What’s Cooking? Dine in With a Plan

There are financial and health benefits of cooking meals at home, but meal planning ahead of time can seem challenging today when we have so much on our plates already. It’s tough to know where to start and seems more difficult now when grocery shopping has far more steps, rules, and precautions than a few months ago. While taking care of the ones you love, be sure to take care of yourself and your time!

Making the Leap 

I didn’t used to do meal planning, and I would push the thought aside saying I don’t have time; It’s too much work. What if I change my mind that day? What if my family doesn’t like what I picked? I initially started planning dinners as a way to help with our food budget and to watch what we eat. Having a plan in place means less last minute fast food runs, convenience foods, to go orders, or restaurant meals which can all bust your budget and health goals.

Meal planning allows us to know exactly what we need to purchase, which also helps reduce those impulse purchases (mmmm, donuts). For me it’s now just one less thing to think about every day.

OK, Let’s Do This

What meals are already staples or favorites in your home now? Thinking of what meals you and your family already like is a great way to start. You already know the ingredients and how to prepare the meal. This is the easiest start to meal planning even if you start out with a few planned meals per week. It’s a great way to ease into the process.

Take stock of what you already have. Look in your pantry, fridge, and freezer and get rid of anything that’s expired to start with a clean slate.  Think of what storage you have in your home for dry goods, freezer, and fridge items so you know how often you might have to shop and how many days ahead you can plan and be able to store the food.

Pick a day during the week as your planning day. Any day that works for you is your day, but keep in mind the time needed to get the groceries. I do it on Wednesday evenings, which is specifically picked based on when my grocery store publishes their online flier for sales that start the next day. I can see what’s on sale as a head start on what we decide to make for the next week.

Healthy Main, Healthy Side, Healthy Yum. I tend to look at each meal as three parts:

  1. Healthy Main: Protein (the main item)
  2. Healthy Side: Fruit or Veggie
  3. Healthy Yum: Starch or Grain (This is the Yum since I can fully admit – the carb side is delicious)

I got less overwhelmed when I started planning by just simply thinking of what to include to meet these three categories.

Get others involved – This work is not all on your shoulders!  Whether your home includes your family or roommates, if they are eating, they will have an opinion. You might even get some new ideas by asking for help on what to make. I include the kids so that they learn by example how to plan and see what goes into making healthy options.  Some weeks we have the kids take their turn in choosing the meal entirely, which naturally creates buy in from the kids on what we’re eating since they had a part in planning it.

Get inspired – Go local. We have several local farmers selling produce in a mixed box available for drive thru pick up. As local farmers are looking for ways to make sure their harvest doesn’t go to waste, we started cooking more seasonal based on what we get in one of the boxes. I’ve also learned by just giving it a try that many fresh vegetables and fruit can be cleaned, cut, and frozen for later!

Publish the menu. For each week I write out what’s for dinner that week. I started doing this as a scribbled note posted to the fridge just so I’d know what’s for dinner each day. As time went on I realized the kids actually like being able to see what’s going on for the week. Given how much change is going on now, I think they find comfort in knowing that this one thing is planned and will happen. Now I see the posted menu and find comfort in knowing it’s one less thing to think about. It also holds us accountable so we don’t make convenient or unhealthy choices at the last minute. It’s hard to change the plan when the plan is in writing AND groceries were already purchased!

Plan for the meals you won’t make. There are times we just want to get takeout pizza (especially towards the end of a work week). Give yourself a break and add these to your plans ahead of time. Meal planning is not just about cooking every single meal. Meal planning is also budgeting for when you want  a break and let someone else do the cooking. Knowing these choices in advance also helps with healthier choices, because you’ll know that you’re choosing to eat out. This allows me to plan whether I need more activity to account for the meal or make my lunch a little lighter that day.

Behind the Curtain – What Do I Really Make?

Here is a sample of what’s for dinner this week. Notice that they are not difficult and may even look a little boring. We have a 7, 10, and 11 year old all with different tastes, but somehow we’ve come to a consensus that allows us all to enjoy dinner. At least three of these are repeated each week with some variation. For example, this week is chicken tacos but next week might be ground turkey tacos.

  • Monday (Memorial Day)
    • Grilled strip steak, caprese salad with grilled portobello mushrooms and a balsamic glaze drizzle, fruit salad, corn on the cob
  • Tuesday
    • Chicken soft tacos, lettuce, olives, cheese, onion, guacamole, fruit
  • Wednesday
    • Chicken cutlets, zucchini noodles with red sauce, sauteed spinach and garlic
  • Thursday
    • Grilled flank steak, mashed potatoes and gravy, steamed green beans
  • Friday
    • Grilled hamburgers and hot dogs, fries, fruit
  • Saturday
    • Grilled chicken wings, rice, steamed carrots
  • Sunday
    • Spaghetti and meatballs, garlic bread, sauteed squash

With the kids home from school, lunches have become even easier since most days they are leftovers from the night before. We’re saving money and buying less frozen and processed foods for lunches because we have the leftovers.

It’s now easier to prepare the grocery list each week, manage what needs to be repurchased, keep food costs reasonable, and know when to stock up on sales of items we use each week. Find your rhythm and see if maybe now is a good time to start making a habit out of meal planning. Most of all, make sure to take time to enjoy the meals together. Our work and school lives have bled into the daily home life and family time. Turn the tech off and tune into each other – Bon Appétit!

Be Well and EVŌ On! #EVO

-Carrie Baum
Sr. Director of Product Development


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