Know What’s for Dinner


As part of the Simplify Your Family Life Sale I am writing about ways to make life easier around the home. The Simplify Your Family Life Sale runs April 16-20 and is a fantastic deal if you are looking for more how-to on saving time, money and space. 35 e-books with a value of $375 for just $29.


Do you know what’s for dinner tonight?

I’ve noticed that when I don’t have a plan for dinner we eat later and I spend more time and energy thinking about the dinner plan and cooking. It haunts my afternoon even if I am out at the pool with Henry or writing or doing other housework. I still have that thought in the back of my head, what am I going to do about dinner?

Meal planning takes all of that stress away. Meal planning makes the day more productive and the evening more relaxing. Meal planning always has the what’s for dinner question answered.

The lovely Jo gave us her strategy here.

Meal planning simplifies family life by:

  • reducing food waste and food cost
  • reducing stress in the late afternoon and early evening when most of us are tired and a bit cranky from school and work

The other gem that’s simplified dinner for me: prep and cook in advance.

Even this mostly stay at home mom of one finds the late afternoon to be a challenging time to cook. Henry recently dropped his afternoon nap and from 4pm onwards he needs more attention. So I’ve started to prep dinner in the morning or even the night before. I’ll chop vegetables or get a slow cooked meal started so that dinner is either already prepared or just needs a few minutes to finish.

I’m not always a perfect meal planner, weekends are usually a mix of leftovers and a take out meal, but most weeks I have Monday to Friday all planned out. It’s a nice way to start the week ahead of the game and feeling organized.

Anyone else solved that age old what’s for dinner question for their family?

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  • I usually try to get the bulk of cooking for dinner done in the morning. My daughter still takes an afternoon nap but tends to wake up grumpy so being productive beyond nap time is a stretch.

    • I did a bit of pre-breakfast put on a slow cook meal in the winter. Created such piece of mind during the day to know not only was dinner planned but it was already cooked.

  • Hi Hun – I’ve been unplugged in Wales for a while, just back on the scene. What a lovely welcome back to see a shout out (presume it’s me? haven’t clicked on the link – how embarrassing if not !!!!). I’m a fanatical meal planner, even when we went away I had a good idea what we’d be eating and when. It’s a habit for sure!
    Was actually popping over to chip in about laundry. I don’t iron. What a waste of time. I’ll stick a link in over on the other post, as I posted my strategy for laundry last year…that explains it!

  • Oh yes – knowing what is for dinner has been such a stress reliever for us in the past few months! We started out doing the menu and grocery list at the same time before our once a week trip to the stores, and now have a white board on the fridge to note when we have run out of something… One side has our grocery list the other has ideas for next week’s menu. My husband enjoys cooking as much as I do, so this gives him a chance to pencil in meals he wants to make. We try to select things that take us no more than 45 minutes to prep and cook, and things that can be handed over mid preparation if I need to tend to our toddler. Weekends are when we cook more time intensive stuff and try new recipes… Or do leftovers depending on the week we’ve had!

    • Your 45 minute rule is a good one for weekdays. I was experimenting with new recipes early in the year and had a few 7pm dinners (started cooking at 5pm) because I hadn’t planned ahead. I got wise and either saved those recipes for weekends or did some of the prep work earlier.

  • Like many things, we share the responsibility of dinner with other families:

    We end up using them for dinner and lunches. My children don’t often eat a lot of the traded meals, so they eat what they can and nosh on veggies and fruit and pasta and rice to fill it out. Some weeks my children love everything served, and then we don’t have anything for lunches!

    On weeks where we don’t have swap, I used to plan. This past year I have become appethetic about cooking cooking for my own crew, so I tried to have company over more often to keep me motivated to make full meals. Other wise it’s apples and peanut butter sandwiches.


