Meal Planning

Parent Q&A

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  • Hi All,

    Just wondering if other parents would be willing to share their key, go to recipes for easy weekday meals for dinner? Also looking for suggestions on ideas for breakfast and lunch. We keep eating the same thing for breakfast (bread and eggs) and I am looking for alternatives.


    Hi! I love this idea and am excited to see what people share. Here are a few recipes that are in heavy rotation over here: 

    I will add that getting an Instant Pot has been life-changing for making awesome meals in record time. We do a lot of cooking double and freezing half, so that there are always a few great options in the freezer for the busier days. 

    My favorite quick dinner:  We sometimes add cooked ground lamb or fried tofu, or have as a hearty side dish to a meat dish. To complete the meal, we make steamed broccoli and salad bags regularly because they're both so quick and easy.

    Another thing I do is saute sliced sausage with onion and whatever veggies you like (I usually use bell peppers and spinach), add a jar of artichoke tapenade and cooked rice in the proportion you prefer, then add parmesan for a one-dish meal that's kind of a healthier version of spinach/artichoke dip.

    For breakfast, my kid likes banana with peanut butter. You can also try overnight oats -tons of recipes on the internet. Also try replacing bread with hash brown patties (available frozen) and have different style eggs on top.

    Here is one breakfast idea, if your family likes warm cereal. We used leftover rice, cook it in coconut milk with maple syrup/honey and top it with chopped fresh/thawed frozen fruit. For dinners, one of our go to dinners is tofu kimchi jigae. This comes together super fast -- sautee garlic and onions in a big pot, add anchovy paste and stock powder (or use a combo of stock + water later), add tofu cubes, add kimchi, add miso paste, add gochujang sauce (it's spicy, so add to taste), add stock/water, bring to boil, taste and adjust seasoning, and add greens like spinach at the end. Serve over rice. 

    Breakfast: frozen waffles, smoothies, yogurt parfaits (just yogurt with chopped fruit and granola), oatmeal where kids can choose their own toppings

    For dinners, we try to make freezer friendly meals (e.g. make a big pot of chili and freeze in portions) and cook during the week in a way we can repurpose leftovers the next day 

    My absolute go-to is this recipe:

    I usually triple the recipe and put some in the freezer in individually sized portion. It freezes wonderfully, and so it's a hit in our house. You could eat it any time of day. 

    Breakfast - Avocado toast/avocado bagel. Greek yogurt with berries + honey (sometimes granola). Steel cut oatmeal with peanut butter, chopped dates, walnuts and maple syrup. Banana bread with peanut butter (and yogurt/berries on the side). Those gluten free banana protein pancakes (which are just an overripe banana mashed up with 1 egg). On the weekend, we love making crepes and serving with jam, powdered sugar, lemon, and breakfast sausage or bacon.

    Lunch - mostly leftovers from dinner the night before, but occasionally make salads along some kind of theme (e.g. greek, with shredded chicken, feta, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, arugula, chickpeas and red onion; or mexican, with shredded chicken, avocado, cherry tomatoes, black beans, romaine, crushed tortilla chips, etc). SOUP! I love the Food52 recipe for Smokey Minestrone with Tortellini & Pesto. Also have an instant pot recipe for Red Lentil Soup with sumac (you can google all of these).

    Dinner - If you have an instant pot, I like the Indian Instant Pot Cookbook (biryani and butter chicken recipes are our go-to's). We also make a good dried bean chili in the IP from a blog called Feasting at Home. Caro Chambers is a food blogger who has great kid friendly quick recipes, I especially like her Healthy-ish Turkey Bolognese. Martha Stewart's One-Pan Pasta. Sausages and cut up veggies - all roasted on the same baking sheet - is an easy go-to for us. Golden Curry - you buy the instant curry packs in the Asian aisle of the grocery store and it comes together super quickly with whatever meat/veggies you have to throw in there. Tacos - sometimes the only thing I really prep ahead is a protein, e.g. Instant Pot carnitas, and serve with beans, avocado, cheese, salsa, shredded cabbage or radish. Allison Roman's Tomato-Poached Fish with Chile Oil & Herbs. Smitten Kitchen is my favorite food blog and she's got a "weeknight favorites" tag that has some great ideas. The NY Times cooking app is great - and also has a Weekday tag.

    Rice bowls - endlessly flexible. Rice into the cooker - takes 1 minute. Protein - leftovers are ok! Chicken, pork, steak if you have it, tofu... we like to fry up ground beef or ground pork and add a simple sauce of soy sauce, ginger, garlic, rice vinegar, sesame oil, brown sugar, lime juice... then construct your bowl with the rice, protein, and whatever else you have - baby spinach, sliced cucumbers (squeeze lime juice and splash rice vinegar + salt on top), carrots, broccoli, bamboo shoots, half a hard boiled egg, etc etc. Kimchi brings it all together (kimchi is the one non-negotiable for me). :)

    I LOVE NYT Cooking. They have tons of recipes for all meals, from easy to difficult. They even have specific collections for easy weeknight dinners, packed lunches, breakfasts, etc. For lunch, I tend to make a two big dinners and use the left overs for lunch throughout the week. However, I know that I personally have a high tolerance for repeating meals :) 

    When our child was young and we were 2 on-site working parents 90% of the time, we actually made a one month calendar of a food plan. We basically had 2 weeks of dishes on rotation. We always did burritos 1 night, pasta bolognese 1 night, salmon and salad 1 night, pesto tortellini 1 night, eat out once per week at simple cheap place near my husbands workplace because he scheduled 2 work late night per week. I can’t recall what else was in the mix, but 5 days a week the key was that we’d make it in advance and freeze - massive bolognese, homemade pesto, homemade apple pies, enchiladas, hearty soup, etc. We had no time to cook and get food ready by 6-630 when our kid needed to eat. So it was critical to prep in advance - like we’d have a cooking Sunday once a month, etc. 

