Meal Planning: Getting Dinner On The Table

“What’s for dinner tonight, mom?”

“I’m hungry!!”

“Should we get subs again?”

“I don’t have anything in the house to cook. Let’s just go out to eat again.”

“I guess we can just throw in a frozen pizza.”

Does this sound familiar to anyone? It definitely does to me. There was a time not too long ago when a large portion of our monthly income was going to restaurants and take-out. We were unprepared for breakfasts and lunches every day, so the kids were eating sugary cereals and overly processed school lunches. We were spending too much money on food, and we were definitely not eating the healthiest. When my husband lost his job a few years ago, I knew something needed to change.

I had done meal planning in the past, before I had kids, when I was trying to lose weight and get in shape. Somehow, though, I had lost it in the rollercoaster years of pregnancy, young children and 3rd shift work. Hard to believe that being stressed out and over tired could contribute to lack of planning and unhealthy eating, right?

Now meal planning is a cornerstone to my having an organized, stress-free (at least around mealtime) household. It is one of the easiest things you can do to make your life healthier and less hectic. The benefits of meal planning are numerous.

  • Meal Planning Saves Time and Money – Ever go to the grocery store and then realize the next day that you are missing key ingredients for the dinner you’re planning to make? So what do you do? You either go to the store (again) to get said ingredients or you decide it’s going to be Subway again tonight. Either way you’re wasting precious time and money. When you plan your meals in advance, you can shop with a specific, pre-determined grocery list. Not only will this save you time, but you will be less likely to spend money on the unnecessary items at the store.
  • Meal Planning Eliminates Last Minute Stress – No more rushing home and frantically searching your refrigerator and cabinets for something to make only to come up with a frozen pizza or (you guessed it) take-out again. When you have a plan, you can even anticipate your busy nights and choose quick and easy meals for when you have to rush from work to swim lessons to a soccer game.
  • Meal Planning Helps You to Avoid Unhealthy Choices – Ask any weight loss or fitness expert, and they will undoubtedly tell you that meal planning is an integral part of any program. If you are only planning for healthy meals, you will only have healthy food in your home which makes temptation pretty easy to avoid. You will also be less likely to make a run through the nearest fast food restaurant on the way home from work.
  • Meal Planning Answers the Nagging Question, “Mom, What’s for Dinner?” – When your kids ask, just point them to the list on the refrigerator.
  • Meal Planning Makes Shopping Easier – When you know what you’re making and you have a detailed list, you can breeze in and out of the grocery store no problem.

Now that you know everything that meal planning has to offer, here are some easy ways to get started.

  • Sit down with some cookbooks or the internet and find recipes that appeal to you. You may have some favorites you already use, keep those and try to add a couple new recipes into the rotation each week. You could check out my recipes, or try one of my favorite websites for healthy eating.
  • Look at the week ahead before you plan your meals. If you know you have basketball practice and a PTA meeting on Wednesday, you may want to pick a quick meal option that night.
  • Plan for one off day every week. This can be a night you eat up all the leftovers or a night to eat out. I personally need to get away from the kitchen at least one day a week. One day I don’t have to worry about cooking or after meal clean-up helps refresh me for the week ahead.
  • Plan a couple meals your kids can help with. Teaching your children to cook is one of the best gifts you can give them. Believe me, they will thank you when all their roommates in college are eating Ramen noodles and they’re not.
  • Use a template such as this one, and write everything down.

Weekly Meal Planner

  • Take inventory of your refrigerator, freezer and cabinets. What ingredients do you already have? What do you need to complete all of the meals for the upcoming week? What staples are you getting low on?
  • Create your grocery list using a template such as this.

Grocery List


  • Go shopping. Buy only those items on your list. The only exception is if there is a really good sale, and it is an item you can “stock up” on.
  • Hang your meal plan on the refrigerator. This way everyone in your house knows what’s for dinner.
  • Stick to the plan. Remember meal planning doesn’t work if you simply hang a list on the fridge and head to McDonald’s anyway.

One other helpful tip for beefing up your available meals…

Freeze it!! You can make up a bunch of meals in one afternoon or evening. Do it on your own or with a group of friends. This has become extremely popular with meal planners, and many companies now offer freezer meal workshops. Imagine having a week’s worth of meals ready to go with just a few hours of investment.

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