“What’s for dinner?” is a commonly asked question in many households. As children, spouses, friends, and others stream into your home after work, school, or a day of errands, they are eager to sit down, enjoy a meal, and unwind.
I serve as my family’s meal planner, coupon cutter, grocery shopper, and meal preparer. Even though I generally enjoy taking care of my family in these ways, the tasks at times can be overwhelming and inconvenient. I am, after all, a busy woman: wife, mother, teacher, writer, and volunteer. Oh yes, and of course the full time job of managing diabetes.
Week after week, I pulled out my cookbooks, my coupon case, my pen, and my blank shopping list. Sometimes I could whip up a list in a matter of minutes, but most of the time, I struggled. One day it dawned on me to create a meal rotation schedule, one that I could use while I did my weekly meal planning.
The key to getting started is generating a list of your family’s likes, dislikes, and dietary needs. For my family, which includes my husband, our toddler, and myself, we eat many vegetarian meals, mostly organic foods, and a lot of fresh produce. We like a variety of cuisines from Italian to Greek to Mexican. I suggest involving your family in this part of the planning process. You can ask them to write down a list of likes or dislikes or have a family discussion where one member is in charge of taking notes.
Next, I flipped through my cookbooks and made a list of meals we all like, our go-to dinners. These include some sort of whole wheat pasta with sauce, a Mexican meal (either salad, tacos, or healthy nachos), an Asian-inspired dish (usually brown rice, pineapple slices, tofu or chicken, and stir-fry veggies), breakfast-for-dinner (eggs, hash browns or sweet potato fries, and fruit), grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato slice or homemade macaroni and cheese, soup and bread, Greek pasta salad (whole wheat pasta with feta, tomatoes, cucumber, black olives, olive oil, and spices), and fish with veggies and bread.
I knew I would want to leave room in my meal rotation schedule for new recipes, which I tear out from magazines, print off the internet, or get from friends. I keep these recipes in a folder next to my cookbooks. If you are one who is just starting to make homemade meals or you are looking to create more variety in your meals, I suggest spending some time at your local library in the cookbook section. If you wish to keep your family involved in the process, take them with you and ask them to choose cookbooks to check out. At home, family members can flag favorite recipes with sticky-notes. You can then make copies or handwrite the recipes onto paper.
Generating the schedule was fairly easy after I completed my notes. You can create your schedule using the table feature in a word processing program or simply write it out by hand. I have three columns in my table: genre (type of food such as Mexican), meal (the general foods I want to make), and alternatives/choices/descriptions (basically notes on the meal). Once I created the columns, I inserted all of my information into the rows below the headings including two rows in my table for new recipes.
If you choose, you can also create a row or two for leftover nights or DIY (do it yourself) nights where family members are in charge of fending for themselves. In that case, be sure to designate which foods are free for consumption any time that way someone doesn’t accidentally consume ingredients for a planned meal. Good free foods might include sandwich staples such as bread, cheese, healthy meats, lettuce, tomato slices, and condiments. Additionally, you might leave room for eating out or take-out food dinners, which is something my family usually does one time per weekend.
I use my meal rotation schedule to generate a weekly grocery list. After creating my grocery list (in which I list foods in the order they are found in the store) I then search for coupons both online and in my coupon organizer. I am careful to make enough food for dinner and lunch the next day. Wasted food equals wasted dollars. However, meals like soup, which can yield a large volume, are freezer-friendly. Work once, eat twice (or more)!
The result? I feel that the task of meal planning has been simplified which, of course, makes it a more pleasant task. My family is eating a variety of foods we enjoy every week, and I don’t have to hear, “Not scrambled eggs again!” If your family is one who eats out frequently because there’s “nothing” to eat at home, a meal rotation schedule can save you money and of course, aid your family in pursuing a healthier lifestyle.
My philosophy is that a little work can go a long way. In this case, my meal rotation schedule means I have more time to enjoy meals with my family instead of flipping through stacks of cookbooks and wandering aimlessly through the grocery store. Not only are we saving time and money, but we are enjoying healthy, homemade meals around the dinner table.