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Weekly meal planning for the indecisive

I am always very indecisive when it comes to lunch and dinner and would like to start a weekly meal plan so I know what's ahead and don't spend an hour vacillating before dinner. It would also be nice to stop proliferating options for dinner and actually get around to cooking the ideas on my very long list. However, I find this very difficult to do as I fear that I won't want whatever is on the plan for that night and am so used to deciding on dinner the day of dinner or even a few hours before that I have no idea how to schedule the meals. I guess perhaps many just put the meals on the calendar and that's the plan, no need to predict what I might want for dinner on Tuesday. For the weekly meal planners out there do you just go with it or let yourself change the plan if you have other ideas? I was thinking that perhaps forcing myself to follow a plan for a week would help me get into the groove of a long-term plan and I'd learn to live with it.

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  1. I don't plan. change my mind too often and don't want to be stuck with a plan unless it's for an affair.

    1. I have been doing a weekly menu plan for a few years now. I mostly stick to it, except when I unexpectedly get home late, or something else comes up. And in those cases, I often just shuffle the planned menu items to a later day. My first step is to look at my calendar and decide if there's anything that might affect dinner - home-arrival time early or late, or a dentist appointment so we'll want something soft and comforting. ;-) Weather too - very hot days call for a salad dinner. I mostly just stick to the plan - I know what we like, and don't feel cramped that I don't change it up at the last minute. It does make it easier to try out those recipes you've saved. If something's not already in your rotation, you probably won't think to try it when you get home and are hungry.
      During the 20 minutes or so it takes to come up with a plan, I hate spending the time. But the rest of the week, I'm grateful for it, so I don't have to think about it on the drive home, or improvise while hungry.

      7 Replies
      1. re: patricium

        " If something's not already in your rotation, you probably won't think to try it when you get home and are hungry."

        This is so true and another reason I posted. I had the same dinner 4 times in a row last week mostly but not for a lack of options.

        1. re: fldhkybnva

          About this, what I find helps is to make note of what new dishes sound appealing (and doable), to add to your rotation, when you have time to spare. The Home Cooking section in CH is a great source for that ;-)

          Reading about how the recipe is done and how others do it help me visualize and set me with the proper expectations, so I could feel comfortable with picking something from this to-try list even in the middle of a busy week.

          1. re: vil

            New ideas is not the issue...I have a list of 50 or so ideas on the "short list." I actually spend the time reading about them all and then never get to them which is why I wanted to start planning to actually try them because otherwise I'm wasting my time.

            1. re: fldhkybnva

              I look at what I have to use up from the house and what is on sale and then I look at my "recipe" sources. If we are especially craving something I will make it buy most of our meals each week are new recipes. I save the good ones and the crappy ones are noted so I do not repeat. I know I am cooking a certain number I times a week. Sometimes I get lazy and we order in. Usually that is a swing day of food that will either keep or was mostly pantry and freezer items.
              I still get to choose what I want but I know I am picking from those five to seven choices. I like to only shop once a week.

              1. re: fldhkybnva

                I see I see. So it sounds like you really need to commit yourself (by making a clear plan), for the dish to happen. For me, it constitutes a commitment to make the dish, when I buy or defrost a perishable item (such as meat or fish), because I hate wasting food. For me, I know I prefer having the flexibility for changes, such as using the same ingredients to make a completely different dish that suits my mood of the schedule, or even moving the perishable back to the freezer.

                I was about to say your style and mine are different, but reading more about your concerns further in the thread seems to say that you have a fear of commitment too (like me).

                1. re: vil

                  Yea, commitment is the issue :) I fear the worst so refuse to commit.

          2. re: patricium

            I plan like this too. I cook for a family of 4. So first I think about which kid has an activity or if my husband or I won't be home for dinner for whatever reason. If my husband won't be home for dinner, then I try to plan something for that night that my kids like but he doesn't. Or if it's a day that I will be home late from work, I might make something the day before that won't suffer from being re-heated.

            I have a huge list of dishes and some are definitely in the regular rotation but I generally try to mix it up with a new dish once a week.

            On the weekend, I try to figure out the basic plan and then shop usually on Sundays. Often times I will really plan for Monday-Wednesday and then shop again for Thursday-Friday later in the week (on a day when I work from home). We very rarely eat home-cooked meals on Saturday and Sunday.