    For dinner I regularly make the dark greens quesadillas from 'Love Real Food'. I also make her avocado toast and topping (delicious seed mixture) for breakfast and snack. I also regularly prepare the pan-seared fish from Alice Waters's 'The Art of Simple Food', and the slow-cooked tomato sauce from Marcella Hazan's classic 'Essentials of Italian Cooking'. We'll also make a simple veggie (can add protein) curry from the Mae Ploy curry paste and coconut milk, available at Yasai or Whole Foods, served with rice. The macaroni and cheese from James Beard is classic, with active time about 15 minutes, baking around 25 minutes - serve with a fresh salad. Each of these is ready in under 30 minutes (though the pasta sauce tastes better when slow-simmered for an hour, but doesn't require active time). The cookbooks I mentioned also have other simple recipes, but I have the above memorized. For breakfast I'll make Bob's Red Mill quick-cooking steel-cut oats, and add dates or dried cherries, nuts, bit of brown sugar, and banana. Another way to mix things up for breakfast is Greek yogurt with granola and a banana. For weekend lunch we'll sometimes prepare Long Life Noodles from the 'Woks of Life' blog, and serve with stir-fried dark greens. 

    Highly recommend NYT recipes! The roasted glazed salmon is so easy and delicious on a weeknight. Another household favorite is the turkey chili, which yields lots of yummy leftovers.

    We also started buying meal kits from Meal Drop and are loving it so far. They do the prep so it takes just a few minutes to cook a restaurant-quality meal instead of ordering DoorDash. All organic too which is important to us.

    This Lemon Chicken Orzo soup is my picky 7 year olds "faaaaavorite soup" - also my go-to as a delivery for new parents with some crusty bread. 

    I like this Extra Veggie Fried Rice as a way to use up veggies. Key for my kids is to cut the veggies extra small and triple the eggs (or use tofu).

    I've already gotten some great ideas from other responders, thanks for asking the question!

  • Learning to manage meals

    Aug 25, 2020

    I'm looking for a resource that can help learn to reliably cook healthy meals for my family of 3 including an older toddler. I'm reasonable at following a recipe, even complicated recipes, but struggle to manage inventory and select dishes. I find my pantry routinely overstocked with stuff I don't actually use and I have limited sense of what I do use, that feeling of "there's nothing to eat" when there's a full cabinet. I would love to surrender to some kind of program til I get the hang of it or if there's a better way to learn I'm open to that too. Prefer something that emphasizes simplicity, variety (I prefer this unfortunately), and fresh food. We have no dietary restrictions except avoiding pork and I don't like beans except lentils.

    I haven’t used this, but have heard good things and it’s put together by a registered dietitian. 

    Hi - if you're on Instagram you should follow @kidseatincolor (Jennifer Anderson). I recommend the meal plan: This plan includes three meals and two snacks for 12 days.

    Similarly situated parent of older toddler here and I'm a big fan of an app called Mealime. There's a free and pay version. You can set constraints (like vegetarian) and number of servings, it generates a shopping list for the week sorted by section, and the pro plan had a way to minimize food waste in menu selection. Menus can be a little involved but no special skills required.

    Right there with you! The mental burden of planning, prepping, pleasing is no joke. 

    For meal ideas and planning, try downloading the app Mealime -- you select some recipes and it turns them into a grocery list. (Some recipes are behind a paywall, but many are free, and it could be a good place to dip your toe in without investing any $$).

    Any time I have that "full pantry but nothing to eat" feeling, I pick two or three random items from the fridge and cabinet and google them together (for example "orzo lemon" or "lentils canned tomatoes carrots") and see what recipes come up. It might take a few combinations, but it's always very helpful to me to get some ideas flowing. Good luck!

    I personally hate meal planning and have struggled with this myself. I purchased the meal plan guide from Kids Eat in Color and it's been a great hit with the family, including my 3 year old. She lays out a grocery list and help plans out foods you can eat throughout the week and things you can freeze and use over time. So far it's worked great in case this is a good resource for you.

    Our family of three has been subscribing to HelloFresh meal kit delivery for the past year and a half.  We get supplies to make 3-5 dinner recipes per week, delivered on Mondays in a box with ice packs.  The recipes are straightforward, tasty, and healthy.  There are many choices for each week.  We laminate the recipe sheet for each dinner and save it, which allows us to go back to the recipe for the days or weeks when we don't get HelloFresh.  I highly recommend checking them out.  We also have tried Blue Apron and Plated, which were both good, but we thought the HelloFresh recipes were a little less complicated, which we liked better.

    I LOVE the meal plan from Kids Eat in Color (I follow her on Instagram). It’s $20 and totally worth every penny. It’s designed to improve food exposure for picky eaters, but the recipes are easy and good. It has a 12-day rotation for recipes/snacks so you don’t get bored with the meals.

    I used theFresh20 service for meal planning for almost 3 years after my son was born. They provide a weekly set of menus, recipes for everything, and associated grocery list and prep tasks. (Comes as a pdf to your email.) One of the nice things about it is that they limit the number of ingredients to 20 every week, but used in different ways for the different meals, so you're not buying a ton of ingredients that you may only use once. They have a number of dietary options, though we just did the classic omnivore one. (We also don't eat pork so I always just substituted chicken or tofu.) I like cooking, but I was finding that figuring out "what's for dinner" was really challenging--I liked not having to think about it, while also getting to try new preparations that I probably wouldn't have thought of on my own. The recipes are pretty family-friendly, usually fairly uncomplicated, and cook time was generally fast (30-40 min), which I also appreciated.

    More recently, I have been branching out and doing meal-planning on my own, using the Paprika app for iphone. It lets you save recipes from online (or enter manually), assign them to different nights, and (this is my favorite feature) automatically generates a grocery list based on the recipes you've picked. There is also a pantry function to track what you have in stock, but I haven't used that part of it. 

