May 21, 2015

How to Avoid the Dinnertime Doldrums

Last weekend, I went to the LDStorymakers Conference. It was amazing, spectacular, wonderful, and a lot more adjectives the instructors advise you to use sparingly but are well deserved. I hobnobbed with fellow writers, made new friends, gained a few skills, drooled over the books in the bookstore, and came home on the biggest writer's high I've ever had.

The only photo I took the entire weekend. This panel was fantastic. From left to right: James Dashner, J. Scott Savage, Brandon Mull, Jennifer Nielsen, and the moderator was Sarah Eden - all incredible authors and absolutely hilarious.

I was in nerd-girl heaven.  (Can I register for next year yet?!)

For the most part, slipping back into my routine was fairly easy. My husband and kids are pretty good about not trashing the house while I'm gone and my daily schedule keeps me on track. Besides being distracted by post-conference daydreaming and checking Facebook and Twitter every five minutes for the latest posts from my new found writer friends and followers, I was doing well.

Until dinnertime came around.

[insert ominous music and hysterical sobbing]

In my excitement to get ready for the conference, I had failed to put together my meal plan for the week. Not only that, but I hadn't gone grocery shopping and we were dangerously low on quick-prep meal options.

And chocolate chips.

I know. How dare I?

Faced with a choice that had to be made immediately, I did what many a time-deprived mother does in that situation - we went to Arctic Circle.

There's just something about their burgers that I adore. So good!
While my kids weren't complaining, I felt like a bad mom for not being properly prepared. I have the tools to prevent the last-minute dash through the drive thru. I just failed to utilize them.

I blame LDStorymakers for distracting me with such an amazing conference. (Just kidding! I love you. Please let me come back!)

But what about those of you who don't have the tools in place to ignore or forget about when overly excited? How do you avoid the dinnertime doldrums? Do you frantically throw together whatever you have on hand and hope the healthy food police are looking the other way? Every night?

How do you get out of that rut?

I have the answer. Do you want to know what it is? Do ya? Huh?

Create a meal plan.

Did your eyes just glaze over?

I get it. Every outlet of social media is flooded with picture perfect menus written on chalkboards in refurbished thrift store frames. Each meal is perfectly planned with a lean protein, at least three vegetables, and a mouthwatering low-fat dessert. In essence, it's like eating at a five-star restaurant every night.

Image courtesy of cbenjasuwan at

Let's not forget the immaculate kitchen in the background with nary a dirty dish to be seen and the flawlessly pressed stain-free apron on a tiny trim figure of a woman whose hair is too smooth and flyaway-free to be real.

Image courtesy of iosphere at
Ha! Like that's going to happen.

How about a real meal planning system for those of us who are lucky to throw our hair up in a ponytail before dashing out the door, praying all our kids are wearing clean underwear and the clothes haven't been sitting too long in the washer?

I have that.


Here's what you'll need:

  • 4x6 index cards
  • Photo album with pages to hold 4x6 photos - at least three per page
  • Pen or computer with printer

Step one: Write or type your recipes on 4x6 index cards.

Image courtesy of debspoons at

Honestly, you don't even have to do this much. All you really have to do is list your meals on the cards - one per card. I like having the recipes on there so I can see all the ingredients at a glance, which simplifies creating a shopping list. It's also helpful when making dinner because I don't always remember how long something bakes or at which temperature. I try to squeeze the entire recipe on one side of the card so I don't have to pull it out to read it.

Breakfasts and lunches aren't included in this. Instead, I list options for both meals and post it where I can see it. Once upon a time, I tried planning every single meal, but it stressed me out too much and I never followed it. I like having flexibility during the day, but I love knowing exactly what I'm making each night ahead of time.

Step two: Sort recipes.

Image courtesy of ddpavumba at

I like to sort mine according to days. Every day of the week is assigned a food category.
  • Sunday - Slow cooker or grill (anything for a crockpot, roasted in the oven, or handed over to our resident grillmaster to work his magic)
  • Monday - Mexican
  • Tuesday - Mediterranean (Italian and Greek foods)
  • Wednesday - Soup, sandwich, and/or salad
  • Thursday - Homestyle (mostly Southern comfort foods)
  • Friday - Fun foods (pizza, nachos, chili dogs, etc.)
  • Saturday - My husband's specialties (I lucked out when I married a guy who likes to cook. And dang, is he good!)
You can sort yours according to protein used, prep time, alphabetically by name, etc. Do what works for you.

Step three: Place recipes in photo album.

My beautiful album. I bought it on sale at a craft store. One day, I may replace my handwritten note with something a little more polished. Maybe.

STOP! Don't put them in just yet. You want to leave the first two pages that face each other open. I'll explain why in a minute. 
Skip those pages!
After you've skipped those first pages you can stick those recipes in according to the categories you've chosen.

Step four: Plan your meals!

I still need to transfer my breakfast, lunch, and snack lists to index cards. Give me a break; I just moved in.
This is what makes this system so ridiculously easy. Before you go grocery shopping for the week, pull out your meals for the week and put them on those first pages. You can assign them to specific days or simply pick and choose from the list each night.

I love having a theme assigned to each night because it makes picking meals a cinch. Each category has maybe four or five meals assigned to it, so instead of having to pick from 20-30 meals, I only have a handful to choose from.

This would work well with meals sorted according to prep time. If you know you'll only have thirty minutes on Tuesday, you know you have time for something quick like spaghetti. Nights you have more time, you can do a lasagna.

If you were paying attention, you probably noticed I have eight meals on my meal plan. I plan my meals on Wednesdays and go grocery shopping on Thursdays.  My family insists on eating every night (what's up with that, anyway?), so I still need to know what I'm making for Wednesday evening. I'd rather not go digging the recipe back out for the information I need. Nor do I want to miss out on shopping for necessary ingredients, so I include both Wednesdays.

Step five: Go grocery shopping.

Image courtesy of KROMKRATHOG at

Now that you know what you're making for the week, you can make a list. Or go the lazy route and take a picture of your meal plan, your pantry, and the inside of your fridge as you're dashing out the door. Since you know what you're having, you know what you need to get from the store. The best thing about this is you're not buying things you don't need, which saves you money. Bonus!

Step six: Relax.

Image courtesy of stockimages at
Yes, you can laugh. I know this doesn't happen. This is my way of saying my tutorial is done and I can't think of a non-awkward way to wrap things up.

I blame LDStorymakers. (Still kidding!)

Seriously, it doesn't get simpler than this and I'm all about keeping it simple. Spend five minutes once a week to save hours of stress. It's a no-brainer. This system has saved my sanity. At least, as far as dinner is concerned.

I'm still a writer. 

My sanity in general is always questionable.

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