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Meal Planning & Thinking Ahead


The question that haunts some people from 6 a.m to 6 p.m.-  What am I going to make for dinner?

Meal planning is not for everyone and does not fit every family.  But if you’ve ever thought your week would be a lot less hectic if you had your menu planned for the week, you’re probably right.  Planning ahead for the week allows you more time in the long run.  No more stopping by the store after a long day of work or having to run out to get ingredients for the dish you just Pinned or Googled and want to make.  No more wasting your precious, valuable time and no more wasting food!  Let’s talk meal planning by exploring some helpful tips below.


What ingredients do you already have?

Before you start creating your weekly menu and shopping list, shop what you already have first.  Check the refrigerator, freezer and pantry to see what ingredients you already have that need to be used before going bad.  This includes any leftovers! (Take a peek at 5 dinners to make with leftover chicken).    Make a list of what you have and plan your weekly meals around those ingredients.  

Think about your week ahead

What does your week look like?  Do you have a meeting after work on Tuesday?  Do your kids have sports practices Wednesday & Thursday evening? Who will be home and what nights do you need to have something already prepped?

Consider making crockpot meals ahead of time to have them cook while you work.  Batch cooking– cooking once and eating twice, would also be a great way to save time and make sure you’re still eating a healthy home cooked meal.


Use alliterative phrases to get the creative juices flowing

We’ve all heard them….”Meatless Monday”, the infamous and at one time controversial “Taco Tuesday” they’re catchy and they really can help narrow the vast possibilities to the question “What’s for dinner?”  I use these to help with recipe development as well as in my own meal planning.  Here are a few I like:

Monday:  Meatless, Mediterranean, Mexican

Tuesday: Taco, Thai, Take out (either literally to have a break or recreate a dish you would normally get as take out), ITalian

Wednesday:  Light-Weight (salads, sandwiches, appetizers, charcuterie boards), Whatever’s in the fridge (leftovers)

Thursday:  Ethnic, Authentic (choose a cuisine you like and try a new or old dish.  This can also be cool to expand and learn more about other cultures and their cuisine and traditions- make it a family thing!)

Friday: Favorites, Fish, Fruity, Fast (not fast food-but maybe an Air Fryer dish)

Saturday: Sheet pan dinner, Slow cooker, Seafood, Stir-Fry

Sunday: (all the above for Saturday), Slow Cooker (soups, stews, lasagna, casseroles)

Prep steps

Prep ahead!  Meal planning does take some time.  Preparing food takes time.  But as it becomes a weekly habit, you will get more efficient.  Carving out time one day can save you hours throughout the busy week.  Here are some ideas and ways to prep for the week ahead:

  • clean, peel and chop fruits & vegetables
  • precook a batch of beans, pasta or other grains
  • roast a sheet pan of vegetables for a quick reheat lunch or snack
  • cook your meats so they only need to be reheated for dinner
  • pack lunches and breakfasts for your work week- Prep smoothies by measuring ingredients and putting them in a reusable bag or containers, or pour fruit and yogurt in a to go container and top with honey for a grab and go parfait!

Ask your family

Get the family involved in meal planning and preparations.  Studies have shown that kids are more willing to try foods and meals that they have helped make.  

Ask your family what dishes or meals they enjoy that you already have in your mental recipe index.  Are there any new dishes they would like to try?  If age appropriate, have them search recipes and find a new one the family can try for the week.  If necessary, give them parameters in their search like “Find a 20 minute dinner recipe you would like to try this week.”  Or “Find a crockpot meal that looks good to you.”  

Involving your family members helps lesson your load and can also prevent any complaining about what’s for dinner.

Write it out!

Now that you know what you have and how many meals you need to make, write out your weekly meal plan using a MEAL PLANNER template.  Make a list of what ingredients you will need for each meal, including side dishes and don’t forget about breakfasts, lunch and snacks.  Add these items to your grocery list for the week.

Writing the weekly menu down also communicates to others in the household what needs to be prepared each night and who knows, they may step up and surprise you by getting something started.   

Print out any recipes you may need as this could also help guide someone to get dinner started while you are on your way home or if something comes up last minute.  Things pop up and daily routines change all the time.  Be prepared!  If you’re the only one holding all the info, you’ll be expected to lead the ship.


I hope these meal planning tips will help you to get a delicious meal on the table every night of the week. Helping you meal plan without having to spend a ton of time in the kitchen. A huge GOAL accomplishment.  And according to the National Institutes of Health website, “Those consuming home cooked meals more than five times, compared with less than three times per week, were 28% less likely to have overweight BMI (99% CI 8 to 43%), and 24% less likely to have excess percentage body fat (99% CI 5 to 40%).  Here’s to your health! 


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