    Good luck and happy cooking!

    I can relate! At the beginning of quarantine I felt I needed something like this too. While I don't have a program to recommend exactly, I saw another parent recommend an approach that has generally worked for us and made life - and grocery shopping - simpler. We choose general meal categories that our family likes, and assign each one a day of the week. E.g. Sunday: pasta, Monday: stir fry, Tuesday: tacos, Wednesday: fish, Thursday: buddha bowl, Friday: pizza, Saturday: takeout. You can easily fall back on a simple recipe you know how to make for each meal, or look up a couple of new ones each week to add to the rotation. We don't strictly follow this schedule but even doing it for a couple of weeks (and writing it out, which was important for me) really helped me kind of categorize different meals, have a go-to list of our faves, and variations on dishes so that planning a weekly menu and shopping for it seems a lot easier now. And when you learn about a new recipe or think of something that you haven't had recently or want to try, it's easy to swap it out for something you might be getting bored of. We did Sunday ramen for months which my husband mastered but we're taking a break right now since we might have OD'd! I have also used meal kit delivery services as inspiration for something to make myself - GoodEggs has great meal kits that we've used before but I have definitely borrowed their ideas and made them myself. We have a 2yo who eats the same meals we do, sometimes with slight variations (less spice/sauce, etc). Good luck, I hope you find something that works for you! 

    I go grocery shopping once a week. The evening before I plan my meals for the week. I write them on a small notepad including which sides I'll make with which and on what day I'll make it. Then I use the list to put together my shopping list for the weekly grocery run.

    Hi! I have been using Cooksmarts ( for a few years now and I love it. I think this is the best service if you're ok doing your own shopping. It is based in Menlo Park and run by a mom of 3 young kids, so there is a lot of attention to kid-friendly stuff and the recipes are very seasonal. They send out 4 recipes every week, with options for veggie/paleo/GF, and you also have access to all their archived recipes. After you decide what you want to make (from that week and any added ones from the archive) and how many portions each, it will generate a shopping list, and you can also add our own items to the shopping list. I waste a lot less food because I have a plan for each ingredient I buy. They often incorporate an ingredient you make once but is used twice in the week, such as a chimichurri or grilled chicken. Lately they have been focusing on comfort foods, but there's so much more in the archives if you're feeling more adventurous. If you're on FB, there's also a FB group of cooksmarts customers where folks share tips, photos, etc. I pay $72 for the year, but I think they have monthly plans and a free trial. I recommend it very highly!

    I'm sure you'll get many suggestions; here's mine. We use Good Eggs for grocery delivery (they have no brick-and-mortar stores; they're delivery only, and they pay their employees a living wage and health insurance). They include many, many options for "meal kits." What this means is that you can quickly click on a selection (say, "stirfry chicken with green beans" or "corn salad with blistered romano beans," two dishes I cooked this week) and Good Eggs will automatically load the majority of the necessary ingredients into your online cart, and will deliver with a small recipe card with instructions to assemble the dish. I say "the majority" of the ingredients rather than ALL ingredients, because GE assumes you have a few basics on hand (say, soy sauce for the stirfry, or vegetable oil and salt for the corn salad). You can check online in advance to confirm which basics are required, and those can be ordered from GE as well. And in the case of a meal kit such as the stirfry, you'll get not only the necessary fresh ingredients for the stirfry, but a container of cooked rice. I laughed about that at first--how hard is it to cook rice?--but it is time-saving...!

    I love Kids Eat in Color (on Instagram). The account is run by a child nutritionist, and she has a plan called Real Easy Weekdays that has snacks and meals baked in. It's healthy and kids seems to like it.

    Cook smarts has been a game changer for me! Do the free trial and see what you think.

    I have this same problem, down to wanting a rhythm but also variety. I recently started a new system: Each day is assigned a theme. In my case it is the meat. The flexibility comes in because I can get different cuts of that meat, and prepare it in different ways. But it keeps me focuse.

    I second the recommendation for Good Eggs meal kits I'm an experienced cook and I enjoy trying new recipes, but after a couple months of pandemic it became such a drag to think up something for dinner night after night. I'm the head chef, and there are 6 people in my household, ranging from a hungry teenager to my elderly mom.  I'm working at home and I don't have the time or patience to plan 7 days' worth of meals for all these people in time for my husband's weekly run to the Berkeley Bowl.   What I do now is: I order from Good Eggs every 2-3 days.  I plan meals on the fly while I'm browsing the pretty pictures on their website - what's in season, which meal kits look good, what's on my Favorites list. I only order what I know we'll eat during the next 3 days. Not only is this faster and more pleasant, but also I am no longer throwing out wilted and rotten produce at the end of the week that I never got around to using.

    All the meal kits we've tried have been good or great.  They have simple instructions that even my husband who never learned how to cook can manage on his own. A typical recipe has only a handful of ingredients -- they create the sauces and spice mixtures you need in their kitchen. So it only takes 20 or 30 minutes to prepare. They have a good repertoire of meal kits and they are always adding new meals, depending on what's in season. The quality of the ingredients they give you is as good as the Bowl, and it's a heck of a lot easier.  It's also cheaper than ordering take-out, which is what we were doing after I started burning out in May-June.  Good Eggs sells beautiful produce, and also items from their own kitchen (I'm hooked on their smoked trout salad for lunch), plus they have locally-made heat&serve options like Pasta Shop ravioli & sauces, Primavera tamales, and Quiche & Carry, all delicious. Good Eggs is local too, based in Oakland and SF, and their delivery people are employees, not gig workers. I liked Good Eggs before Covid, but I really love them now.

