With weekly dinner plans, you'll never be without an answer to your family's eternal question: "What's for dinner?" Devising a week-to-week plan for your dinners saves money, cuts preparation time and enhances your family's overall nutrition. You'll also get to plan ahead for days in which your family is especially busy, while leaving time for special meals when everyone's home to enjoy them.
Write a list of family dinner favorites. In your list, include meals that the kids enjoy, quick dinners that you serve on busy days, and dishes you've been meaning to try. You'll probably have far more than seven dishes on your list; that's fine, because you'll soon narrow these down to the seven you'll cook over the next week.
Check the stores of food you have on hand. To effectively plan your family's meals a week in advance, you need to know which items you'll need to stock up on and which ones you need to use before they reach their expiration dates.
Match the current contents of your kitchen with your master list of recipes and let your pantry be your guide to the next week's meals. If you have plenty of rice, frozen chicken breasts and sausage, for example, you might decide on a chicken jambalaya, or lots of ground beef and tomato sauce could mean an Italian meal in your family's future.
Mark the recipes on your list that match well with what you already have on hand. If you have seven starred or underlined entries on your list, congratulations--you've completed your weekly dinner planner and can move ahead to organizing it. If you have fewer than seven items starred, it's time to go shopping. More than seven dishes marked means you have well-stocked cabinets and can choose seven of your family's favorites from the list.
Organize your seven dishes based on which ones meet your time constraints. If Wednesdays are soccer practice, Boy Scout meetings, dance rehearsals and tutoring, you won't have time for a four-course meal, so you should slot the simple skillet dinners there. Save more elaborate fare for the days when the whole family will have time to enjoy a more leisurely meal.
Group dishes according to ingredients once you've arranged them to suit your schedule. If possible, make related dishes on successive days so you can prepare a larger batch of some items on the first day and reserve part of these prepared ingredients for the next day. For example, white rice could accompany Tuesday's quick stir-fry, form the foundation for Wednesday's stuffed green peppers, and become Thursday's vegetable fried rice. Sunday's roast chicken transforms into Monday's chicken enchiladas.
Check your menu plan for nutritional completeness, and balance meals with accompanying side dishes that round out each day. Including salad topped with creamy dressing with meals is a quick, no-fuss way to give your family essential fiber and nutrients. Pair protein-rich main dishes such as roast meats with nutritious whole grains, and keep sides simple on busier days.
Make up your shopping list and head to the grocery store. With weekly dinner planning, you'll save on gas with fewer trips to the store, while your list will help keep you from making costly impulse buys.
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- Check newspaper circulars and coupons for specials to help guide your menu selections.
- Once you have the hang of weekly dinner menus, extend your planning to the rest of the family's meals.
- Take your family's specific schedule into account; if you know your kids will be ravenous after Monday's swim practice, make that meal a heartier one.
- Pencil in an ultra-quick emergency meal or two for those days when you wind up waiting at the pediatrician's office or putting in overtime at work.
- Avoid clustering recipes that are too similar lest your family grow bored with them. Cast a critical eye over the menu as a whole to ensure you haven't inadvertently planned a week's worth of turkey or four bean days in a row.
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