Meal Planning and how I learned to love it

January 16, 2021



I'll admit that the first 47 years of my married life I was haphazard about planning and shopping for dinner. I love to cook and make a nice dinner most nights, but my prep skills were a disaster. I like to think I was spontaneous, but really I was just a crappy planner, which is funny, because I'm an ace at planning for a party. But for everyday cooking, I'd plan for two to three nights tops, make a list, shop, then forget several crucial ingredients which would send me back to the store at the most crowded time. Here's the thing, I loved to cook but hated to shop. Enter my retired husband. He said he would take over the shopping duties and claimed to enjoy it. Actually I think he liked having a reason to drive his vintage red Corvette around town and loved running into my girlfriends and chatting it up over the produce section. This was a great arrangement for both of us and we went along for a decade like this. Then 2020 came along and we were asked to stay home. Plan ahead. Make do. There would be no more popping into the grocery store and local vegetable stand every day. There would be no spontaneity or spur of the moment anything. We all had to change our ways. (And in those early days, there were loads of items that were impossible to find. People were hoarding. It's off topic but I still can't get over that. So rude!) So I thought, well, if I can't change my ways in a pandemic, exactly when could I change my ways? I talked to my daughter and daughter-in-law to see what they were doing about getting food into the house. Since they have less time than I do, they both have always planned ahead. (Talk to a busy person, they always have the best time-saving tips.) I picked their brains, embraced their ideas, added my own, engaged my husband in the process, tossed out a few ideas that didn't work, and now we have a way of planning our meals that is easy and rather fun too. 


Friends, here is how I plan my dinners two weeks at a time, make fast trips to the grocery store twice a month, and visit the vegetable stand only once a week. It took me a while to get it right, but now I love our new routine.


First, and since we can never remember what we like (!), we made a master list of about 75 everyday dinner ideas. It included all our favorite stews, soups, chilis, a dozen chicken breast/thigh recipes, you get the idea. They were often simple things that I don't need a recipe for such as teriyaki pan fried salmon served on a bed of salad or a whole roasted chicken which I could make blind-folded. But if the dinner idea needed a recipe, such as Bahn Mi Lettuce Wraps, I put the recipe in my newly created "dinner ideas" folder.  Most of my everyday recipes take about 30-40 minutes active cook time, and some much less. In this master dinner list I also included several dozen of our favorite side dishes. Sides like roasted asparagus or roasted tomatoes don't need a recipe, but if it did, I added the recipe to my dinner ideas folder too.


The next time I went to the grocery store I took pictures of the signs above the aisles. When I got home I made a spreadsheet with cells for labeled aisles in order, see third picture below. Now when I enter the store at one end I follow my shopping list aisle by aisle to the other end. No more running back and forth in the store for things I forgot. I'm in and out in a flash. 


Twice a month I'll have my husband go through the dinner ideas folder. He'll pull out what he'd like to see on the menu for the next two weeks, I'll add my own and add side dishes too. I write our dinner ideas down on my shopping list, mindful of what is in season, consider if we might do a night of takeout, then go through the recipes to see what ingredients I already have on hand and what I need to shop for. This completely eliminates forgetting things like sour cream or curry spice, and trekking back to the store, which is a no-no these days anyway.


As I cook the dinners, I cross them off my list. The following week I don't go to the grocery store, but I'll pop into the corner greengrocer for milk and to purchase the fresh produce I need for our remaining dinners. I know that some dinners, such as a big roasted chicken will last for three dinners--first night is roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy, then we'll have it again on the second night, and on the following night we'll have chicken salad. Then the bones get tossed into a large freezer container. When the bone container is full I'll make chicken stock and then chicken soup will be on the next dinner list. Some dinners will be doubled because neither of us mind planned leftovers. This is especially nice when we have Carter for the day and I don't feel like cooking dinner when he leaves, I can simply heat up the plannedover from the night before. We loved stuffed poblano peppers and lettuce wraps of any kind and have oodles of recipes for both, and they are perfect for doubling. 


And now I want to address all those cookbooks and recipes I've collected over the years. They did not avoid my 2020 decluttering extravaganza. My girlfriend lives in another state, but we decided to each go through our cookbooks "together" and get rid of the ones we didn't use anymore.  If there was a cookbook which was saved for only one or two recipes, the recipe was copied, put in my recipe file, and the cookbook was donated. My local charity shop took every discarded cookbook, thank heaven. And BTW, my recipe files got a deep cleaning too!  I was holding onto magazine clippings such as a super rich first course for a Stilton Stuffed Onion and even had one for Blueberry Chicken. What was I thinking? I had a good laugh going through it.


I hope you like my new-to-me dinner planning. I imagine if you live way out in the country this kind of meal planning is not new to you, but for me, planning ahead has been amazing. 

My recipes file is on the desk near my kitchen table where I do the meal planning.

My Dinner Ideas list is still growing. We need it because we forget what we like! Without this list we both just look at each other and can't remember a thing. The corresponding recipes are in the file folder.

Normally I print out my shopping spreadsheet two-sided so I only have to deal with one piece of paper. The list follows my store, aisle by aisle. I keep it on my desk and add things throughout a two week period then finalize it the night before I go shopping. No more forgetting things!


My condensed cookbook section is not too small, but now it is smaller by a dozen books.


As always, thank you for stopping by. If you would like to make a comment you can click here or scroll down to the comments sections if you are on the website. And if you have any ideas for my everyday dinner list, PLEASE tell me! I'm always on the lookout for something new and easy. Hugs, Kristen

The first image above is from Better Homes and Garden.

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7 comments

  1. I too went through my cookbooks and removed over a dozen of them from my house. They were all taken to my local thrift store. I love your dinner list ideas and am going to do this. I also have a lot of paper recipes saved and need to go through them and weed some out. Thanks for the ideas.

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  2. You are so organized! My shopping has all become curbside or delivery, which can lead to some surprises. My solution is a well-stocked pantry and endless adaptation. But comfort food has been critical in these trying times so lots of hearty soups and bread: Instant Pot and sourdough starter are holding us together!

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  3. Thank you for sharing your wonderful organization ideas and I love the entomology file container. To your point, seeing what others do and adding what works for you is how we all improve. I’m definitely going to incorporate some of your suggestions!

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  4. Loved it! Thanks for writing it all up!

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  5. Another idea I had when reading is to group some recipes together that share a less used ingredient, so that you are not tossing the rest of it out, (e.g. a big bunch of coriander).

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  6. Your blog is good and nice content for me and maybe for others. Your family would eat good and healthy food . My kids also wants to eat everything and they are very naughty and paly with each other with toys and other kids accessories.

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