          3. I'm wondering if you stay a little indecisive if it will suit your style better. You know, like, you'll do something with chicken but not have to decide what exactly til closer to cooking time.

            1 Reply
            1. re: c oliver

              That's sort of what I've been doing since I know what's fresh or has been defrosted, but I seem to still always be torn :)

            2. I plan for the week, but it does go awry sometimes (mostly when I just don't "feel like" whatever).

              I live alone, so it is quite easy to be flexible re dinner, as in to dinner or not to dinner sometimes.

              I also plan my breakfasts and lunches a week at a time, and I tend to really stick to the plan for those meals.

              1 Reply
              1. re: laliz

                Like laliz, I am single, so it's easier to just do, or not do.

                There is, however, times when I get a craving for something - pork, pasta, whatever. So perhaps fieldhawk can let that guide her.

                OR - don't try and plan an entire week. Choose 2 days of the week that you'll stick with what you decided to make, and take those ingredients out to defrost or set on the counter so when you see them when you get home, with the recipe right alongside it. That might make it easier to try one of the 50 ideas.

              2. I don't know if it will be helpful to you or not, but I actually plan to be flexible! Here is what I do:

                I make meal plans on the weekend for the next week. I always seem to have several recipes or ideas that I want to do, so inspiration is not short :)

                I always make at least one soup ( for lunches or quick dinner) and one or two salad dressings or spreads/dip.

                I take out my proteins from the freezer. I like a variety.

                I decide how many nights will be lighter fare/meat free vs heavier and "comforty".

                I like a variety of cuisines and styles, so I plan for that...not necessarily which *night* I will eat them on. I like to be flexible.

                I try to use up what I have open and available, then go to the store if needed.

                So, by Monday, I will have a soup or two already made, a bean dip/hummus/pate ready, a few dressings ( Asian style/balsamic/blue cheese) and... for example, a chicken defrosting, a steak or ground beef, a pork tenderloin, maybe tofu or fish in the cold drawer section of the fridge. It is typically the veg that I might have to go to the store for, but when I think a week in advance, I just get it all at once.

                I always have a few ideas, but I do keep it flexible. Like, I know next week that I want to make Hemingway's hamburgers, pork lumpia with a light soup, Vietnamese veggie spring rolls... and I want to roast a duck. I think I want a big Caesar salad one night too, maybe with a bean spread on thick low carb crackers. I have some asparagus to use up too. All those things will be ready for me to decide "on the day of". I tend to be very flexible with my veg and try to have 2 vegetables. I buy what looks good or is in season, then incorporate that in the meal plan that day.

                Hope that helps!

                2 Replies
                1. re: sedimental

                  I'd not heard of Hemingway's hamburger. Is this kinda what you do?

                  http://www.openculture.com/2013/09/er...

                  1. re: c oliver

                    Yeah! There is a thread about it somewhere here. I thought it sounded intriguing- but I have never made it.

                2. I love
                  http://www.plantoeat.com/

                  How I "plan," otherwise, I use "limits" and "onlys" to keep me on track but within a realm of flexibility.

                  I ONLY plan weekdays.
                  Breakfasts:
                  ONE breakfast a week is drive thru
                  2 - from the freezer, made over the weekend
                  1- from the freezer, pre-purchased
                  1- at work, so oatmeal or cereal

                  Lunches:
                  ONE lunch a week is pickup/delivery
                  1 - from the freezer, made over the weekend
                  1 - from the fridge, adapted from leftovers
                  2- from the freezer, pre-purchased

                  Dinners:
                  ONE out-- at a sit down restaurant
                  ONE out-- ball game, friend's house, etc.
                  2 are family meals, 4 course, pretty much from scratch
                  1 is a quick family meal -- meat'n'3

                  I start with proteins and then build from there, trying to get fish in if we didn't have it last week, and not repeating the protein 2 nights in a row.
                  We also "save back" leftovers for the weekend-- very rarely do we eat the same thing 2 nights in a row.

