4:30 p.m.: Oh crap. It's time to figure out something to make for dinner. (opens fridge) Nothing in there. (Opens freezer.) Hmmm, I have some frozen chicken. What can I make? Maybe some sort of casserole? Nah, no one in my house likes casseroles. I guess I'll just bake some chicken. What can I make with the chicken? (Stress starts to ramp up.) Making dinner sucks. I wish I didn't have to make every meal every day. (Opens freezer again. Finds mixed veggies. Makes dinner.) Hmm...I guess I still need another side. I don't have one. I wish I was more organized. I guess I'll just pop a piece of bread in the toaster for everyone. (Serves dinner.) Dinner is boring and no one likes it. Why bother?
Does this scenario sound familiar? This was almost every day for me. Dinner felt like a burden I had to take on. I resented it. I felt like I wasn't good at it. Ok, well, I still feel that way, but anyway... Then, one day it came to a head. My husband finally lost his patience with me after, like, the millionth time that a big part of the meal was missing. Naturally, I yelled and told him he was picking on me, and judging me, and that I couldn't be perfect like his mother.
But, I guess he was sort of right. Something was always missing or substituted. A side. An ingredient. Something. He suggested I meal plan, to which I swiftly rolled my eyes at. I had pledged to myself many times to make a plan for the week ahead, on the weekend. Then the weekend happened. It was too hard. It never happened. I never remembered. I'm not one of those born-organized people. My life is a tornado of chaos. I fly by the seat of my pants. There was always something more pressing needing my attention...like, watching American Ninja Warrior or something.
So, to appease the hubs, I reluctantly tried again so I could show him what a stupid idea it was. Since he didn't seem to want to help (???), I did it myself. And I did it differently than before. And it actually turned out pretty great. And it's still working, months later.
Here are the steps...
MAKE A LIST OF MEALS YOUR FAMILY WILL EAT
For my family, this is hard. Really hard. One kid likes hot dogs, one hates them. One likes chicken, one hates it. One likes steak, one hates it. Both kids hate anything healthy, really. Hubs hates soups, stews, chili, casseroles, and most pasta. You get the picture. So, we obviously can't please everyone with every meal, but we can list the ones that might be acceptable to the majority. Try to find at least 30 meals for the list...or even more if you don't have picky eaters like I do.
PUT EACH MEAL IN YOUR ONLINE CALENDER AS AN APPOINTMENT
I put my "appointment" between 4:30-5:30 pm every day, since that's when I'm usually making dinner. Put this appointment in for every day of the month (you can always tweak it at the beginning of the week if you know you have a party or event outside of the home). It doesn't matter what order things are in, just put certain meals on days that make sense for your family. Pizza Friday? Taco Tuesday? Grill out Sunday? If you have pizza every Friday...BAM! You have all your Fridays covered! Make it work for your lifestyle. You can even designate days for Leftovers, Eat Out, or YOYO (you're on your own). Yoyo really only works if everyone in your house can make food for themselves. I'm looking forward to that one.
IN THE NOTES OF YOUR APPOINTMENT, LIST INGREDIENTS NEEDED FOR THE MEAL
This step is important, and it makes grocery shopping a breeze. This is what you reference at the beginning of the week when you are making a shopping list for the grocery store. You already know what you're making that week. No guessing. You know what ingredients you need to make all the meals. Complete meals. You know what to thaw out a couple days before. Forgot to make your list? No problem. You can just pull up your calendar on your phone at the store. Sometimes I end up running into a store unexpectedly, and I don't have to worry about not having my list. It's in my calendar. Booyah.
MAKE YOUR APPOINTMENT RECURRING
This is the magic part. With a small amount of work up front, you can essentially have your meals always planned out! Most meals can be made once a month, and it won't be overkill. Make those recurring monthly. Some meals you may not want to make EVERY month, so you can make them recurring every other month, or every third month. Once everything is entered for the first month, look forward a month or two and see if there are any holes to fill in. There will most likely be, since not all months have the same amount of Mondays, Tuesdays, etc. Fill those in with every other month items, or every third month items, until everything is full.
It does take a little work up front to make the lists, look up the ingredients, and get everything entered, but it's so worth it! I don't always follow the meal plan exactly. Sometimes I switch what the sides will be. I also have to adjust for events that come up. Very often, I will switch two days around, or skip over a meal if something doesn't make sense due to an activity with the kids. Or sometimes we end up going out to eat unexpectedly. However, that happens a lot less since I now have a plan, and I know that I have the ingredients I need for the meal. Sometimes I will try a new recipe I found instead of what is scheduled. I look at the plan as more of a guideline, than something that I have to follow to a T. Also, printing out a weekly or monthly view of your plan and displaying it in the house keeps everyone's expectations in check.
Follow these steps, and you now have an endless meal plan to make your life easier! I hope this method makes you feel more prepared and organized, and helps take the stress out of dinner time! This has really helped my family, and has also caused us to eat out a little less. So, hubs may have been right about the meal planning concept, but I like to take credit for the idea. ;-)