Archived Q&A and Reviews



Meal Planning Tools

March 2013

I need some help with meal planning. I have 2 questions. One is figuring what we are having for dinner. Second, how to keep track of what are we eating for the week and a way to keep track of what we've had in the past, so I have a list of meals to refer to for the future. Right now, I use a paper pocket monthly calendar and my Google calendar. I've downloaded an app called Menu Planner, but didn't like it. I checked the and websites from the archive. What are some other ideas for meals and menu planning? I have 2 little ones and need quick and easy recipes. Thanks. Help with Dinner

I use I got a great 1 year deal its basically like Saving Dinner and The Scramble . But, to me the recipes are a better fit for our family. Worth looking into ... They have deals regularly on Groupon and LivingSocial so if you Google it or go to you'll possibly find an active code to save money on it. Hope this helps Cooking Mama!

the website is helpful, and the book of the same name by jenny rosenstrach. the book in particular i loved reading, because i have two toddlers and she chronicles the various stages of being in a partnership and family, having children and trying to create a lovely, nurturing dinner ritual for meals amid various constraints. and it's just validating to read about toddler stubborness, and be encouraged to persevere. she started by keeping a dinner journal! also, i like everyday food. sarah carey does videos on youtube that are very straightforward, and there are a few cookbooks out there too. simple, healthful meals that you can pull together quickly. i also love, a crowdsourcing food website with home cooks, including at least one column, dinner with child, with some good ideas for evening meals. when i can manage to menu plan on sunday and do the shopping, the week is much easier and more pleasurable. but i don't always manage. i'm curious also to see others' responses, as this is an ongoing effort for me too. good luck! dinner with toddlers

I salute you for planning - your meals are much healthier and cheaper than if you didn't plan. My husband and I sit down every Saturday and make a list of meals and ingredients and then we shop the list. My neighbors have a printout of standard items that they add to, then they shop their list. Pretty low-tech, but effective. For me, planning on a weekly basis removes the stress of wondering what to have for dinner and having to shop for it. While the kids were home we had a lot of repeating favorites: make your own pizza night, taco night, fish night. Home-cooked dinners were sized to create left-overs for lunch. Very popular among those who didn't get up early enough to make a sandwich. Martha Stewart's Everyday Food (I'm sure there's an app for it) has a lot of quick, easy, one-pot meals that can be supplemented by a salad or other veggies. Eating Well is also another source for healthy recipes and they devote a couple of issues a year to meal planning. Looking forward to reading other suggestions, and bon appetit! Cathy

My ideas aren't too high tech so I'm curious as to what others say. I sit down at the breakfast table on Saturday morning when my husband is home and helping with breakfast. This seems to be the one consistent thing that happens in our house. I make a list of two weeks worth of dinners (I used to only do a week but then we sold our car so I grocery shop less frequently). I then use that list to generate a shopping list. The farmers market in my neighborhood is on Sunday so I make a column for the grocery store and a column for the farmers market. I put the dinner list on the fridge and cross off dinners as we go. Occasionally we eat off list but I try to make my way through the list since I know I have everything for those dinners. For a big grocery store trip I am low tech and use a paper list. As we run out of things throughout the week I use the Out of Milk app on my phone. Then when I'm at the grocery store I don't forget what we need. I frequently cook out of How to Cook Vegetarian and I also take cook books out of the library to see if I like them before buying. I don't yet have a way to keep a record of meals- although if I have a strong opinion or a modification on a recipe I write it down in the cookbook. trying to get it all together

Hi, it took me a while, but I have a system that I love. First I have a journal that I turned into my ''weekly dinner plan''. At the top I put the start to end date (example: March 11th-17th) then I write out the days of the week going down the page. (Mon, tue, wed...) Monday and thursdays are typically leftover days. Fridays I like to do a fish dish and Saturday is burger night (sometimes turkey, pork or a salmon burger). Sundays we alternate with the grandparents one week dinner at their house and the next week dinner at our house. For me that leaves tues, wed, Friday and every other Sunday to really think about. I try to write the menu so there is one night for each animal group (chicken, pork, fish). Also i make sure i write down the protein, veg and starch for the night. We usually have a small salad with dinner, simple: greens, tomatoes, cuc and avocado (of course no salad on burger night since the salad is ON the burger) I write out my weekly menu once a week (lately I've been doing two weeks at a time! Yay me!) after I make the menu I write it on the calendar I have that's on the fridge. The calender also has a pocket so if I have a recipe I need for the week it'll go in there. I write all recipes i use down on a half sheet of paper, then at the top i use a star rating for how much the family and i liked it, then i write changes on the bottom for next time. I save all my recipes in a binder, one side for tried recipes and the other for recipes id like to try) I use a shopping list app (our groceries). Throughout the week when I notice we are out of something I quickly open my shopping app and add it. I took awhile to get my system down, but it slowly evolved into something that really works for me. Hope you can take something from that Eventually I'm hoping to get to the point where I can just use last years menu! Hahahhaa good luck and Bon appetite! Sa94609

I plan 5-6 meals per week and grocery shop on a weekly basis for myself, my husband, and my 3YO. I am very low tech--I keep a little spiral notebook (6 x 9) where I plan meals on one page, and write the grocery list on the facing page. I've been doing this for three years, and I am on my second notebook. I usually do the plan and shop on Sundays.

I strategize for the most perishable food to be cooked earlier in the week (produce that stores on the counter or has a short life in the fridge, meat/fish/poultry directly from the butcher case wrapped in paper, etc.), and I keep ''long cook'' meals in mind for Sundays, when I have more time to spend cooking (things like stews, slow cooker meals, and the like--it also supplies leftovers for lunches during the week). Meat/Poultry that is vacuum wrapped in plastic and longer shelf life produce are all mid week items. Frozen meats, frozen produce, canned foodstuffs, and pastas are for later in the week.

We invested in a quarter cow and half a pig from a local ranch last year, and I try to incorporate at least one of those items in the weekly plan (we are down to ground beef at this point), and then one pasta dish, at least two chicken dishes, and 1-2 others depending on my mood.

