GETTING STARTED Until the day that dinner magically materializes, here’s a no-fail method of putting home-cooked food on your table all week long.
Meal planning is about Matching up two things:
What your family will eat and when they will eat it.
Begin by writing down all the main dishes your family likes. Eliminate any that take longer than 20–30 minutes to prepare. Keep brainstorming until you have 21 dishes. “Pantry-focused Recipe Sources,” below, offers more inspiration. “Although 21 entrées may seem like a small amount, you can still have surprisingly good variety over a month,” Kathy Jenkins says, noting that you’ll likely eat out or get takeout once or twice a week and have a few days of leftovers. If you’re concerned that you’ll be bored, dedicate one or two days during the month to trying new recipes. Complement your main courses with a list of basic go-alongs that work with most meals, such as salad, steamable veggies, rice, pasta, and quinoa.
Next, write down dinnertime commitments for the next month, including vacations, late workdays, practices, games, performances, and meetings. Map out the entire month on paper or in a shared online document (you don’t need to learn a new tool or app) and then “publish” next week’s plan on a chalkboard or dry-erase board near your pantry. Assign chef and helper roles for each meal based on family members’ skills and availability. Snap a pic of your menu board on Sunday night and text it to your family. “Everyone can look at the board or the pic and know what’s for dinner and what they can work on,” Kate Martin says.