  • This is the hardest thing for me! Knowing what to make (picking what everyone likes… and what everyone can eat) is soo difficult, plus I hate grocery shopping and don’t really enjoy cooking – and work full-time. But yes, it is so stressful and consuming when there isn’t a plan. When I do make a plan, my little people moan that they don’t want that! Sorta venting, but still trying to devise a plan… advice appreciated :)

    • Mine do the same thing. I now involve them in planning the weekly meals. They give me a list of meals they want to eat. Guess what? They still don’t want to eat them. But they are made and I am NOT a short order cook so they eat them or they go without!!! They get nothing until breakfast the next morning, except water to drink. It’s their choice and rarely do they complain. We have 5 of the 6 of us that can’t eat wheat or dairy, so it’s not easy to go out on the spur of the moment and it ususally doesn’t fit in the budget so I meal plan and everyone eats the meals or doesn’t…their choice. There have been a few times when I tried some new recipe that tasted really bad, so we all had either PB&J or cereal. I have recently been asking my kids if they want to cook, since some nights I get lots of complaints….no one wants to take over the job, so they eat it and try not to comment. Nothing is worse than spending the time of cook and then no one likes it or most don’t. There is no ple,asing everyone, so I just make the meals they ask for and they choose to either eat or not.
      My kids are 10, 10 8, 4years old.

  • Yes–love it! I can’t say my system is as well organized as yours, but I do sit down on the weekend, think about dinners for the week, and then shop to make sure we have those ingrediants plus all the basics such as fruit, veggies, milk, oats for breakfast. I work daytime hours, my husband works from home, so he is usually the one actually assembling everything and putting it on the table. From all my years of doing that prior, I remember how totally uninspiring this can be–which is why we are much less likely to have pasta and carrots every night if I make a plan. I like to make a big pot of vegetable soup on the weekend that Minou and I eat through the week (my ravenous vegetarian teens actually do not eat very many types of vegetables, sadly) and I also try to prepare ahead several dishes that can be warmed up and be a main dish one night and then a side dish a second (like enchiladas or quiche). It really, really helps with making sure everything is balanced and healthy.

  • My mother always told us: “This is not a restaurant, you eat what I make – not what you order.”

    My freezer is stocked with individual portions. Such as sauces for pasta. An easy time saver – making sauces in bulk in advance, and always having dried pastas on hand. Like a basic tomato sauce with or without meat. I make a large batch of sauce: canned tomatoes, garlic, onion, red pepper flakes, etc. Use whatever sauce is required for diner that night. And allow the remainder to cool enough where I can spoon individual portions into a zipper-top freezer bag. Then when time is short, it’s easy to take out individual frozen portions of sauce, and they thaw quickly while the pasta water is heating up! It’s really helped when I need / want something on the table in under twenty minutes! Plus storing individual sized portions – easier to cram into the freezer when space is tight.

    I will dice up several onions, and store them in little plastic zipper-top baggies. So when I only need a teaspoon or so of chopped onions for a recipe – just take out what you need, no need to chop. Also I find that storing small pieces of frozen foods work best when stored flat…easier to break off the required amount. Rather than the frozen lump of onions! My frozen bags of peas, etc are all stored flat for this reason.

    I also found mini sized frozen herbs! Pressed garlic, basil, hot peppers, parsley, ginger etc stored in mini cubes. Just pop out a cube!
    (I am not affiliated at all with the above brand, just found the product a time saver!)


  • I have started meal planning this year and I love it! I get things ready in the morning when my younger naps and my older goes to school and in the evening I can spend time with them without worrying about dinner. In fact I have started to plan an entire month, so that I can go and buy everything in bulk that will last and already have smaller lists for the last weeks of the month with the fresh ingredients for those weeks recipes. And I try to follow patterns like Monday’s a slow cooker hearty dish with chicken or turkey that can last for Tuesday, and then Tuesdays just a heavy salad or roasted veggies to go with the left overs. Wednesday’s I plan for beans or fish, Thursday’s are pasta and Fridays are soups or frittatas with the weeks left overs. For the weekends I try to have always available tortillas to make quick quesadillas if needed. I use the website myrecipes dot com to save the recipes I like and also the app pepperplate.

  • I find that we eat considerably less healthy meals, we graze while waitng for dinner to be done (so don’t eat dinner well when it is), we waste a lot and we eat out a lot more often if I don’t have a distinct 9 meals planned for a week (5 dinners, 2 lunches and 2 breakfasts). We always have more than enough leftovers to cover the rest of the meals in a week. We’ve also gone to 100% homemade meals to remove the temptation of fast food. It has worked amazingly well for us. I estimated that in a year’s time we will save a minimum of $900 and the reduction of stress in terms of planning, guilt, and cranky kids is huge! And, for me, stress= money lost.

