Thursday, September 11, 2014

Where's My Dinner?

5:30 p.m. We fade in on a couple, still dressed in business casual, staring into an open refrigerator…

"What do you want to eat for dinner?"
"I don't know, what do you want?"
"I don't care, whatever you want..."

An hour are either eating take-out, again, or making some very unappealing meal out of whatever is left in the fridge.

Does this scene sound familiar?

I don't doubt that everyone has had this conversation and has wandered around the grocery store, dropping random things in your basket only to get home and realize you spent a lot of money on food and you have absolutely no plan for using it.

 Pizza, again? Blarg.

Many moons ago, after living together for a while and experiencing the struggle with what to make for dinner EVERY night of the week, Sean sent me a link to a Lifehackerpost about making a meal plan. We decided to go ahead and try the template from Unclutter. We used this method for years with great results. We started out using the exact template they created but over the year we edited to fit our exact needs. You can check out our old template if you like. There is a space for a shopping list on the side, so as you put the meal in, you can list the ingredients needed right away.

After using this process for a few years, we noticed that a lot of web‑based meal planning apps were popping up so we tried out a couple until we found the one we are using now, PepperPlate. We previously tried using Food Planner, but I didn’t really like the user interface and the way you added groceries to your shopping list. (P.S. here is a great Lifehacker post on the 5 bestmeal planning apps).

In a nutshell, we make a menu of meals for two weeks, go shopping on the weekend (btw, how great is grocery shopping at 8 a.m.? Thanks, baby, for getting up at the ass crack of dawn!) and we get all the food we need to eat for those two weeks. Occasionally, we will make a trip to the store the next week to stock up on fresh produce or any items that were out of stock. We keep a record of all the meals we make so that when planning the menu we have a running list of what we've had over the past few weeks and also we have a great list of ideas to choose from. We add anything else we need for lunches, snacks, and household items etc. to the shopping list, head to the store and get our shopping done quickly, affordably and (usually) without any bickering over what we do and don't need.

Now, while I am singing the praises of the meal, there are a few things to take into consideration.

  • Sometimes it's damn hard to think of what you want to eat for 14 days straight!

I would say I have a love/hate relationship with the menu. The minute the words "we need to make a menu" come out of Sean's mouth, my eyes start to roll back in my head, I slouch down in my seat, let out my signature groan and with the attitude of a thirteen year old girl, say "I don't care...just pick something." (I know, he IS a lucky man to have me). But, every time we finish the menu, I feel relieved that we have a plan and I'm glad we did it.

  • Nothing sounds remotely appetizing when you aren't hungry and you are looking at a list of meals in a spreadsheet.

You have to use your imagination and remember that next week when you come home from work starving, you really ARE going to want to eat Pad Thai. You may not have a taste for it now, but eventually you will want to eat it.

  • You have to keep things interesting.

Make sure you are putting meals on the menu that you are going to be excited about eating. In the interest of saving time and "just getting it over with," you may want to throw the meals on without any thought or plan. But, when the next week rolls around and you have both breaded chicken and breaded pork chops on the menu, you are going to want to barf and end up ordering a deep dish pizza instead. $25.00 later, you are on the couch in a shame spiral and you still have pork chops in the freezer and produce going bad on the counter.

What do you mean you don't want to eat sausages again?

I got two feet of this stuff in bulk!

Every few weeks, go online and look up new recipes. I really like and the Food Network for finding easy to make meals or you can check out more homegrown sites such as The Kitchn and those with a specific food focus (I like to try the low fat recipes from Skinny Taste) to get inspired to make creative and impressive meals with easy to follow recipes. (Oh and there’s this thing you may not have heard of, it’s called Pinterest and I think there might be a couple recipes out there to try!) Make sure to peruse the grocery ads to see what's on sale, it might spark some ideas for meals and will help save you additional green.

  • Remember that sometimes, it is okay to not make dinner.

Don't get burnt out on the menu. If you decide to go out for dinner, it's okay to skip a meal but be smart about it. Some meals have ingredients that expire sooner than others, so if you need to skip a day, you might need to move the meals around in order to not waste ingredients.

While it does take thought, effort and planning in advance, the payoff in the end is well worth it! Coming home from work and being able to make dinner right away without even an ounce of thought as to what the hell you are going to eat is a huge benefit. We've saved time and money and we no longer have to have the dreaded "What's for dinner?" conversation. Plus, miraculously, I actually enjoy cooking dinner now.

If this plan seems a little too stringent for you, you are in luck. There are lots of useful links out there on the ol’ WWW and you can find more ideas just by doing a simple Google search. With all the meal planning websites out there, and templates for making menus, you can be sure to find the system that works best for you and you can stop eating the same five things every week.

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