Having trouble finding the time and/or energy to plan your meals ahead of time? There are lots of good reasons to find a dinner planning strategy that works for you!
Planning ahead allows you to make sure you have the ingredients to make nutritious, hearty meals for your family. It can also save you money because you know exactly what you need for the week, which helps prevent buying extra groceries or impulse items. And it helps you control the number of times you need to resort to take-out or fast food. I could go on and on, but it all comes down to the fact that consistent meal planning is good for your budget and for your family's health.
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The planning step is something I wrestled with for years. I would stay on top of it for a while, but then it always seemed that life just somehow crept up on me and before I knew it, I was winging the menu more nights than not.
Finally, I sat down and thought long and hard about what was keeping me from planning, and the outcome of that analysis led me to this system, which has been working for me for years now. And I want to share it with you, as well as give you access to the planner that I use, so that you can try it and see if it works for you!
It does require a little bit of set up, but once you have the system established, it is easy to maintain.
Here are the materials you will need:
- Weekly Dinner Planner template (FREE download!)
- Sticky note page markers or sticky note adhesive rolls (I like to use the rolls so I can run them through the printer and have nice neat labels)
- Sheet protectors (these are optional, you can use this system without them, however I find that the sticky notes stay sticky longer when I use them)
- Clear report cover (this is optional, I like to use it to keep everything gathered in one folder, with a clear cover so I can view the week's menu with just a glance)
Here are the steps to get yourself set up:
STEP 1: Print the dinner planner template
You will see there are several pages. The page labeled 'Weekly Dinner Plan' will eventually be your plan that you reference for the food shopping, but you can put that aside until later. For the first steps, we will focus on the 'Options' pages.
STEP 2: Customize with your typical dinner recipes
**NOTE - If you want to use the adhesive rolls instead of the sticky note markers, scroll down for alternate directions for this step. The advantage of using the adhesive rolls is that you can run them through the printer and have printed labels as opposed to hand-written ones. However, it is totally up to you!
Using your sticky note page markers, write down some of the common entrees, veggies, and side dishes you like to include in your rotation. One item should be on each sticky note. If you like, you can designate a certain color to correlate with each category. I chose blue for my veggies, yellow for my side dishes, and orange for my entrees.
STEP 3: Place the sticky notes on the 'Options' pages
As you complete each sticky note, place it in one of the boxes on the corresponding template 'Options' page. **NOTE - If you are using the sheet protectors, slide each page into a sheet protector before adding the sticky notes. Then place the sticky notes directly on the sheet protector.
You don't have to fill up the whole page, just do as many as you can think of for now. More can always be added later. If you fill up all the boxes and need more room, just print out another page!
STEP 4: Plan your meals for the week
Now you can go ahead and plan your meals. For each day on the 'Weekly Dinner Plan' page, choose an entree, and also a veggie and/or side dish. (Some days I have both, some days I only have one of the two.) Place the sticky notes accordingly. When you are done, you have a whole week's worth of dinners planned!
**NOTE - Place all the populated template pages in the clear report cover, if you are using it. Now you have everything nice and neat and organized!
STEP 5: Repeat STEP 4 on a weekly basis
Now you have all your dinner options right in front of you. You can mix and match items, move things around, and make as many adjustments as you want, easily and quickly. If you like to plan more than one week at a time, simply print out more of the 'Weekly Dinner Plan' pages!
I think my favorite part of this system is how flexible it is. It also allows me to avoid repeating any one particular item too often, because I don't replace my sticky labels on the 'Options' pages until I complete my plan for the following week.
ALTERNATE STEP 2 INSTRUCTIONS:
To use the sticky note adhesive rolls, follow these steps:
- Download the editable template HERE and print a copy.
- On the printed paper, place a strip from the adhesive roll over each row of the grid, adhesive side down. See illustration 2 above. Rub firmly over the strip to make sure it is completely adhering. THIS IS IMPORTANT to make sure that the strips do not come off in your printer. I didn't have any trouble with my printer, but please note that I have no way of knowing if your printer will be OK too so using this method will be at your own risk. Use the method described above in Step 2 if you are not comfortable taking that risk.
- Type in each item on the editable version of the template page, then place your paper with the adhesive strips in the printer, and print the applicable page. YOU MAY WANT TO DO A TEST FIRST to make sure you know how to put your paper in properly. Check to see if the taped side should be facing down or up, and if the top or bottom of the paper gets fed in first.
- Cut out each item and then continue to STEP 3 above.
I hope this little strategy is helpful for you! It has made a world of difference in my ability to consistently plan our dinners week after week. And I believe it has saved my family hundreds of dollars over the years. Give it a try and see if it will work for you, too!
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