What’s For Dinner?


My husband’s arrival home from work each day immediately set off some mystical, internal dinner bell in our two young daughters.

Within five seconds, the girls went from playing happily to famished. As the 4-year-old scaled the counters like Spiderman looking for snacks and the 6-year-old whined, I would stare blankly into the fridge.

“What’s for dinner?” my husband would inquire.

“Whatever I can come up with in about two minutes,” I would say, honestly hoping that something would magically appear.

Distracted by mountains of school work now lingering on countertops, I had failed to realize that “unhappy hour,” as it’s known in our house, had officially begun!


After having our daughters, I became increasingly frustrated with how time-consuming meal planning had become. I loathed poring through recipes to find family friendly meals, writing down ingredients, adding staples to the list, and finally shopping only to start the whole process over again in a week.

It felt like we were eating the same things over and over or fixing things that were quick, but not terribly healthy. I also found that we were often missing an ingredient, so we were either constantly running to the store or trying to make do with what we had. I needed to face the fact that breakfast for dinner loses its luster when you serve it three times a week and shredded mozzarella cheese never works in enchiladas. Period.

I decided it was time to do something about our hapless meal existence. 


First, I went through all of our cookbooks. I gathered favorite recipes that were simple, healthy and had a pretty good chance with our two picky daughters. Next, I created a Word document listing meal plans for each week until I had a month’s worth of dinners.

To make the process less overwhelming, I assigned a different type of cuisine for each night of the week. Then I simply plugged in recipes that fit with that schedule, adjusting where necessary. Suddenly, we had a variety of different tastes throughout the week.

Now that I had a plan for each week, I created another document for my shopping list. Using my meal plan for that week, I copied all the ingredients for each meal into one column. Since I shop for two weeks’ of groceries at one time, each page of my document covers two weeks’ of meals, plus a column of everyday necessities such as bread, milk, eggs, etc.


These days when it is time to shop for groceries, I simply look at my weekly meal plans, print out the appropriate shopping list and go! By keeping the current list of meal plans on our fridge, I know exactly what to prepare ahead of time and what to set out to thaw. The hardest part is remembering to look at the list.

When we get bored with the usual dishes, I make a new week of meal choices and rotate them in. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to discover that my kids actually love some of the new dishes. Who would’ve guessed my kids would request chili? 

Not only did this system help save my sanity, it gave us back something precious: time together. Best of all, I no longer dread when someone asks, “What’s for dinner?”