You probably know how to make all sorts of meals; you just fall into a rut of having the same things all the time.
“If you are what you eat, then I am cheap, fast, and easy.”
Planning ahead will add variety, improve the chances of good nutrition, and save you money. More importantly, it will save you the daily headache of “What’s for dinner?” You may still be cheap or easy, though.
1. Start by making a list of all the meals you know how to make. I just list the main course, as sides are easier and flexible. If you have some time on a rainy day, sit down with your cookbooks and start a list. If you’re short of time, just keep a list of what you make each day, post it on your fridge, and add to it as you go along.
You might find it easier if you think in categories, such as:
Country or region, for example: Italian: spaghetti, lasagne, stuffed shells, manicotti, pizza; Greek: souvlaki; Asian: stir-fries; Mexican: tacos, burritos, fajitas
Main ingredient, for example: Chicken: wings, lemon, stir-fried, roasted, southern-fried; Ground beef: hamburgers, tacos, chili, cabbage rolls; Seafood: salmon, tuna casserole, shrimp stir-fry; Meatless: grilled cheese sandwiches
2. Make yourself a chart with 6 or 7 spaces across. I only plan for 6 meals each week, as we may eat out or have leftovers at least once. If you have a dozen dinner ideas, you have two rows down; if you have 48 ideas, that’s 8 rows. Your chart will look something like this:
3. Start filling in your menu ideas. I like to spread things out so that each week has perhaps one ground beef recipe, one seafood, a couple of chicken, and so on. Also check that similar items are not too close together. I would make sure that stir-fried beef and stir-fried chicken, or spaghetti and lasagne, were in different weeks. I also ensure that each week has some easy recipes (for busy evenings) and some that take more time (that can be prepared on weekends.) I plan main-course dinners only; there are always ingredients for side dishes in the pantry/fridge, such as pasta, rice, and vegetables.
I do not specify which meal is for which day, until I see what the household schedule is like that week.
4. Sit down with the week’s menu and recipes for every meal. Make yourself a detailed shopping list, including every ingredient for every meal. (This might be the most time-consuming part, but saves the most time later.) Then make some photocopies of that list.
5. This is where it gets easier. Grab your shopping list for week one. Look through your pantry & fridge and cross off anything you already have. Add breakfast and lunch groceries, and any staples that you are short of (flour, butter, oil, whatever.) Go get what’s on that list.
6. When you arrive home, you will have all the dinners for the following week planned, and all the ingredients to make them. Pat yourself on the back. Post the menu somewhere visible, so that your family knows what’s planned, and can pitch in with starting dinner if they get home first.
7. Next week, when it’s time to go shopping, grab your week two list, and so on. When you reach the end of all you planned, start again at week one.
As you remember other meals you enjoy making, or find new recipes, add them to your chart until you have another week or two planned. Eventually you may have a couple of months’ worth of recipes, grocery lists printed, and you will be recognized as a kitchen genius.