With all that in mind, I keep one or two nights open for leftover night or take out food. Also, while I can multitask, I have my limits, and most of the meals are single item (pasta) or protein and side dish (usually vegetable). 3 component meals are hard!

When I feel tapped out with planning, I turn back the pages of the notebook (go back at least 4 weeks) and start pulling meal ideas from previous plans to fill out the week. BTW, I keep loose recipes I have found in magazines and from online in a large 3 ring binder organized by category. I also have a file folder on my computer called ''recipes to print out''.

I had a subscription to Everyday Food magazine, and I used to find a lot of dinner inspiration there with simple but tasty recipes. But they no longer print a monthly magazine, and are only online:

I also found this blog: I love this blog! Her whole meal making philosophy aligns with mine. She keeps a dinner journal as well. I use a lot of the recipes, and I went out and bought the cookbook, which I tagged with post-its for meals to make. The blog has a category link called ''organizing, strategizing, planning'' that has lots of blog entries, tips, and links to help with weekly meal planning.

I don't know what your personal dietary restrictions might be, if any, but feel free to email me if you would like some recipes to add to your arsenal. Good Luck! Erinn

The meal planning tool that works for us is alliteration.

We do Meatball Monday, Taco Tuesday, Wonton Wednesday, Thurkey burger Thursday, Fun Friday (either a restaurant or takeout), Sandwich Saturday and Stew Sunday.

It may not be the most innovative menu but it really works for us. Our kids are more involved with cooking and planning (older kid thought of Weds. plan, younger came up with Saturday). We are creative within the confines of the plan. My older kid is weighing the merits of Danish vs. Hungarian meatballs for next week. Leftovers for lunch

Hi, I wanted to chime in and say that I've been using The Fresh 20 for about 6 months now. They have regular, vegetarian, and gluten-free meal plans. Each week you get a list of 20 ingredients to buy at the grocery store as well as 5 dinner menus to cook throughout the week. I don't make all 5 menus each week and sometimes adapt the menus a bit but it has added some structure to my planning. I also liked it MUCH better than some of the others since the emphasis is on cooking with fresh ingredients. I'm saving some money on weekly shopping since we're wasting less food. It is not expensive--a few dollars a month. Hope that helps and happy planning! Renee

I read the first set of responses to this question with interest. I have some additional ideas and tips, so here are my 2 cents: like others, I also plan my meals one week at a time. In addition, I keep an eye on my calendar so that I have an idea of when my family's schedule will be busier, especially around meal prep time, so that I can either plan to have a low-prep meal or I can prep in advance. My blog (new as of 2013),, actually started with 3 posts with advice and tips on just this question: see, in particular, Six steps to more home-cooked meals (part 1), where I posted a photo of my week's menu plan and included lots of suggestions for making home-cooking a priority.

In terms of keeping a record of past meals, I was happy to see that others were inspired by Jenny Rosenstrach, the author of Dinner A Love Story. I took her dinner journal idea and brought it into the 21st century by creating a private blog using It's easy and free. I've been keeping my dinner journal since 2010, and it's become a valuable resource to me: it's searchable, and using the tags function, I labelled new recipes and their main ingredients so that it's become another way to jog my memory about dishes I've tried. You can create whatever tags would be useful for your situation.

My 2 kids are now 14 and 12, and I have cooked all the way from infancy to today. A couple of important things that worked for me are [1] to start prepping and cooking dinner early (even the night before!) so that as dinner time approaches, it's relatively fast and easy; [2] don't let the little ones or myself get too tired or hungry (healthy snacks are still my friends!) so that tempers don't fray.

In terms of specific recipes, right now, I'm really into making a bigger batch of a basic ingredient, using some of it immediately and then freezing the rest in convenient portion sizes. This has worked great for chicken breasts (check out my ebook, Twice As Nice: 25 Chicken Breast Recipes for Today and Later on which has some quicker recipes, especially if you use the shortcuts), all sorts of beans, quinoa, and granola. The slow cooker has also been really helpful (I use Hensperger and Kaufmann's, Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook, except I cut the sugar and salt in their recipes). Sandra

This is a note of appreciation for the person who posted about using alliteration as a meal planning tool. That is brilliant and gave me a good chuckle at the same time. I'm totally trying it. Your house sounds like a fun place.

Menu planning/Feeding my family

June 2008

I would appreciate tips from parents who are whizzes in the kitchen. I seem to have chronic trouble creating interesting and simple menus for my family (husband and one four year old). I'm a full-time parent and wish I could manage things better. I look in cookbooks at the last minute and then don't have the right ingredients, or I buy things for a specific recipe and something always goes bad before I get around to making it. I try to keep a well-stocked pantry, but then I'll go get some organic chicken stock and it has expired! My husband and I are decent cooks, not terrible but not super creative, either. I'll find a good recipe and then we all get sick of it because I make it every time someone comes over (which is often) or just when I can't think of anything else. I would really appreciate tips on creating diverse meals for my family that are interesting but simple. We will eat pretty much anything, its just my management of it that is our limitation! Thanks Needing inspiration

OH MY GOSH I think I have a twin in the world.

On behalf of both of us I Hope the responses come pouring in. Thanks for posting!! no creativity in the kitchen either

When I first started being a SAHM a few years back, I also found myself a bit confused by this process. You might want to check out the website They have simple menus, great recipes, and ingredient shopping lists. Or, you could do it yourself-- here are the steps I use--

l. list what needs to be used up in frig/pantry/freezer

2. create list of about 6-7 meals for upcoming week, utilizing items from #l-- in order to pick entrees, I look thru cookbooks or recipes i have been wanting to use. Occasionally, if i have an obscure item on hand (like the celery root I got in my CSA box once), I'll go on line for a recipe. I try to plan for nutritious variety, so use different protein sources (eg. fish, cheese, beans, eggs, etc) for various meals. I also list side dishes at same time so I can be sure I get everything I need at the market. If entree is complicated, I pick a simple side dish (like corn or melon). I note down cookbook and page number next to entree on menu plan, so I can easily find the recipe later in the week.

