Simple Meal-Planning Formulas to Get Dinner on the Table

Simple Meal-Planning Formulas to Get Dinner on the Table

Ah, meal planning. If you've been in the game for awhile, you either love it or you hate it (or, more likely, feel a little bit of both). Getting dinner on the table happens just about every day, and yet we're still annoyed when 5pm rolls around and dinner hasn't magically appeared. (Just me?)

As much as it can be painful to admit it, meal planning is the key to avoiding harried, frustrated grown-ups and hangry, whining kids on the daily. But we're not talking hours of recipe consulting and list-making - nope! Meal planning really can be simple and easy, and once you have a system that works for you, so much time is freed up to spend on other things that you enjoy more. 

If you're new to meal planning, here are a few simple principles and options to consider!

P.S. Don't miss our new Meal Planner Notepad - in the shop now!

Helpful meal planning guidelines:

1. Choose a day and time to make your plan. Sunday afternoons often work well because many schedules tend to have more give there, but find what works for you. I like to do mine on Friday afternoons so it's not looming over my head all weekend.

2. Name what matters to you. Do you want to eat a plant-based diet? Is trying new cuisines important to you? Are dishes that can be prepped ahead of time critical? Give some thought to your life right now and name what matters.

3. Keep your favorites at your fingertips. Unless what's important to you is adventure in the kitchen, don't try to reinvent the wheel every night. Keep your favorite recipes organized in whatever way works best - a binder, a recipe card box, a Pinterest board, a hand-written list - so you can easily pull from them as you make your plan. Choose at least 2-3 and then fill in a new recipe, a takeout night, or a leftover night to fill in the rest of the week.

Meal planning strategies to try:

Consider one of these meal-planning hacks to get dinner on the table with ease:

  • Janssen of Everyday Reading makes a two-week meal plan and then repeats it 3-4 times (for a total of 6-8 weeks). That way, she's only making a new meal plan every 6-8 weeks, she gets better and faster at making each meal, and there's less waste because more exotic ingredients like spices can be used up in the next rotation.
  • Try a meal planning matrix: for example, Meatless Mondays, Salad Tuesdays, Pasta Wednesdays, Rice Thursdays, and Pizza Fridays. You can switch up the specifics each week, but it's more fill-in-the-blank than blank slate.
  • Kate of Naptime Kitchen likes to pick a theme for the whole week: Greek week, Mexican week, etc. That way, you're more likely get your money's worth of more exotic ingredients and can make one element, like Tzaziki sauce, once and use it over several days.
  • Kendra of The Lazy Genius suggests a meal formula: for her, that might look like 10 categories with 3-4 recipes in each (here's an example). "You don’t need more recipes," she says. "That’s actually your worst enemy. Choice is what’s killing your dinner mojo. Limiting your options will make dinner so much easier."
  • Emily brings it home with this easy trick: serve the exact same dinner two nights in a row. Or, do it with two meals and eat the identical meals on nights 1/3 and 2/4. "It doesn't carry the same adventurous vibe as leftovers - I literally make double the amount of whatever I'm serving and bake or store it in such a way that it presents as its own separate, but identical, meal two nights in a row. This works really well for enchiladas, grilled chicken, sheet-pan chicken, big stews... especially if it's a meal that requires a lot of prep, it's well worth the marginally greater time difference to make and store the second meal because THEN DINNER IS ALSO DONE FOR TOMORROW."

Friends, we'd love to hear: do you meal plan? Have you used any of these strategies? Tell us in the comments and help another Cultivator out!

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Emily Thomas

Emily Thomas

Emily Thomas

Emily Thomas is Cultivate What Matters' Content Strategist and Writer. With over a decade at Cultivate, Emily loves helping women uncover what matters, set good goals, and live them out with joy. Her free time is spent with her high-school-sweetheart husband and three young kiddos.

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