Dinner Time Decisions: 5 Simple Answers for Making Your Own Plan

This week I decided to take a step back in the Dinner Time Decision process 
and take you 'behind the scenes'.  

Each Monday, when I publish my menu plan for the week, I'm giving you answers to MY meal time needs but it may not solve the needs of YOUR week.  I always share the 5 questions I ask myself, giving you insight as to how I came to my decisions for dinner, but really anyone can make a fast and easy menu plan by answering the same 5 simple questions.

So this week...I'm not giving you a fish, but teaching you how I fish *wink*. 
CLICK HERE for a printable meal planning guide

Also known as: Dinner Time Decisions

I have a simple set of questions I ask myself  before I commit to a meal plan each week.  These questions are designed to save me time, money and sanity.  Here they are:

  1. What's in my freezer?
    • I have learned not to assume I know the answer.  There have been times I've forgotten what I had in there and bought things unnecessarily.  When working with a fixed grocery budget, this is a BIG deal! 
  2. What seasoning blends do I have on hand or can make up fresh with spices and herbs I have in the pantry?
    • When I look into a freezer of frozen chicken, beef, pork or fish, I know I have food but don't always know where to start when planning meals.  My seasoning blends partnered with the recipes on the blog give me choices.  I know I can search for recipes using a specific blend and find CHOICES and IDEAS for dinner time decisions!
  3. What's in my fridge that needs to be used before it becomes 'cash in the trash'?
    • My friend Tiffany always says, "The most expensive food in the kitchen is the food that goes to waste".  I agree completely and usually that expensive food was bought ON SALE! If I don't use it, it wasn't a money saving grocery decision, so I make it a habit to check the fridge each week when planning a menu to see what leftovers might be on their last leg, or what produce I bought on sale the week before that's about to go bad.  
  4. What do the grocery store sales have to offer this week? 
    • Once I know what I have on hand, I can review the grocery store ads and see what's on sale, looking for things that I know I need now or in the near future.  
  5. What does my calendar say about my Dinner Time Decision making?
    • VERY IMPORTANT STEP! I can plan all I want but if I can't follow the plan it was pointless, which leads to last minute 'change of plans' that typically cost me more money than I needed to spend on dinner if I'd thought ahead a little.  Things I look for on the calender to guide my decision making:
      • days that I need dinner to be ready when I walk in the door (slow cooker meals or something from the fridge like an entree salad or sandwich meal)
      • days I have time to cook (use these days to make Cook Once / Serve Twice recipes to plan ahead for the future)
      • the family schedule... who is home, who is gone and who is coming over?  (it's important to know who and how many I'm cooking for ~ so I don't over or under prepare!)
That's it!  
Five simple questions 
and I'm ready to make my 
Dinner Time Decisions for the week.  

Next step is to gather the recipes so I can compile a grocery list. 

  1. Using the answers to 1,3 and 4 above, I determine the flow of entrees. 
    • 2 nights of chicken, 1 night of pork, 2 beef nights, vegetarian meals? The answer is driven by what I have and what I can afford (or want) to buy.
  2. Now I use the answer to 2 and 5 above to search for recipes
      • I choose the recipes offered by the links below based on the seasoning blends I have on hand.   
    • If my calendar says I have time to cook: I'm going to go to the category list on the right side of the blog and choose any of the following links:
      • "dinner's in the bag" (beefchicken or pork) ~ these recipes will let me make dinner tonight and put a second batch of the same recipe in a freezer bag for dinner in the future. 
      • Cook Once / Serve Twice ~ these recipes give ideas for cooking extra tonight so I can make dinner in a hurry another night
      • Fill the Freezer ~ just one more category that shows recipes I can make tonight and have extras to cook once / serve twice or put another dinner in a bag. 
      • Look at the Meal Trail ideas linked here and use those trails to drive my decisions.  
    • If my calendar says I will need dinner in a hurry: I'm going to partner up a meal from the list above OR I'll just search for meals I can put in the slow cooker that morning.  (use 'slow cooker' in search tool OR click the slow cooker link in the category list)
  3. As I find the recipes I want to use, I print them out.  Once all printed, I 'shop my kitchen' first.  This allows me to cross off any ingredients listed that I already  have in the pantry, fridge or freezer.  Whatever is left is what  I add to my grocery list for the week.  
  4. I now keep the printed recipes in a convenient place in my kitchen so I can access them easily on the nights they are planned.  
  5. Final step...WRITE IT DOWN. It's important to make note of your Dinner Time Decisions for the week and keep it where you can see it.  I use the family calendar hung in our kitchen to mark the meals planned for each week.  Another option is to just pin a list to the fridge or inside a cabinet door.  

A meal plan doesn't mean you are chained to it...it just means you have a map for the week, 
but things may happen that require you to take a detour.  
The 5 questions you answered to put together your meal plan (top of this page) 
give you an idea of options you have if a detour is needed.  

Just in case you are inspired to give it a try yourself, 
CLICK HERE for a printable version 
of this process and use it to 
make your own Dinner Time Decisions! 


Let’s Eat!
Copyright© 2012 Around the Table with Tami

I'm linking up with other meal planning blogs this week.  See the list of places I like to connect here.

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