It’s Tuesday evening, I am running late coming home from work and errands and suddenly realize that I have absolutely no idea what I will be feeding my family tonight.
I ponder what’s available in the fridge and pantry and make an immediate beeline for the closest drive-through or pizza place.
Sound familiar?
While these kinds of detours are inevitable and OK once in a while, they can really wreak havoc on your family budget and waistline, right?
When it comes to taking care of the needs of my family, the one area I always feel like I need to always stay six steps ahead of is my meal.
When I meal-plan — and sometimes meal-prep — before the beginning of the work and school week, I find that everything else seems to fall into place.
When we have a plan for dinner, my family of perpetual dawdlers and procrastinators magically finds a way to stay on schedule for the rest of that evening’s activities.
Since most of us are slightly addicted to the convenience of having a Smartphone, I am going to advocate putting it to use for your meal-planning prowess.
While there are a ton of recipes and meal-planning apps out there, not all of them are created equal.
One of my favorites is called Pepperplate and it is available both online and for your Smartphone.
You can build recipes based on which ingredients you have on hand or want to cook with that you can then add to a meal-planning calendar.
It even scales the recipes to the number of people you plan to cook for (and don’t forget to add a serving or two for leftovers and lunches) and you can create a shopping list in the order you actually shop in your local store!
The “cook now” mode features a hands-free interface and a built in timer so you can keep it with you from the grocery store to the stove.
If you are like me and need some creative inspiration for meals, i.e, you aren’t sure what you feel like cooking, there’s a great app called “Food on the Table.”
Food on the Table doesn’t make you select recipes but delivers recipes to you each week based on the preferences you provide when you set up your account. It provides a grocery list, recipe instructions as well as coupons and deals based on your location.
As much as I love using online tools, I am still sentimental about my trusty pen and paper — and meal planning is a perfect candidate for some good old fashioned grocery lists.
Anyone who knows my frugal side knows that my first tenet of meal planning is always based on what is on sale at the grocery store that week and whether you are planning for a week’s worth or a month’s worth of meals, there are lots of basic but potentially time saving tools to use!
While a scan of some local grocery store sales flyers before making your meal plans and subsequent grocery list is highly recommended, you can simply base your plans on what your family’s tastes are to start.
Print off one of many online meal-planning templates ( and are two good starting points for popular printables).
I often sit my crew down once a month and ask them to write down five meals they are craving — after all, my finicky crew is (hopefully) more likely to eat the meals I dutifully prepare for them if they had some say in what is on the menu.
Compile everyone’s meal wish list along with your favorite meal planning template and a calendar for the week or month ahead.
Try not to get too bogged down in the variety trap — I used to avoid serving chicken more than once a week until I realized that my chicken loving kids really couldn’t care less that I was feeding them chicken three times in one week.
Try setting themes and then slotting a meal that (at least loosely )meets that theme each week.
For example, Meatloaf Monday can evolve into anything from meatloaf, meatball subs, spaghetti and meat sauce to shepherd’s pie. Taco Tuesday is anything with a Hispanic flair, Whaddaya Want Wednesday is always something from the kids’ meal wish list, Turkey Day Thursday is always a reminder to eat more white meat while Fun Fridays gives us an excuse to enjoy some of our favorite fun foods.
Other possible theme nights could be Italian Night, Sandwich Saturdays, Brinner (aka Breakfast for Dinner). If meal planning is a chore, this is a great way to add some pizzazz. Just think of the themes and then have fun brainstorming ways to build your menu.
You will have a month’s worth of ideas in no time!
(Editor’s Note: Kristine George is a freelance journalist who resides in Easton.)