After literally years of dreading the question "what's for dinner?" I finally wised up and developed a plan of attack to save my sanity (and my grocery budget). This plan involved 3 key components:
- Organizing the pantry (and the fridge) and keeping it stocked with bulk items that we eat frequently.
- Creating a weekly meal plan.
- Creating my shopping list(s) using a simple equation: All ingredients needed to make the dinners for the week – pantry items already on hand = weekly shopping list(s).
I dream about a walk-in pantry like the one we had growing up, but my "pantry" actually consists of a large cupboard in the garage, another in the house, a drawer in my buffet for potatoes, onions, winter squash, etc, and my spice cabinet. There used to be no real rhyme or reason to the organizational system—mainly it relied on my semi-photographic memory of where I had stashed something (which failed terribly when the boys or my husband would rummage around for snacks). Now, I've created an organization system that works much better for my space—the key being that items are much more easily visible, bulk containers are labeled with their contents, and shelves are organized by category (eg—baking supplies, canned savory foods, canned fruit, dried pasta, rice, beans, and snack foods are separated into specific locations). See my nicely organized pantry:
As I plan my dinners, I try to include a variety of proteins, veggies, grains, etc. so we aren't eating the same thing over and over—it's a very loose rotation diet (which helps reduce the development of food allergies—I'll plan to write a post about this in the near future). I plan more elaborate dinners for the nights I have more time to cook and easy dinners (soup & sandwiches, tacos, doctored pizzas, and frozen leftovers are typical for us). Over the past year, I've also made an effort to have one meal a week where one my boys is in charge (for Christmas 2010 I make them aprons, chef hats, and oven mitts and gave them kid-friendly cookbooks—look for future posts about cooking with your kids). Having your kids help with cooking goes a long way with picky eaters!
The Shopping List(s)
Working from one day of my meal plan at a time, I determine the necessary ingredients, check if I already have them on hand, and whatever I don't have goes on the list. Focusing on one meal at a time helps me make sure I don't forget anything and thus eliminates extra trips to the store. After I've got everything for dinner, I'll add extras for breakfasts and lunches such as milk, sliced bread, cereal, fruit for snacks, etc. If I've stayed with my plan, this usually means that I only have to grocery shop once a week and I make a trip to Costco about once a month. How you make your list is up to you but I paid for an app for my iPhone that memorizes items as I add them, let's me indicate quantity, categorizes items by where I find them in the store, creates separate lists for separate stores—an even lets me email the list to my hubby on days when he's kind enough to do the shopping on his way home! Otherwise, I would recommend creating master lists on your computer where you can highlight the items you need and add to it as necessary.
So, that's how I rid myself of "what's for dinner" angst! And just for fun, here's a pic of last night's dinner from my meal plan:
How do you approach meal planning and grocery shopping? Does it stress you out? Are these tips helpful? Please share!