Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Easy Dinner Planning

I'm not quite sure how we got here, but I'm told we are into October already.  Since time just keeps picking up speed, I wanted to share with you one way that I save time and sanity:  I plan my dinners for a whole month at a time.

This makes it easy to compile a weekly grocery list.  This also helps me with my least favorite time of day:  the after school tornado.  School pick up is crazy.  Then we have back packs everywhere and papers to be signed and filed and adored.  There are snacks.  There's homework.  And just about the time I am ready to drop, I have to make dinner.

Gone are the days of facing the giant dreaded question, "What should we have for dinner?"  Now I don't have to think about it.  I simply check my dinner calendar and get to work.

A friend recently asked me to share my whole process with her so she could start planning her dinners using her own recipes.  I thought maybe there's someone else out there who could benefit from a simple step-by-step guide.

1.  Start by making a list of dinners your family eats regularly.  You may have to sit and think through these, or you may want to go through your recipe box and/or cook books.  This is probably the most time-consuming part, but you only have to do it this one time.

These are the dinners my family eats regularly.
2.  Make a list of any dinner recipes you would like to try.  Flip through cook books and peruse Pinterest.  It's time to actually try those recipes you pinned.  Since my family has specific dietary restrictions, I made a list of dinners I want to try for my whole family and a list of recipes that would just be for Jared and me.  On nights when I try a Jared-and-me recipe, my kids will eat chicken nuggets, mac and cheese, leftovers, or something else simple.

3.  Get a blank calendar.  Thanks to amazing graphic artists who post their work online, you can get all sorts of adorable printable calendars.  This year I printed my totally free and completely adorable calendars from Short Stop Designs.  You can find them here.  If you're ready to plan ahead (overachiever), you can get the 2017 free printable calendars here.

These super cute calendars print with a "Notes" section on the bottom.  I trim mine off, and you'll see why in a minute.

4.  Write your dinners on your calendar.  I like to sit with my family calendar (on my phone), my dinner calendar, my dinner lists, and a pencil.  I start by checking the family schedule for days when we will need a Crock Pot meal or something quick and easy.  I fill those in first.  I put new recipes on days that are less hectic.  Sometimes I get all responsible and line up dinners in a row that will use the same produce or add-ons.  Just keep filling in until you have a dinner for each day.

Now you can see why I cut off the bottom of my calendars.  I display my dinner calendar on this awesome reclaimed wood clipboard that a friend made for me.  It's part of this gathering of decorations in my dining room:

Every time I change the monthly dinner calendar, I change the paper on the right to go with the season or current holiday.  I change the Bible verse on the chalkboard whenever a new one strikes me.

Anywho, back to dinners.  So you can see that this process is very straightforward and simple, but some of you may be like me and just need someone to tell you step-by-step what to do.  Once you do it once, it's faster and easier for future months.

When the next month comes, you can simply copy your dinners in the same order onto your new calendar.  However, I like to customize each month.  I like to take our schedule into consideration and space the easy and more time-consuming dinners accordingly.  Plus I just need a little variety!

This is what works for our family.  It only takes me about 15 minutes to plan an entire month's worth of dinners, and my grocery shopping and meal prep are simplified.  I hope this helps some other tired mama bring a little order to dinnertime!