You just got home from work. Before you even get in the door, you hear, “What are we having for supper?” They say, “I’m hungry,” or even worse, they start having a meltdown because they are ‘hangry’. Or, let’s be honest, you start snapping or having a breakdown because you need food NOW.
The worst part of being an adult is figuring out what to cook every day.
I’ll admit, that could be an overstatement. But it sure feels like that sometimes, doesn’t it?
Here are 4 ways to solve that annoying problem of what to cook for dinner. Whether you are a planner or a rebel, one of these is sure to help.
The weekly meal plan
Well, this isn’t much of a surprise, so I’ll get it out of the way first. Having a weekly meal plan solves the question of what to make for dinner.
Post it on the fridge and anyone in the house can go look at the plan to know exactly what you’re cooking. But there are a few ways to make this plan even better.
(If you get bitten by the planning bug, you might be interested in this article: How to Do it All: The Schedule)
Keep your meal plans
If you post a piece of paper on the fridge, instead of writing on a whiteboard, you can save them for later. On the weeks you feel particularly uninspired or don’t have time to plan, simply pull out an old plan and use that. Bonus points for keeping the shopping list on the same paper too!
Personally, I have a cute little whiteboard on my fridge with the days of the week. I write the plan in a coil-bound notebook1 and transfer the plan onto the whiteboard.
But I’ll be real, sometimes, I just don’t get around to planning ahead of time. Those week, I write down what we make as we go. That way I know how long those leftovers have been sitting in the fridge!
Take family activities into account
If you have an evening event, you’ll want to plan something that is quick to make. It is very easy to overlook this point, so be sure to check your calendar. It will save your wallet from unplanned meals out!
Check the plan in the morning or the night before
Do you need to pull something out of the freezer? Will you need to stop at the store to pick something up? You’ll want to know that before you start cooking.
Make use of leftovers
Bonus points for making extra to use another night! A simple example of this would be making extra chicken breasts to use in a sandwich or salad the following day or two. (This is also a great strategy for those nights you don’t have time to cook!)
If you know that it is impossible to make a small batch of chilli, use that to your advantage. You can have leftovers the next night, or freeze the leftovers for a quick meal in the future. Your future self will thank you.
Theme nights are a great way to simplify a weekly menu. It’s also nice when you want a plan before going to the store buy you don’t know what goodies you’ll find (farmer’s markets anyone?).
You get to pick the themes based on the types of food you like to cook and eat, but some examples are:
- Soup Sunday
- Meatless Monday
- Fish Friday
There are so many options to choose from:
- Kid’s choice
- New recipe
How do I pick what themes to use
One great way would be to list out all the meals that you cook often or enjoy. Then look to see what groups you have. They could be based on:
- ingredients (fish, chicken, etc),
- the type of dish (soup, salad, casserole, etc), or
- the flavour group Tex-Mex, Greek, etc).
This is also a great way to see the variety in your usual meals – Or more accurately, where you don’t have variety. For example, if all your meals include meat, maybe you would want to try a bean-based vegetarian dish. Or you have no soups but you want to learn how to make comforting soup for the coming winter.
This is a very rebel-friendly type of planning. People who have a strong rebellious streak tend to struggle with a typical meal plan. The thought of having each meal planned in advance is stifling.
This style is also great for people who don’t have a lot of structure in their week.
Simply list out the meals that you could cook (and enjoy) based on the food that is currently in your kitchen. Then when you start getting ready to prepare supper, look at the list and see what sounds the tastiest.
The downside to this style of planning is that you don’t necessarily have any prep time built in. If your meat is frozen or you’re planning to use dried beans, it will take longer to make the meal. If you’re going this way, you may want to make your decision at least a couple hours before you want to cook. That will give time for the frozen meat to thaw, or you could do a quick soak of beans by boiling them.
You could get around that downside when you combine this planning style with recipe formulas.
This could combine with any of the above types of planning. Instead of planning to have “chicken noodle soup,” you would plan to have “soup.” Then when you go to the kitchen, you decide which ingredients to use to fill the recipe.
An example of a soup formula would be:
1-2 cups aromatic vegetable (choose: onion, carrot, celery, garlic, leek, shallots, chives) – to be cooked in olive oil or butter and a pinch of salt
4-6 cups liquid (water or broth)
1-2 cups protein (soaked/canned beans, lentils, cooked meat)
1-2 cups starch (potato, rice, noodles, corn, quinoa)
1-2 cups other vegetables (tomato, broccoli, cauliflower, or anything else)
Spices and herbs (your choice)
Optional garnish (green onion/chives, roasted seeds, croutons, cheese)
Whatever combination you have available or that catches your fancy could work.
You would have to know how long certain foods take to cook compared to others. You wouldn’t add pasta and dried brown lentils at the same time. The lentils would take 40 minutes to cook, by which time the pasta would be mush. In many cases, you can look to the directions on a package to help guide you.
You would taste as the dish came together and decide what to use as you saw fit. This seems like a very advanced strategy, but you by making small changes to a recipe.
(By the way, recipe formulas will be the topic of my next article, so be sure to sign up for the list if you want to get notified when that is up!)
Meal planning doesn’t have to be a picture-perfect or Instagrammable. It is supposed to be something that helps you by getting rid of some of the stress around what to cook for dinner.
You now know 4 ways to make meal planning work for you. Try each on for size to see what fits you.
Before you know it, you’ll stride into your kitchen each day ready to cook. Your family will stop asking what is for supper because they can look at the plan themselves.
You’ll save money because you’ll have fewer trips to the grocery store and fewer meals out.
You’ll feel better cooking food from scratch that nourishes you and tastes great!
Let me know in the comments below: Do you meal plan? If so, how do you do it? If not, which of these ideas seem like they might work? I’d love to hear from you!
Until next time, be good.2
You are reading this because you are interested in improving your life. That means we have something in common. I’m still working on what the Foundations for the Good Life is all about, and I’d love for you to join me in this journey. I’d love to build a community with you. With people who are trying to figure out what “the good life” means, and how to set up their life to make it possible for them.
If this interests you, join the newsletter to be the first to know about updates, new articles, and to try out tools as they are developed and improved. I hope to connect with you soon.
- I use a different one from my journal. (Any excuse to buy more notebooks!) but it could work well for you to include meal planning in your journaling routine.
- I was a teenager when I first remember my mom saying, “Be good,” when I left the house. When I left for university, and to this day, she ends most of our conversations in the same way.
Yes, she meant, ‘I love you’ and ‘stay out of trouble.’ But she also meant, ‘do what’s right.’ Follow what you know to be true for you. Learn from life and how to do things better.
Now that I’m trying to understand and evolve my philosophy of life; Now that I’m trying to help other people strive toward living the good life; I want to share that phrase, “Be good,” with you. Be good. Live the good life in whatever way you define that for yourself.