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When do you start planning dinner?

I usually start planning when I get up and out of bed finally. (I'm a late sleeper.) dinner is 7:30 around here so I usually need to defrost something or make a grocery trip. How about y'all?

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  1. Usually the day before because I have to decide what, if anything, to pull from the freezer. I have the whole meal in my mind by the morning of. 90% of the time I stick with my plan. 10% of the time I change my mind or life gets in the way.

    1. It depends...
      I think my cheffing background has quite an influence on my cooking habits: I seem to keep a mental list of what's in/needs using first in the fridge, freezer, pantry and garden, which has a major influence on when I start planning.
      If I have guests, I might have something in mind days earlier, but if I'm cooking for myself I'm usually pretty casual about it.

      1. Well last night, it started when I opened the fridge after work trying to figure out what to have for dinner.

        1. A week a head of time. Seriously :) I start working on my meal plan for the following week (as in the week after the current one) on Mondays. I have it finalized by Wednesday, do my shopping on Friday or Saturday. It works out most of the time, sometimes it'll rain when I plan to grill or I get a last minute invitation to go out or something but otherwise I stick to it pretty well.

          3 Replies
          1. re: juliejulez

            I also plan my meals a week ahead of time. Between my husband and I we only have 1 vehicle and he uses it at work 5 days a week so we have limited time to go to the grocery store. I usually only go once a week, carpooling with a friend. So, I plan meals for a week out and stock up on fresh meat and produce once a week. Our freezer is too small to keep a great stock of meat and such on hand at all times, though I do usually have an extra pork tenderloin or couple of chicken breasts for nights when I wasn't planning dinner.

            1. re: Maggiethecat

              Yeah I just don't like going to the store all the time. I've found when I do, I spend more. I'm also not good at coming up with meals on the fly, so it's easier for me when it's all planned out ahead.

            2. re: juliejulez

              Weekly planning here. We do most of our food shopping early Saturday morning. Make a menu for the week, but try to allow flexibility so a meal can be moved to another day, or cancelled if necessary. We build in enough leftovers for lunches for me during the week.

              We make the menu based on what needs to be used in the fridge or freezer or cupboard, plus what we already have, what's on sale, what big recipe I want to make for the freezer.

              I find we rarely have to throw out and waste food, because we plan the menu around what should be used.

            3. Usually at the farmers market, butcher, fish house, or grocery store when I have seen what's on sale and then it's only a loose plan. A quick stroll around the garden will also give me some ideas as to what is ripe and ready to go. The only time I actually "plan" a dinner is when it's a special dinner and we are entertaining guests.

              1. I rarely "plan" dinner. Being the cook of the house, but also having a schedule that has me doing a lot of business entertaining after hours means I don't get to cook for the family that much during the week. So I generally plan my weekend meals, which generally includes a pot of gravy and meat on Sunday's for endless pasta possibilities during the week.

                If I am home on a week night to cook, I rather enjoy just taking whatever we have on hand and seeing what exactly I can put together out of it.

                1. It depends on if I have meat in the fridge or if it's all in the freezer (or if I need to stop at the market). If I know I have meat in the fridge, I'll usually ask DH what he's in the mood for sometime in the middle of the afternoon. If I have to defrost, I take it out in the morning (but I don't always decide exactly what to do with it until later). If I need to shop, I decide right then. I've tried laying out weekly plans and that sort of thing, but life interferes way too often and I end up with food either going bad or getting shoved into the freezer.

                  1. I usually form a loose plan for the week while at the farmers market and grocery store on Saturday. In the AM, I generally give dinner a passing thought so that I can defrost meat if necessary. I finalize my plans at work, often thanks to WFD. I don't cook every night due to work events, meetings, or spouse cooking. Weekends I tend to give more thought to the matter and spend a couple of hours in the kitchen preparing dinner and staples for the coming week.

                    1. We do grocery shopping on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and the shopping is based upon what we'll prepare for dinner on the following evenings. Thus, most of our dinners are planned well in advance of their consumption.

                      1. I try to plan ahead of time but then realized that I never seem to want what I planned so now I sort of think about dinner all day long, gather a few ideas with either stuff I know is in the house or something which only requires a quick trip to the store and decide a few hours before dinner. I rarely plan the weekend. It's my time to relax, go slow and peruse the grocery store, gather ingredients which call out to me and figure it out when I get home.

                        1. If I want something special as much as a week ahead. Most of the time by lunchtime of the day I'm cooking. A lot of the time when I realize it's later than I thought and I'm hungry. Back when I used to be responsible for other people than me I usually figured it out a day or so ahead so I would have time to shop, but I was always willing to punt when necessary.

                          1. After the wife and kids tell me what they want or don't want....

                            I do however plan the dogs dinner every morning. I look in the freezer and decide which meat to deforst for grilling at 4PM.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: bagelman01

                              Wow. Can I be a dog at your house?

                              1. re: drongo

                                as long as you like to sleep on a king sized bed with the others, have meats grilled to order 365/mixed with Purina One Healthy Weight and are a rescue, you'd be welcome.
                                You also have to promise to get along with the 2 cats. They are a bit more picky, they don't care for beef, but love chicken and turkey off the grill.

                            2. Generally about 3 or 4 in the afternoon. Talk to the DH if he is around, think about what is in the fridge (from the weekly trip to the Farmers Market and TJ). Sometimes will plan further ahead ahead if I happen to be out and about and passing by the fish market or if having company.

