Meal Planning Without The Drama


chef w menu1I put off meal planning for a long, long time. Looking back, I could kick myself. Not only have I saved money by meal planning but our squabbles over what to eat disappeared almost overnight.

I know now what kept me from actually setting this up was the preliminary work involved, but it turned out it wasn’t as tedious as I expected.

First steps:

• Make a list of all your favorite meals. Include restaurant meals. Yes. Include them. You’ll see why.

• Get input from the family by asking them to give you a list of their favorite meals.

• Sort the list of meals by Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner.

Now that you have your list sorted by meals there are secondary things to take into account. This is why I only plan meals a week ahead of time. Your mileage may vary if you’re more organized.

Once a week I look at what’s on sale, what’s in my freezer, what’s in my pantry, and what’s ready to pick in the garden. I take into account what activities we have planned for that week. I also look at the weather forecast for the week.

If I know we’ll be busy, I plan for quick meals, maybe even pre-made freezer meals so all I have to do is toss it in the oven.

If the weather is sunny and warm, there might be more sandwiches and salads. If it’s cool or rainy, I’ll plan for more soups and casseroles–comfort food.

What makes meal planning tricky is not the work involved, but the strategy. Like a military campaign, you’re looking at supplies, morale, weather, and events. But once you have a master list of favorite foods, you can place them in here and there, slipping in a few  vegetarian meals, and one special restaurant style meal on occasion.

Speaking of restaurant meals…

One of the drawbacks about eating at home is that you eat at home. 🙂 What makes restaurant dining special? It’s usually a meal you wouldn’t make at home. It is for us anyway. I found that if I included a meal I wouldn’t typically make at home, it becomes extra special.

For instance, we love Mongolian Beef. It took several tries before I found a recipe that was similar to what we had at the restaurant. Greg comes running to the table when it’s on the menu. By the way, this is the recipe I use for Mongolian Beef. It is heavenly!

It’s all about mixing and matching between easy, healthy, favorite, and special. If I can include at least one of each every week, I get no complaints. Not that I accept complaints. The cook always has the final word. 🙂

Do you decide what’s on the menu or is it a free for all at your house?


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  1. I too do meal planning; didn’t set it up as extensively as you in the beginning to collect favorites from other family members, but something similar. I would look at recipe sites and copy out recipes that I thought everyone would like. I would rotate chicken, beef throughout the week so it wasn’t always chicken back to back, etc. I would date the bottom of the recipes when we made them so that I wouldn’t make them too often again. I would have my shopping list all together by the time we went shopping on the weekend. Worked really good. Now that it is just the two of us, I do something similar but I’ve toned it to us maybe just cooking three days a week, but I cook enough on those 3 days to have leftovers again that week. We usually go out Fridays for dinner 🙂


    • Betty: If I make something that’s going to last more than one set of leftovers, I almost always freeze it and save it for a night when I don’t feel like cooking. Easier to pop something already made in the oven.

      re: We usually go out Fridays for dinner
      Date night! 🙂

  2. Hmmmm…. Me decide what’s for dinner. When Hubby’s able to eat more foods, I might toss that by him. I’m guessing he won’t care.

    Since his surgeries, we have eaten in more, and I kind of like it. It’s certainly cheaper.

  3. I semi-plan meals ahead. When I go to the store, I buy enough for a week of meals. It’s so much easier and cheaper now that it’s just a few of us. Raising 4 children meant things I bought for meals ended up as after practice snacks.

    • Mike: It is really good–even when I made it. 😉

      We like things on the spicy side so I used a bit more sambal. It’s important to use the sambal and oyster sauce though. It really gives it an authentic taste.

    • Jenny: Once I had a list to draw from, the rest falls into place.

      Mostly I’m just glad there’s no more waffling on what’s for dinner. It was always a prelude to eating out and that can be expensive on a fixed income.

  4. I think this is a brilliant strategy, especially for a growing family, which is when you need the budgeting to kick in. Hubby and I usually think what we want for dinner on the day, but there aren’t usually any arguments. For us it’s tricky because I’m vegetarian and he’s not, but over the years we’ve fallen into a usable method where we cook a main vege dish and hubby has meat on the side. We try to use fresh seasonal produce, and I think we have restaurant quality meals. 😉 We don’t dine out often – for us it’s a budgeting thing. We’re always saving for our next holiday and it’s much cheaper to eat at home. Our holiday is when we dine out and explore different foods. Next week is the start of our next holiday, and I can’t wait.

    • Shelley: Agreed. I think it’s especially important for people with families. I have a hard enough time keeping one person happy, let alone a house full of different tastes and wants.

      I’ve found Greg is content as long as someone is making food. If he ever wants something other than what I’m making, he knows where the kitchen is. 🙂

  5. In our household, there’s one vegetarian (me) and two omnivores (my husband and son). Typically at the start of the week, I’ll flip through my cookbooks and pick 2-3 meals for me. I count on having leftovers for lunch or another dinner. I typically cook meat separately for my husband and son. Ever since Eugene tried the South Beach diet a couple of years ago, we’ve simplified how we cook meat (season it, then sauté or bake it). They don’t complain.

    • Sandra: I never used to be a big meat eater, but I found it harder and harder to make two different meals. He wouldn’t change so I had to. It was either that or we both make our own individual meals.

      I’m glad your system is more cook-friendly. 🙂

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