3. While creating #2 above, create a separate shopping list of everything you need.

4. Go shopping with your list. I find I usually end up at grocery twice a week-- once a week, I go to Monterey Mkt for the fruits/veggies, and the other day I go to either Safeway or Trader Joe's.

I don't assign meals to particular nights, since I prefer to see what I feel like that day and how much time I have to cook. I try to choose a mix of simple and more complicated recipes for the week when I'm creating the menu. If you save your menus over time, you will be more quickly reminded of recipes you like when you create new menus. Or you could even just reuse the same weekly menu every month or so.

In our house, we often eat pizza (crust from TJ or boboli from Safeway-- and creative toppings..), all kinds of frittatas (so simple and you can put any kind of veggie/cheese combination in it), quesadillas and tostadas (we're mostly vegetarian). I think it's also helpful to get to know a few good cookbooks-- I personally get overwhelmed with too many choices, and i find it helpful to primarily rely on one or two authors whose recipes and style I come to know and trust. My personal favorite is Jeanne Lemlin-- simple instructions, relatively few obscure ingredients, and invariably tasty results. Have fun. menu planner

You described the same problem I have! I have actually given up trying to change, I blame my mother for never teaching me how to cook . This is what I do: I go prepare 10 meals at one of those dinner prep places once a month. Then, two or three times a week, we eat one of those (just thaw and cook). We go out to eat twice a week. The other two or three days are macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, pizza, tacos, etc. This actually does not turn out to be more expensive - because the meal prep places are buying their ingredients in bulk, you end up paying less than you would if you tried to buy all of the necessary ingredients and make that same meal at home. Add to that the savings from not wasting spoiled food and you come out quite a bit ahead! I know I could have a smaller food budget if I cooked everything from scratch at home 7 days a week, but realistically, that is never going to happen. Good luck. I feel your pain.

I can relate to your post. A friend inspired me years ago with her method - she has about 10 recipes that she uses all the time and makes minor mods to now and again. She plans it out over the weekend and does one big shopping trip for what she plans to have during the week...I like using the epicurious website for ideas and select the ''quick'' checkbox. I also use Cooking the Real Age Way; they have a great Pantry must have list as does The Food You Crave. We have become much healthier eaters and don't eat red meat. Every week we usually have tofu, chicken, ground turkey and some legumes...and a pasta often too.. Often I make enough for leftovers. You'll find w/ practice you'll get more confident and skilled at planning. I'm still learning too. I have a binder with our ''favorites'' which we end up eating a lot. Ask your friends too for recipes that are winners.. meal planner

Keep it simple. I always have whole wheat pasta and brown rice in a jar, as well as two jars of pasta sauce, one bottle of Braggs Amino and one with grated parmesan. We cook what we have and don't look at recipes. So you have one pasta meal ready anytime and can easily make any type of stir fry with brown rice. I shop only once a week, mostly for organic vegetables and fruit. Carrots, celery, potatoes last for a long time and other greens and red/yellow bell peppers for a week. Avocados are a regular staple. I developed an extensive shopping list of basic items and check off once a week what I need to stock up on. We consistently have nuts (almonds, cashew, walnuts, pine) around the house. So throwing mixed greens together with avocado, walnuts (and maybe some dried cranberries) is always an option. Keep black beans, salsa, shredded cheese and tortillas in stock for a burrito meal. I also buy Mung beans once a week and my husband lets them soak overnight and fixes a great stew with vegetables in it. Other important staples are garlic, onion and organic frozen vegetables. After eating the stew we put the leftovers it in a blender the next day and have it as a creamy soup. My favorite dinner standby is an avocado, tomato and cucumber sandwich. We're backing off animal protein for good reasons, but still keep plain organic yoghurt as a staple. That one goes well with frozen vegetable Masala burgers and Trader Joe's Masala sauce and their Naan. You can see we're not completely weaned from processed foods, but try to make better choices. For any sweet cravings I serve the plain yoghurt with fresh fruit pieces and a bit of flaxseed granola. Hummus and whole wheat pita bread with cut up tomatoes and cucumber makes a great dinner too. We don't even bother including a falafel. Eat big for lunch and light for dinner, so your body can detox over night instead of digesting food when you sleep. Anonymous

Right above my computer I can see my meal chart. It's a magnetic board covered in index cards. Each card has a meal on it that I know we all like. Those are my target meals -- see something on the board that sounds good that night, and make it. Once it's made, the card gets flipped over, so that it's blank side shows. Once there are no meals left, all the cards get put behind the main deck, and I put up the first ten cards on the stack or so. This helps me to focus AND to keep things variable AND to make winner meals that everybody likes. Of course I don't make 7 card-meals a week -- gotta be flexible! Maybe this system will work for you, too! kevin

Sounds like you are having the same problem that I had a couple of years ago. I solved it by buying the book ''Saving Dinner.'' This book has 8 menus per season, for a total of 32 different menus (6 recipes per menu). It's tasty, easy to cook, and pretty healthy. The best part about it is it comes with shopping lists for the week. You can either take the book with you, or (my preference) download printable shopping lists from I just print them out, cross off the stuff I have, and go shopping. The author includes side dishes (which are marked, in case you want to get different stuff -- she's awfully fond of sweet potatoes, brown rice, and spinach salad) -- but even that works pretty well for me. We now have good, healthy, homecooked meals in less than an hour, most nights a week. Karen

Feeding a family is a lot of work! Here's what I do, with a reasonable amount of success. I have a list of dishes I like to eat, arranged by type (soup, pasta, etc.) You and your husband could make this by flipping through your cookbooks to jog your memories - you'll add to it as time goes by and you remember more stuff. Every week I pick four main dishes and two side dishes, assuming there will be some leftovers and that we'll get takeout a couple of times. I have a regular shopping day and shop for everything I need that day. I make some runs to places like Trader Joes for nonperishables like canned beans and olive oil four or five times a year.