                              1. Usually a day earlier, after I see what's in the freezer. At least I know what meat or fish we are having then, but what to do with it may be a last minute decision.

                                1. We plan prior to the supermarket shopping trip - once or twice a week.

                                  1. It depends. I like to go shopping for food, so I go several times a week and buy just enough for 1-2 meals. If I see something good at the market, and/or on sale, I may base a meal around it.

                                    If I have a craving the meal may be planned out a few hours ahead, or a few days ahead if it is intricate, or involves making something that is to be used in a recipe. Things like grinding sausage, which tastes best after a few days of sitting in the fridge. Or a pot of sauerkraut with pork. That may mean a six week planning time if I have to make more fresh sauerkraut. The past year I stopped buying it because home made just blows away store bought. (Plus I love making things that require time, fermentation, aging, etc.)

                                    1. Usually the day of unless I'll be having company. I go to the store about every other day and really enjoy being able to decide what I'm hungry for today, not eating what I though was a good idea last weekend.
                                      But everyone has a system.

                                      1. Typically the day before or the day of because I like to cook with what is the most fresh, available and, if possible, currently on sale that day.

                                        1. Because we pick up our CSA basket on Wednesdays, and I know what we're getting via the web site, that's when I roughly write a weekly menu based on what's in the basket. I also know that I need to augment the basket with so can buy what I need in the farm stand. I keep a running list of frozen meat to go with the menu so I know what to defrost. It's a loose menu plan, though, and can be bumped if necessary.

                                          1. I plan about three meals a week ahead of time, and the rest I make on the fly from what's in the freezer or cupboards etc, and from what's leftover from the planned meals. But I start thinking about it a few hours ahead of time usually, so I know if I need to supplement something.

                                            1. Around noon. I figure out what I am cooking and make a mental list of what I need from the market. I'll stop by the market on the way home.
                                              I love shopping daily for dinner the European way. I only wish we had the same type of public markets I've seen in Italy, Spain and Portugal.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Motosport

                                                Ah, those were the days!

                                                If you look at how busy any European supermarket is (and how full the trolleys), you'll realise that very many of us are shopping once a week or thereabouts.

                                              2. I'm going to be the odd duck out here - but I can tell you (within reason) what we are having 2 months from now! But then, I keep a running list so I could tell you what we had for dinner on any certain date going back as far as 2010! We sit down and plan meals out far ahead of time and on Saturday mornings, go over the coming weeks list and adjust according to the local sales, but it varies little. I try to make something on the weekend that I can repurpose during the week. Sales mean buy in bulk and vacuum seal. So we always have the most necessary ingredients available. Weird, I know. But it works for us.

                                                I plan for Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Friday's are reserved for take-out or go out. The other days are "leftovers or fridge clean out".

                                                4 Replies
                                                  1. re: boyzoma

                                                    Boyzoma, your amount of forethought and planning is impressive.

                                                    1. re: Fowler

                                                      Thank you very much. But I am always open to change. Sales, weather, leftovers, DOTM, etc. However the the items are the same eventually, they just shift !!!!!! But it is always a joint effort with DH and I (He's the one who enjoys doing the shopping - which I hate, and he is on a first name basis with the butcher and the produce manager).

                                                    2. re: boyzoma

                                                      Our approach is not too dissimilar from yours.

                                                      We have two recipe indexes--one for weekday meals, and the other for more involved weekend meals. These indexes, which contain roughly 275 dishes and are always being weeded and augmented, are our cooking repertoire. And we simply rotate through the indexes. Whatever comes up, that's what we prepare. The only decision to make is what side dish(es) will accompany.

                                                      On Saturday morning we shop for the Saturday, Sunday and Monday dinners; on Tuesday morning I shop for the Tuesday through Thursday dinners (we eat out on Fridays).

                                                    3. If I'm inviting friends to dinner, I have the menu in mind before I invite them. If I'm just cooking dinner for me I rarely plan anything much before I'm in the kitchen and ready to cook. Well... Let me modify that a bit... If I want beef for dinner, then I have to at least plan the meat several hours to several days ahead of time as I always cook beef sous vide. Okay,... So sometimes I *DO* plan ahead for just me... hmmm... Okay, so I change my answer about how far ahead I plan for just me to "depends." As in "Depends on what I want!"

                                                      1. the joke in my family is that the next day's dinner is discussed/decided while eating dinner.

                                                        For day in day out dinners I pretty much follow a meal plan. Being a WOHM I need to be organized if I want us to eat well and right. For casual get togethers I plan a day or two in advance. Dinner parties can take weeks, only because I love menu planning.

                                                        That said I can pretty much pull off an impromptu dinner at a moments notice. The key is a well stocked pantry and the ability improvise, a gift a got from my mom. She could have 12 strangers show up for dinner last minute and never break a sweat.

                                                        1. I'll do a tentative weekly menu in order to do the grocery shopping on Friday. But, it's VERY tentative...I probably make the planned items 3 of the 7 days, 'cause life happens--we're out later than planned so I can't get the roast on in time, a friend calls and we're on the phone for over an hour so dinner gets 86'd, I just don't feel like xyz for that day....Sometimes I even make the planned item early in the day, 'fridge it, yet we end up eating out or having a plain omelette. So, upshot is: we wing it most days.