What’s for dinner? Simple steps to help you rock that question.

Our household consists of two working parents and two active kids.  Sound familiar?  Years ago Mr. Man and I made a commitment to dinner.  Well, that sounds….interesting.  We decided that no matter how busy our lives get, every evening our family will gather around the table, give thanks to God and share a home-cooked meal. Here is a little further reading (if you are interested) on why we made this commitment.

We realized pretty quick that it wasn’t just going to happen because we wanted it to.  There had to be a plan or at least some thought put into how we could make this a reality.

If you are doubting, consider: we have evening commitments, we don’t have an unlimited budget, we are tired after a day of work, and our kids are over-scheduled.

This wasn’t a linear process, but I am not going to share our epic fails. Ain’t nobody got time for that!  Trust me they occurred. I am going to share what worked/s for us.  It may be tempting to just consider one step, not the whole process.  I think you will be more satisfied though, if you set aside an hour when you are ready to go through the steps.  One hour dedicated to saving you lots of time, frustration and stress in the long run, is an hour well spent.

Step 1:  Consider the time at which you are going to try to eat dinner each day. 

This may be the hardest part.  During basketball season we eat earlier.  During baseball later.  Sometimes we just have a window of time we shoot for.  When the kids were younger it was easy. Don’t get hung up on the exact time, just make a schedule you can shoot for, and consider this daily worry tackled.

Time tip:  try to eat at the earliest possible time.  There are many health reasons for this, but it also frees up your evening, so you don’t feel like you’re making dinner, cleaning up and heading to bed.  That sounds like drudgery.

Our House: 6:00-ish on M, T, Th, F, S 4:30-ish on W and 5:00-ish on Sunday

Step 2:  Consider your weekly grocery budget.

We have a budget.  We didn’t always and life was much more stressful then.  I’ll talk more about budgeting in an upcoming post, but consider tracking what you spend on groceries for a month.  Then consider if that is working for you, or if you could be a little more economical.  Found money is fun money!  My mantra here is You control your money, so it doesn’t control you.

Budget Tip:  Use the weekly grocery flyer front page to plan your menu.  Getting a discount on your proteins is a great way to save money.

Our house: $900 a month (450$ every 2 weeks)

Step 3:  Consider how much time you have to prepare a meal (based on your planned dinner time)

Do you enjoy time spent cooking or do you just want to get to the meal at the end?  Either is just fine, but it will impact how long you want to spend on preparation.

Our House: 30-45 minutes.  We have leftovers one night a week and we do homemade pizza one night.  Oh look, we only plan for 5 nights a week.  Sometimes we even go out to eat.

Step 4:  Consider how much time you have/would like to spend on menu planning, list making and shopping.

Some of you are thinking, “I don’t want to spend any time on this.  That is why I’m reading this! Sheesh!”  But, stay with me, as this is where the magic happens!  If you consider how much time you now spend making a shopping list (or roaming aimlessly through the grocery store), traveling to and from the grocery store, as well as how much time you spend trying to figure out what’s for dinner and then in preparation, I bet it is way more than it will be, when you start using a routine.

Our House: Weekly Menu Planning 30-45 minutes on the weekend, List Making 0 minutes (what?? Girl, you lyin’!), Grocery Shopping 10 minutes-1 hour.

Step 5: Choose the resources that you have access to and that appeal to your lifestyle and budget.  There are more than you know!

Ooh, this is the fun part.  Resources include cookbooks (we collect em’), menu planning services, menu services, meal/prep delivery services, grocery shopping and delivery services.

Cookbooks-Seriously, do you have some?  Then dust ’em off and start using them.  Select meals based on the pretty pictures.  Use the index!  Pick a book and plan from that book for the week.

Menu services– Two that we tried and liked are The Six O’clock Scramble and Sweet Peas Meals. These services deliver (right to your inbox) at the least 5 to seven dinner meal recipe options weekly.

We used Scramble for years.  Membership ranges from $35 for three months to $150 for 2 years. There is also a 14 day free trial option.  I can say without hesitation that the recipes are delicious (all reviewed and kid friendly), simple-30 minutes or less, healthy (all nutrition info is given) and economical. You choose the meals for the week that appeal to you, and it provides a grocery list. Awesome sauce!

Sweet Peas Meals-This is a newer service that is much “fancier” and a little more challenging to navigate.  The cost is $15.99 to $10.99 a month (with free month options).  They provide dinners, snacks, breakfast and even cocktail recipes. They are not under 30 minutes and the nutritional information is minimal, but I found most to have a healthy focus.  They are beautiful meal options for people who enjoy spending time in the kitchen.

Menu Planning Services-My current jam! Cue glorious music here.  I love this service!  Plan To Eat is the one we use. It costs $39 a year. Here’s what they offer:  A web-based platform to plan your menu.  Simple really.  The key is that it allows you to curate (sorry for the overused word of 2016) recipes that you rely on and drop them into your menu.  We actually browse our cookbooks (usually using a different one each week), then go online to find the recipes we’ve selected and add them to our plan. Obviously once they are in there you use them again. You could plan for a whole month if you wanted to!  It then, and here’s the best part, provides a list based on  the time period you select.  It’s easy to use and has a has an app for your phone, so you don’t even have to print out anything if you don’t want to.

Meal Ingredient Delivery Services-There are several of these currently available.  They provide you with all the ingredients, perfectly portioned for tasty and healthy meals. When we were experiencing a health (injury) crisis in our family, my wonderful co-workers provided us with this service from Hello Fresh for several meals. It was a perfect gift/service and we were so grateful. We just opened the box and cooked a great meal at a time when none of us had the energy to do much else.

Online Grocery Ordering and Curbside Pick-up-The store we shopped at most frequently does not offer this service, so I am trying another. This is a planner’s dream.  Here’s why:  You already have a list so it’s quick to order.  You won’t be tempted by extraneous items (because you are not entering the store) and you just got 90 minutes back in your week.  Some charge a fee while others are free.  You can certainly order groceries and have them delivered to your home as well.

Our House:

  1. 30 minutes-Using one or two cookbooks for inspiration, we select 5 meals.
  2. 15 minutes-We either search for or enter them in Plan To Eat (or select from our established database in PTE).  We schedule the meals by placing them on the PTE calendar.  We add items for lunches and breakfasts as needed.  We select the week time-frame and “print” the list. I delete items we already have.
  3. 30 minutes-I then open up my grocery app and shop for the ingredients.  I schedule a time for pick up.  We usually do it right after church on Sunday.*
  4. 15 minutes-Pick up the groceries curbside and then…um…that’s it.  We are ready for the week.

Go ahead, ask me, “What’s for dinner?”

*If Mr. Man would prefer to shop at his favorite store which doesn’t offer this service yet, he goes Sunday afternoon and it takes about an hour including travel.  Also, my friend Amy gave me the great idea to just order paper products online monthly from a “super store”. So, we don’t add those to our weekly grocery list.  Those items are paper towels, napkins, toilet tissue, Kleenex tissues, all-natural hand soap and dishwashing detergent.