Then I cook EVERYTHING one day a week (I know this is a little odd. My friends will recognize me in this posting). I'm also a stay-at-home mom, so I have a day I do nothing but cook (my kids are in preschool/daycare that day). We have a TV in the kitchen so I record stuff I want to watch during the week and watch while I cook so I don't get bored. I only cook things that will save well for a few days. For instance, I make the pasta sauce but don't cook the pasta until we'll be eating it. I also try to make something to go in the freezer every week, and take something out of the freezer every week. This way I have some backup for guests or really busy weeks.

This probably won't work for you if you eat a lot of things that must be eaten the moment you make them (roasts or souffle, for instance). But many things will save for days in your fridge - pasta sauce, casseroles, soups, stews, roasted vegetables, curries. You can also do lots of prep steps for larger dishes that won't save well - fillings for omelettes, for example (grate cheese, carmelize onions, cook asparagus). Thats how I do it. Love to cook, but not every day!

Yes, I find weeknight cooking to be challenging simply because it has to get done so darn often! I recently started keeping a list of quick, simple meals that we like - and I refer to it when I'm uninspired or planning for the week. I'm up to about 20 meals on there.

I also have a list of recipes that freeze well and try to have one or two of these in the freezer at all times.

On the weekend, I try to plan & shop for 3 meals for the week. So each night, I either cook one of the 3 meals I know I have the ingredients for.. defrost something.. or call-in a pizza!

It's a work in progress - stills seems like I'm at the grocery store all the time?! - but it's helping. cook

Check out It's a service that provides recipes and a shopping list, for all sorts of subscribers (low fat, vegetarian, etc). The recipes are really good and easy too. It's been a big help for us. I think there is a two week free trial offer as well. don't like to think about dinner

I was asking the same question a year ago and I've turned it into a sort of hobby.

Here is what I did: get 3 pieces of paper, one for each family member, and write down lots of things each person likes. For ex. my son likes bread, apples, cheese, baby carrots, corn, etc. Then find 5-10 things that everyone likes and always have these on hand.These will become your ''side dishes''. If you can afford it, buy them in the most convenient form possible, so you don't have to prepare them. I even keep them in a plastic shoe box in the fridge so I can just plop it on the table at meal times. That way there is always something somebody likes.

Next, make a list of 12 entrees; 4 with chicken, 4 vegetarian, 2 beef, 2 pork.This is when you can plan to eat according to your values (vegan? local/organic? macrobiotic?), and each person gets to occasionally eat something only they like. For ex. I love eggplant and my husband loathes it, but since we accumulate left overs with this plan and have ''side dishes'', once in a while he can get by and my son gets to try eggplant. The same goes for his shake n'bake pork chops and my son's Annie's mac n'cheese.

Third, get out a calendar. Look at two weeks, on your busiest days, plan canned soup or spaghetti (soup on Thur., pasta on Tue) Sched. your dinners out. (next Tue and next Fri) Sched. the rest of the entrees. Make a grocery list based on what you need. It works best if you plan entrees that work with similar ingredients. Make sure you buy gallon and quart size ziplock bags. Fourth, cook. Cook all the rice and pasta you will need for the next week at the same time while making breakfast, doing dishes, etc. Cool and put in the fridge (pasta tues, beans and rice Fri) Bake all the chicken you will need for the week (roast chicken Sun, Chicken with salad Wed and chicken tacos next Sun) on Sun aft. You can make the other meat, too. (Pork tenderloin Mon, pork fried rice next Sat). Cool each and freeze entree size portions in ziplocks to be taken out the day before they are needed. Then each day, finish off each entree: make omlets, add sauce for beans and rice, prepare salad, make fried rice, etc. I even get crazy sometimes and make 4 lbs of ground turkey or pinto beans at a time, freeze in meal size portions and use them for pasta sauce, hotdish, lunches, etc. It frees up a lot of time and uses much less fuel to bake everything at once. Happy cooking!

Don't buy chicken stock. Buy bullion. Which is the same thing but without the water. Then you don't have to worry about it going bad.

I keep over 50 spices, but that's because I love variety and it helps change things up. I also keep about every type of nut in jars in my freezer (they go rancid so easily at room temp and then you might think you don't like nuts, when really, it's BAD nuts you don't like). I keep all manner of grains in my pantry - quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, millet, cornmeal, pastas, rices. I also keep dried fruit around as ''candy'', and dried mushrooms, and sundried tomatoes. Try to keep some chipotle powder around - the smoky taste is a nice addition sometimes. Keep white wine in the fridge, just for cooking and mushroom hydrating. Always keep around onions, garlic and a bag of potatoes. With these, it's easy to pull together something, and then I rummage through the fridge to see what veggies I have.

I frequently stirfry or steam my veggies, then add them to cooking grains (including a little extra water or broth).

You can make lots of simple meals in a hurry by keeping dry foods on hand (especially if you keep veggies and cheeses on hand too).

One note about amaranth - I find it gross unless I first toast it in a pan with oil, and use no more than 1/3 amaranth as the total amount of grain I'm cooking.

I do admit fresh foods go bad sometimes - that is the unforunate product of a busy life, but I do my best.

I can relate to your frustration, it seems like we ought to be able to handle getting meals together when were home with the kids. But remember how much of your attention is going to other things-the kids, activities, household logistics, your own needs, etc.! First, give yourself a break and acknowledge how much you ARE doing really well! And know that you are not alone. Sometimes we all just need a little input from someone else who CAN put their attention on that aspect of life that's a struggle for us.

