I previously wrote a post on how I plan dinners for the week. Since writing that post, I've added an extra element to my little system, that has made dinner planning even easier. I was finding that on busy weeks when my husband and I had limited time to actually sit down to think through what we wanted to eat that week, browse through cookbooks, online recipes, etc., we would end up just rushing to come up with ideas last minute on Monday mornings right before heading off to the grocery store. This would often result in us just deciding on the same few go-to meals over and over since those were what we could think of off the top of our heads.
To add variety and help make things as stress free and easy as possible, I decided to take the time one day to list out as many dinners as I could think of that we know how to make and love, as well as a few new ones we've been wanting to try out. I then typed them all into a business card template (one dinner per box) and printed them on business card paper (I used this because it had a nice decorative border). Once I had everything printed out, I grouped the dinner cards by category (photo above left) and used little post-it tabs to create category dividers. I put all the cards in a business card holder (photo above middle), which I adhered strong magnets to the back of (photo above right), so I could stick it up on our fridge - a convenient accessible spot that's right next to the pantry where we keep our dinner planner sheets.
So now, when it comes to deciding what we want to make for dinner on any given week, we can grab the cards, quickly look through them and choose one (or two) card(s) for each day. Once we've picked our cards, I fill in a dinner planner sheet with all the ingredients I need to shop for, and then stick up the cards up on our magnetic weekly board. If we change our minds in regards to which dinner we'll make on what day (which often happens), we can easily move the cards around without having to erase and re-write things on the board like we used to.
There are several things I like about this routine. It makes deciding what to make quick and easy so it doesn't feel like a chore. It eliminates the dreaded "what should we do for dinner?" question. It helps us eat more healthfully since when we have our dinners planned out and all the ingredients on hand, we're less likely to order take out. It prevents multiple last minute trips to the market, so it saves us time. It helps us avoid getting into a dinner rut by putting into rotation all the dinners we know how to make and love - not just the ones that seem to come to mind most easily.
It does take some effort to set things up, but once you have a system in place, and you use it a couple of times, it'll become habit and you'll find that it makes life a bit easier. For anyone thinking of setting up something similar, here's a list of what you'll need:
- Magnetic board with the days of the week - the one I have in my home is this one by Three By Three Seattle
- Several copies of the Dinner Planner (free printable!)
- Something to hold and store the planning sheets in a convenient spot - I have a transparent pocket adhered to the inside of my pantry door.
- Business card paper to make the dinner cards - index cards folded and cut in half would also work well
- Filing tabs to label and separate your categories
- A business card holder to hold your dinner cards - if you'll be adding magnets to it like I did to stick it up on the fridge, be sure to get one that has a flat (non-slanted) back
- For recipes you don't know off the top of your head how to make, include a note of where you found the recipe on the card (for example, the name of the cookbook and the page). That way, you can easily find it the day-of. You can also write on the back of the card the key ingredients for that recipe that you don't usually keep on hand so that you can easily and quickly fill in your dinner planner/shopping list.
- Keep a few blank cards on hand for adding new recipes
- If you usually go to more than one grocery store each week like I do, when writing out your shopping list, use different colored pens for each store. In the dinner planner shown in the photo above for example, I used an orange pen to write ingredients I wanted to get at Trader Joes and a purple pen to write the ingredients I wanted to get at Ralphs. So when I was at Trader Joes, I just had to focus on the items in orange, and when I was at Ralphs, I just had to focus on the items in purple. I was able to go in and out of each store quickly.
- Choose a convenient day of the week that you can integrate dinner planning into your routine. For me it's Sunday so I have my list ready for when I go grocery shopping Monday morning.
To follow the system:
1. Browse through your dinner cards and pick out a card (or two) for each day of the week that you plan to cook at home
2. Fill in the dinner planner sheet. Dinners go in the furthest left hand column then ingredients you need to shop for go in the appropriate columns to the right (Produce, Dairy & Refrigerated, etc).
3. Stick your dinner cards for the week up on your magnetic board. Assign a card to each day keeping in mind you can always easily move them around later if you want.
4. Grab your dinner planner sheet and go shopping. Note that the columns on the sheet correspond to the aisles of most grocery stores, making it easy to shop down each column.
5. Feel good knowing you're prepared for the week!
Let me know if you give this a try. Hopefully I explained things well enough. If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments section below.
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