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How to plan dinner for the week

Reading cookbook
Reading cookbook

I’m a planner by nature. I’m the type that for vacation, I have a template that I fill out beforehand with where to sleep/ what to eat/ what to see. So when it comes to dinner, I tend to get stressed when I don’t know what we are going to cook or eat beforehand. How will we know if we have the ingredients? How will we know if we have enough time to cook the dish? Starting to think about what to make for dinner at 5pm (when I’m already starting to get hangry) stresses me out. So naturally I plan dinner every week and here’s how I do it:

  • Create a Google spreadsheet and share it with your family members

Your spreadsheet could have eight columns – breakfast, lunch – protein, lunch – veg, lunch – carb, dinner – protein, dinner- veg, dinner – carb, and notes. And then down the left hand side are dates. I like to have a balanced meal especially for dinner (and lunch) so I have a column to make sure I’m planning for all the components. I don’t want to discover on Wednesday night at 7pm that all I have for dinner is steak and bread and no veggies. Some dishes will have all three, which is great! You don’t need to go crazy filling out the spreadsheet – if something doesn’t apply, then don’t fill it out. In the notes column, I will put down info like if someone won’t be home during that meal, a guest is coming, or you are planning to order out. You can also use a meal planner app, though I personally prefer the flexibility of my own spreadsheet.

  • Fill out the spreadsheet with the dishes that you are going planning to eat each night – see here for my view on how to plan a healthy meal

Each Friday, I populate the spreadsheet with dishes that we will eat for that meal. I also keep a list on a separate tab of my favorite dishes so that if I don’t have a good idea of what I want to eat on a particular day, I’ll just look at the list and pick one that we haven’t had in a while. For things like breakfast, it’s literally just eggs, fruit, bagels, peanut butter and jelly every day because that’s what my family eats for breakfast.

  • Create a grocery list based on the dishes

Based on the meals, I then create a grocery list by looking at the recipes for the dishes and adding some stuff I just want around like fruit. I then go through the list to see what we already have so that I don’t buy more than I need.

  • Go grocery shopping with your list in hand

You can also outsource this step with a service like Instacart.

  • Prep things ahead of time as you can

Despite many cookbooks with titles like “dinner in 30 minutes”, I’ve never found that they take only 30 minutes. The only way I’m even able to get close is to prep stuff ahead of time. Vegetables can be washed, peeled, chopped and stored away to be cooked right before eating. When I was growing up, peeling garlic was a family activity that we did while we watched Korean dramas.

  • Leave enough time for cooking

If you are doing a slow cooker dish, you want to remember to set it in the morning or evening (whenever you need to) so that you don’t arrive home and remember that the pork needed to be cooked for 6 hours.

  • Be flexible

Even though this article makes me look like a total control freak, I consider myself flexible (really! I am). I like having a plan (actually I need a plan) but it’s to just guide my direction in any given moment and as conditions change, plans change too. I usually make a little extra of each dish and also I only plan 4-5 days out of the week – the rest we eat out or eat leftovers.

If you are still reading this, you may have also reached another conclusion, which is that this is a LOT of work! It really is a lot of work, which is why most people aren’t able to do it, which contributes to food waste and negative impacts on the environment (Americans throw away 50% of the produce they buy), hangry-ness at 7pm and unhealthy eating habits. It’s one of the main reasons I started– I’ve made it my full-time job to do this for my customers.

By: Jeanette P.

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