What is the best way to plan dinner meals for the week?

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Answered by: Jessica, An Expert in the Menu Planning Category
When the thought of trying to plan dinner meals for the week first pops up into your head, it may be overwhelming and your initial reaction may be to force the thought right back out again. After all, getting take out is easier, right? Well, if you're anything like my husband and I, the most difficult part about your relationship may just be deciding on where to eat.

Trust me, it's much easier to take some time to plan your meals for the week, than to hem and haw about whose favorite restaurant you're going to this time. All it takes is a few hours of thought and preparation over the weekend and you will set yourself up for a successful no-stress week (over what to eat for dinner, at any rate).

Think About Your Week

The first part of meal planning involves taking the time to think about what you and your family have going on in the evenings. Does your daughter have dance class on Tuesday? Do you need to take your friend to the airport Wednesday night? Do you have a book club meeting Thursday? Does your spouse have a business dinner on Friday? Knowing what time you have available to cook versus what days you will need to heat up some leftovers is important to know how many meals, as well as what type of meals, to plan for. For example, if you don't have book club until 8:00pm, you can either heat up some leftovers that night, or plan for a meal that comes together in just a few minutes.

Gather Recipes

Now that you know your family's schedule for the week, the next (and most fun!) step is to figure out what you're going to eat. It may be hard to figure out which recipes you want to try at first, but in my experience having several sources of ideas helps to narrow down your final menu selections. I find it helpful to subscribe to a daily dinner email list, as well as follow some of my favorite cooking publications on Facebook or Twitter for meal ideas. Having a selection of cook books at home to sort through is a fun way to include your family in what meals they eat that week. Organizing your electronic recipes can be done in a few easy ways as well; I like keeping a Pinterest board with different categories of meals (vegetarian, chicken, pasta, etc.), and I know of others that use Trello to organize their recipes.

Make a List (And Stick to It!)

Once you've chosen your meals for the week, the next step is to make a list of the ingredients you need at the grocery store. Go through each recipe and determine which ingredients you already have, and which ones you'll need from the store. After you've figured out what you need, it's time to make a list. I like to organize my grocery list by category to minimize time and energy when doing the shopping. For example, I have an Excel document that has Dairy, Fruit and Vegetable, Meat, Frozen, etc. columns. That way, I make sure I get all the fruits and vegetables I need, while I'm in the produce section of the store. Making a list also helps you to avoid unnecessary purchases and impulse buys. Now that you have your list, head to the grocery store and stock up!

Post the Plan

After your efficient and successful trip to the grocery store, let your family know what they will be eating this week. Post your nightly meal plan on a calendar, bulletin board, or chalkboard for the whole family to see. This helps everyone know what to expect for dinner each night for the coming week and helps eliminate the oh-so common question, "What's for dinner?"

Success! After following these steps, you are now able to effectively plan dinner meals for your family for the week. The more you plan, the easier the process becomes. Happy planning!

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