If your first thought about dinner occurs an hour or less before the food is supposed to be on the table, chances are, you will have a hectic hour. Shopping for and preparing food, all while keeping an eye on your children, is a tough task if you don't plan ahead. The best solution is to plan easy meals beforehand, usually for at least a week at a time. That way you can shop all at once and have a plan in place for dinner each night.
Make a list of all the easy meals that come to mind. Ask your family members to name a few of their favorite dinners. Browse cooking magazines or websites, many of which have sections devoted to meals you can prepare in 30 minutes or less. Easy meals often use pasta or rice as a base and include quickly cooked meats and vegetables.
Put a star next to any meal that freezes well. This typically includes casseroles, soups and other wet meals that will not dry out during the freezing and reheating process.
Look at your calendar and identify the day of the week when you would most like to have a freezer meal available because you do not have time to cook. Write "Freezer Meal" on that day. The specific day can change each week.
Write a meal from your list onto each evening on your calendar. Try to vary the proteins you use and the types of meals so your family does not get tired of them.
Put a star next to the meals on your calendar that are good for the freezer. Plan to prepare two portions of each of these. Make sure you have at least one starred meal between each of the freezer meal days. On each freezer meal day, write the name of a starred meal from earlier in the month that you will defrost and serve that day.
Make a grocery shopping list of all the ingredients you will need for the meals during the week. As you compile your list, be sure you don't include any ingredients that you already have on hand in your pantry, refrigerator or freezer. Purchase these ingredients over the weekend so you have everything you need for the whole week of meals. If weekday shopping is easier for you, plan your meal week to start mid-week instead.
Repeat the process of making a grocery list each week and making a meal plan each month. Adjust the monthly recipes to take seasonal ingredients and types of meals into account, such as making more soups in the winter and more salads with creamy dressing in the summer.
Use leftovers and simple pantry items for breakfast and lunch. As long as you make a habit of having basic ingredients, such as cold and hot cereal, milk, pancake batter, eggs, tortillas, canned beans, bread, peanut butter, creamy dressing and anything else your family eats regularly on hand, you won't need a meal plan for those meals. Of course, you can plan the meals if you need to, but flexibility allows you to work around food cravings and whims.
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