My ultimate dream is to live in community where everyone shares in some of these aspects so the load is lightened for all. Meanwhile, I'm developing a service to families like yours that need some new ideas, management tips, assistance with the logistics and support in menu planning and adding to their ''repatoire'' of great, easy, satisfying meals. I'm drawing on my 25 year background in cooking and catering to consult with people, work with them in their home and assist them in these areas so that they can gain new skills and ideas, while experiencing greater satisfaction, harmony and joy. You know how great it is to have someone else cook a meal for us? How good it tastes and how we get to relax and enjoy it with out all the fuss? Just imagine if you had someone doing this for so that eventually you can do it yourself, with total ease! If you want to explore this idea further, feel free to write me directly at the email address given below. May you be nourished and happy, Laura

You might want to try They offer ''mealtime solutions to bring families back to the table.'' Basically, it is an on-line menu subscription that provides you with a weekly shopping list and menus. They have all types of menus: regular, heart-healthy, low-carb, vegetarian, etc. She also provides cooking tips, ideas for freezer meals, etc. Check out her free sample menu. Having a plan makes dinnertime a whole lot easier. Helena

I was in a dinner rut a year ago and decided on a monthly dinner menu.

At the end of every month, I sit and plan dinners for the following month. (I don't have time to do it weekly, but it also gives time to plan shopping trips). This has allowed me to buy and cook seasonally, taking advantage of veggies in season as well as eliminating wasted food. Also, my 2 and 4 year olds are more used to the concept of trying new things at dinner.

I use Cook's Illustrated mag for a lot of good, reliable recipes. Also found good results with Tara Duggan's The Working Cook and Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. The latter book gives lots of variations and ways to use leftovers, as well as eating more healthy and reducing meat consumption. Feel free to contact me if you want to discuss more. heysook

Dinner meal planner

Oct 2006

Does anyone have a suggestion for a good weekly or monthly calendar or planner that provides daily suggestions of simple, healthy meals to cook for dinner each night? I am hopelessly uncreative when it comes to deciding WHAT to cook for dinner. I need someone or something to just tell me what to cook every night, and perhaps provide some simple recipies and a weekly shopping list. I don't need recommendations for any of those ''prepare meals ahead of time'' places like the place in Emeryville, as I already have time to go grocery shopping and do the prep work myself and I don't need to pay extra $$ for the convenience of someone else doing it for me. Thanks
Uncreative but capable dinner cook


there are free sample menus (a week's worth of dinners plus grocery shopping list) so you can try it out before subscribing. plus, what i like best are all the different types of menus available (vegetarian, crock pot, low carb, etc...) Kat

Go check out They have EXACTLY what you are looking for in a variety of selections. They send out weekly menus, along with a shopping list, and have several varieties- i.e. one for vegetarians, kosher meals, a crock-pot list, oh the list just goes on and on. You subscribe for 3 months at a time for a very small fee and every week you are emailed a menu with six entrees and their recipes, as well as side dish suggestions, and the shopping list to go with it. It is an invaluable resource for those of us who want to cook but have no imagination! I think you can even get a free menu to see if you'd like it! Hope this works for you!! Jessica

I just read an article that listed several dinner menu/meal planner services to try -- you pay a fee and get a weekly menu w/ grocery list, and usually some kind of chatty newsletter to go with it:;;;;;

I have been using the Heart Healthy Menu Mailer from for the past month or so. I paid about $10 for 3 months worth and once a week I get a menu with recipes for 6 main dishes, side dish suggestions and a shopping list. Some of the recipes take a little longer than others, but none are overly complex. My husband and I have *really* enjoyed all but one or two of the recipes we've tried so far and our 2-year-old likes a lot of them too.The web site has some sample menus if you'd like to try the system out first and see how it works for you. I'm really happy I'm doing this -- it's made my life a lot easier and we're saving money by cooking at home more Wendy

A few months ago, Real Simple magazine did an article reviewing online meal planners, called ''Six Menu-Planning Websites,'' which is available at (search for menu- planning). Haven't tried any, but they look interesting..

Check out I've used it for over a year and what a difference ! - RK

The 6'oclock Scramble is GREAT! I have been using the website now for about 6 months. Although, there is a cookbook too.

Also, I'm sure you'll get a lot of this one and that is www.Saving also really good stuff. Both give you the grocery lists and assist you in stocking the pantry.

I too was having a hard time with being ''Creative'' when preparing meals for my family. Now, even my VERY PICKY 3 year old eats new things! Lovin' Home Cookin'!

Try ''Saving Dinner'' cookbook by Leanne Ely. She has other books, too, like ''Saving the Holidays'' and I don't know what else. I just have ''Saving Dinner.'' There are six meals per week, almost always there is at least one fish meal, one crockpot meal per week and the weeks are broken up into seasons. She does have a shopping list at the beginning of each ''week'' detailing every single ingredient you'll need, and has side suggestions as well. She also has a website from which you can purchase weekly menus, emailed to you: One other cookbook that I like, which also refers to different recipes as good sides (also in the book) is ''What's for Dinner?'' by M. Vollstedt.

Just one note: I feel like I could have written your post. This is one of the things that my husband and I fight over quite a bit, actually. I would be happy with a salad for dinner every night but he's a carnivore, so I get stuck cooking stuff that, if he doesn't like, just sits around.. yuck... I'm also looking forward to other responses! :D -a dinner-cooking-phobic!

I started using the book The Six o Clock Scramble and it has 5 meals per week broken down seasonally with weekly shopping lists. It's quite handy. More details about my experience on

I have also heard good things about but haven't used it myself Heather

I had the same issue with needing help w/ dinner ideas & found ''Saving Dinner'' very helpful as recommended on BPN. Check out the website You can subscribe to a weekly emailer, which gives you 6 day menu along with the shopping list. I tried the free menu online & it was pretty good. I opted to go buy the book, since I think it comes out to be cheaper that way, and I download the shopping list from the website, print it & write all over it as I shop. The book also has the weekly menu, but I don't like to lug a book to the supermarket. It's saved me a lot of time, particularly shopping time & the headache of figuring out how to keep from making the same boring foods over & over Saved by the Book