what's for dinner? menu planning

“Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.” – Winston Churchill

Do you feel like you’re failing to maintain your sanity when it comes to meal planning? Here are a few ideas to help answer that ever reoccurring question that grates on our souls: “What’s for dinner?”

1. Sit down with your spouse and plan your month big-picture. Christopher and I sit down three times a year and plan four months ahead. We take time to block out dates to be together as a family, especially after times of being apart from our kids, as well as openings for visits with friends, family, and people we are discipling. The more intentional we make our schedule, the more valuable the time is that we spend with others. We put in dinner plans, appointments, practices, games, and trips.

2. Pick your meals wisely. This is the fun part, especially if you like Pinterest, browsing through cookings magazines, or reading [uh-hem] my recipes. But don’t over do the new: experimenting too much can open the doors for dishes-gone-bad and dishearten you rather than inspire you. So pick only a few new things to make for the month and stick with what you know how to make for the rest of the days.

3. Make a home menu. Type or write down all the meals you know how to cook. Then, add all of the new meals that you would like to try. I break my menu down into Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner, and then group the dishes according to ethnic, regional, or emotional categories, like Asian, Italian, Mexican, comfort food, light-dining, southern, and daring cuisine. These then work themselves into my “Master Menu” in Evernote. (If you don’t have Evernote, you need it. It’s an app I use daily on my phone to organize my life).

4. Schedule your meals on your calendar. You can either write them into your calendar or add them as an event on your phone calendar, whatever works best with your lifestyle. There are also great meal-planner apps out there like plantoeat.com. This app lets you create your menu for the week, using recipes you import from Pinterest, the web, or enter yourself, then it creates a shopping list for you. They also now have an app for your phone where you can check off your list items in-store. (As of my writing, they are having a Cyber Monday sale for $19.50 subscription for a year. I think $1.60 per month to keep your sanity intact just might be worth it).

There are also many companies like Blue Apron, Home Chef, and Plated that do almost all of the work for you, but not without a price tag. I think this is a good option for couples that both work and can afford it. Remember, these services promote healthier eating and they’re still less expensive than eating out.

5. Make a list and check it twice. I like the free app Grocery IQ for my iPhone. I can add multiple stores and then leave items in my history, that way I just have to uncheck them when I run out (it’s easier then adding them again). Or just use PlanToEat as noted above. For my Target list, I use the Target app which lets me easily add my Cartwheel deals; this saves me hundreds of dollars annually.

Go through your fridge and pantry and see what you need to purchase. I also recommend cleaning and organizing your fridge and cupboards before you go grocery shopping. Doing so reduces stress when calculating what you need, and when you bring your groceries home everything will have a place.

6. Spoil not. When you are making your menu for the week, plan your meals according to what spoils fastest. For example, have fish within the first two days of shopping, and then beef or chili towards the end of the week as it keeps much longer. Pancakes for dinner is usually our “last supper” before I go shopping again.

Keep your family calendar in mind. If you have a babysitter coming one night maybe save that pizza in the freezer (even though you really wanted a night off from cooking). For the days you shop, don’t plan an elaborate meal that evening. I don’t know about you, but I’m usually tired from shopping, unloading, and putting stuff away. I like to purchase a rotisserie chicken and make a side to go with it, or use it in a chicken broccoli rice bake, or just shred the chicken it and use it in tacos.

7. Keep notes. Did you try something on Pinterest that bombed? Been there. Be sure to delete it from your board or make a note under the pin that it ‘did not work out.’ Did everyone in your family love something (which is a rarity for us)? Then add that meal more frequently and find meals that are similar.

8. Cross reference. I never look at one recipe and just make it. I usually cross reference to see if other recipes are saying the same thing. And if you have food allergies, you usually have to do a bit more digging to find good recipes, but the extra research can be well worth it.

Do you have a favorite recipe you want to share? Or a testimony about how one of these tips has helped you? Add it to the comments below for everyone to read.

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As always, happy cooking!


Jennifer Hopper

Singer, songwriter, chef, photographer.

1 Comment

Whitney · November 28, 2017 at 7:08 pm

I love the tips. Especially the one to limit your experimenting, so you don’t become discouraged. 🙂

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