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Meal Planning Saves Time And Money

Feb 6, 2008
What's for dinner? It's the first thing I hear when my kids get home from school. On a bad day, I don't have a clue. I've forgotten to take the meat out of the freezer to thaw or I didn't have anything particular in mind for weeknight dinners when I bought groceries that week.

Things are much easier when I take the time to make a plan. The best way I've found is to make a "menu calendar." I start by asking my family what they'd like to eat that week. Inevitably the 9 year-old pipes up, "I want spaghetti!" The teenager always wants Fettuccini Alfredo, and my husband normally doesn't care (as long as there's meat involved!). Honestly, my kids would be thrilled if we had pasta every day, but personally, I'd like a little more variety.

I start with a list of my family's favorite meats, poultry and seafood (ground beef, chicken breasts, pork chops, and shrimp, for example). Then I match each to a favorite recipe, making sure the recipe isn't too time consuming (remember, these are mainly weeknight meals). A typical list may look like this:

Spaghetti and Meatballs
Grilled Chicken Breasts
Italian Meatloaf
Pork Chops Veracruz
Shrimp and Veggie Stirfry

Then, to round things out, I add in favorite side dishes and/or accompaniments that are easy, quick, and "mostly" healthy. Fresh veggies are great when they're in season, but good quality frozen veggies can taste just as good.

Spaghetti and Meatballs
Garlic Bread
Mixed Salad

Grilled Chicken Breasts
Grilled Zucchini
Rosemary Roasted Potatoes

Italian Meatloaf
Mashed Potatoes
Green Beans

Pork Chops Veracruz
Brown Rice
Glazed Carrots

Shrimp and Veggie Stirfry
(It's all there--a one dish meal!)

I assign each meal to a day of the week. This can be handwritten or typewritten and attached to the fridge with magnets, or penciled in on a family calendar in the kitchen. Just make sure it's in a place where everyone in the family can see "What's for Dinner!"

Then I take a quick inventory of my fridge, pantry, and freezer, and add all of the ingredients that I don't have on hand to my grocery list.

Remember, you can adjust the meal calendar to the number of days you cook each week. Sometimes I only have time to cook three days a week, especially during the school year when the kids have lots of after-school activities. My kids love to see a "Take Out" or "Eat Out" day on the meal calendar.

This may seem like a time-consuming process, but I promise, once you get the hang of it you'll be able to knock all of this out in about 15 minutes. And you won't believe the time and stress it will save you in the long-run. No more last minute trips to the grocery store because you don't have the ingredients on hand for a meal. Less wilted and ruined produce in the vegetable bin that you didn't get around to cooking. Besides, you only have to do this twice a month. Crank out two weekly menu calendars and alternate them within a month.
About the Author
Toni Tanner-Scott, Personal Chef and Cooking Coach. http://www.DinnerMadeSimple.com
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