  • I do something very similar to you except that I don’t assign specific meal to a specific day of the week. I plan 6 dinners (with 1 night for left-overs). Then I just pull from that list of meals through out the week pairing the busyness of the day with the amount of hands on prep time. I keep going till the list is exhausted then I start over again with new menu and shopping list. Of course, your menu page looks a lot better than mine every will – I make mine on the back side of my kids old school work. 😉

  • Oof I SO need to be a better meal planner. Or, rather, I need to be a better meal plan executor. On Sundays I try to plan the week’s meals, taking note of what I have on hand and making up a list for the week’s lunches and dinners. But we deviate quite a bit. Whether it’s a long day with a teething baby, or husband having a conference call cancel and then we hightail it to the zoo (and eat kettle corn for lunch) or just not feeling like cooking what I had planned… we deviate a lot. I am not sure how to make myself stick with it.
    I DO know that when I prep a slow cooker meal in the morning that it’s always met with excitement and relief at the end of a long day for both of us. So, maybe I will start there again. Also, here’s three of my favorite super amazingly easy slow cooker meals: (SO GOOD! I serve with mashed potatoes and frozen mixed veg.) (I do fresh corn and tomatoes, and this also freezes really well, we always make a double batch) (Doesn’t need the whole bottle of sauce, I usually make homemade sweet potato fries and coleslaw to go with them)

    Sorry I just love a good slow cooker recipe and these are the bomb!

    I also totally agree about freezing small marinara sauce portions – I do the pesto sauce in the ice cube tray, too!

  • I write out a monthly menu at the beginning of the month. I never stick to it entirely though it helps to have a plan in place. Wednesdays are always spaghetti and meatballs, and Thursdays always leftovers.

    Since after 3 is homework time here, I try to do a little bit of cooking in the morning or right after lunch. I know using a slow cooker would help, just haven’t gotten into it.

  • Meal planning really, really works. We write a planner for the week every Saturday morning and make our shopping list at the same time. It’s rare that we have any waste and not having to shop after a tough day in work is a huge relief. I can wholly recommend this tip.

  • The kids are old enough now to let me know what they like, so we have a weekly taco night and spaghetti or pasta of some kind night. We are starting our CSA, so that’s always up in the air, but I try to plan things that will accommodate whatever produce we get – for example, a quiche using greens or a salad. We have fish once a week and chicken/beef/pork three times a week. There will be a grain (rice, quinoa – always stocked in the pantry) and a veggie/fresh fruit at each meal. The farm from which we get our CSA share also has dairy, meat and eggs, so I have a recurring order that supplies me with what I need for taco night (beef and cheese) and our chicken/beef/pork nights. The rest I pick up from the grocery store. I do have to plan ahead, though, since the farm delivers on Tuesdays and I do my grocery shopping on the weekends.

  • Agreed 100%!!

    We used to plan weekly, but now plan and shop fortnightly, doing a second fruit and vege shop at a local farm for the second week.

    I plan 5-6 dinners weekly plus lunches for my husband and I. And that alone saves us at least $100 a fortnight, likely much more. Plus we eat much better, I am less stressed and I can ensure we’re all getting enough veges, meat and fish over the course of the week.

    In cooler weather the slow cooker gets a good workout, and with two kids under three and a husband who doesn’t get home until the kids are in bed, I am trying to be kind to myself and cook one-pot wonders, crumbed fish and salads etc. easy and healthy are my two qualifiers!!

    • I really like your “fortnightly” approach with a weekly veggie/fruit run. I am going to try this starting Saturday!!!! I am so excited!!

  • I’ve been meal planning for a couple of years now. I fell off the wagon a bit when my son was born (gotta pick your battles!), but got back into it once he was 6 or 7 months. For me, the major benefits are that it saves money, saves stress, and we eat better, more balanced meals.

    I have my weekly plan on the fridge and lots of times, people remark, “oh, you’re SO organized”, which is funny, because I’m really not. I just see it as 1.5-2hrs once a week (making the plan, then shopping) that saves me a lot of aggravation the rest of the week! I type my plans into a chart in a Word doc and make my grocery list at the same time. Eventually I think I’ll have enough to start re-using old plans… now THAT would be organized!

    I love to try new recipes, and when I have my weekly plan I can more easily figure out the optimal day to try a longer or more complicated recipe. I have been toying with the idea of doing theme days (monday is pasta. tuesday is mexican. weds is pizza, etc.) but I haven’t gotten into that groove yet. Overall meal planning has been a huge boon to my life, and really not that much effort. I think people hear “meal planning” and think it must be really complicated, when it’s not at all!

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