toward paying extra on our mortgage. We are now mortgage free and while eating boring didn't do all of it, over the decade it helped a lot.


Wednesday 10th of April 2019

Wow! You and your husband are impressive and inspirational!

Valerie DeKam

Wednesday 10th of April 2019

That’s amazing! Definitely not for everyone, but it sounds like it works fine for you! Way to go on paying off the mortgage; I’m sure those extra payments went a long way towards paying it off!


Tuesday 9th of April 2019

I do a loose weekly meal plan off a set selection of favorites while trying to pepper in a few new recipes each month. I shop monthly instead of weekly (I've tried a million times to swap to weekly and never can seem to make it work...old habits die hard) I usually try to have the next day's protein thawing in the fridge overnight. This works well until my husband sees the chicken breast meant for a slow cooker lemon chicken with a side of yummy roasted asparagus and declares he's cooking gumbo. Now I gotta figure out what to do with all that asparagus. Men.....gotta love them.

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