                  1. I have done a number of different ways of planning. I used to try to plan the whole week and found it inundating to try to come up with 6 or 7 different dinners. After a while I was uninspired and just gave up on the whole thing.
                    Then I did a 3 week rotation but instead of specific dishes it was more vague suggestions as to the theme...ie, Sunday something asian (a stir fry or a curry), Monday an entree salad (so many types to choose from), Tuesday a protein plus 2 veg, Wednesday a pasta, and so on... Then I would use the guide to plan the week. This worked pretty well for a while but I found we would get bored or busy and veer off of it and eventually I abandoned it altogether.

                    Now I generally plan 3 or 4 meals for the week - Sunday to Wednesday, with later in the week open in case something has changed. If things went to plan, then I just rustle up a few more ideas and make a mid-week grocery stop which I prefer over being in the store too long on the weekend or overpurchasing. Sometimes I'll have 2 specific meals and then just a bunch of veggies to make up the other 2 - as I am prone to not be 'in the mood' for what I had originally planned. We do have a well-stocked pantry and a stand-up freezer full of meat and some leftover soups and whatnot, so that helps.

                    The big thing for me is not to be too overzealous - choosing a week's worth of brand new recipes with lots of ingredients that I don't normally have on hand usually results in a lot of waste. So I leave these projects for weekends and for the most part have weeknight dinners that I or the husband feel comfortable making sans recipe. It's good to build up a repertoire of things you really like and feel very comfortable cooking. When you have one or two of those peppered in each week, it makes the idea of a week's plan a lot more do-able.

                    I think starting with one week planned - leaving yourself some wiggle room if your plans or hankerings change - is a good way to start. Good luck!

                    1. I don't plan for a week - but 3-4 days out. I find if I know the basics of what I'm planning for the day (i.e. pork chop, pasta, etc) I look forward to it on the day

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: mfb237

                        me, too -- I buy protein on Saturday, as that's when I can get to my beloved butcher shop, and buy 3-4 days of fresh. I have a variety of veg and starch on hand, and I mix and match til that's gone, then I head to the freezer and thaw something, or go back to the grocery.

                        So a sorta-kinda plan.

                      2. Sounds like what you really want and would enjoy is to eat seasonally. Find out what comes in season, when, in your part of the world, and choose based on that.

                        Generally speaking, I find, even as someone who likes planning and really goes to lengths to do it in many areas of his life, that planning meals around fixed ideas is usually counterproductive. The number of times you'll find the critical ingredient is sold out near you, or that it so happens that day you're so busy that you don't have the time to make what you had planned, or that a change earlier in the day means suddenly the heavy meal you had planned is inappropriate, or the lighter one seems insubstantial, or the weather doesn't fit, or, or...

                        While having some plan in mind for what you might do with what you've bought, don't make that a rigid, unchangeable plan.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: AlexRast

                          Well, that's what I've been doing but my list of seasonal dishes is so long it's hard to sort through on any given day. It's not a lack of options, but too many options. I'm not complaining of course. My problem is that I have all the ingredients for a long list of things I want to make including both pantry and fridge/freezer. It helps to focus on the perishable foods first. I have a pretty well stocked kitchen which for an indecisive person like me can be difficult. I think I have to remind myself that there's always another day for another dish.

                          1. re: fldhkybnva

                            I think if you are already stocked, as opposed to planning and then shopping, then I would just plan 2 days - what I'm having today and what I'm having tomorrow - using up your perishables first as you've said. If you get through those two days and stuck to your plan, then plan 3 more. Then if you get through those, plan 3 more after that. Before you know it you will probably be able to plan and shop for 5-7 meals in a week. And if you find that you aren't enjoying that much structure, then at least you'll know and then you can go back to doing a few meals on the fly. I think it would depend too on if you work, your hours, and how easy it is to stop and pick up an ingredient on your way home. I finish work at 3 - 3:30 and my commute every day includes a favourite little country store that has fresh produce, a butcher counter, a bakery. So it's really easy come Wednesday or Thursday to stop and grab 1 or 2 ingredients that I know I have the rest of the stuff for at home. For someone who used to plan and shop for the whole week (and inevitably ended up throwing something unused out), I like the flexibility of only having 3-4 meals planned and 3 - 4 left until the day of.

                            1. re: 16crab

                              I like that! I did that this weekend it worked out well. I also enjoyed not having to think all day about what to eat.

                              1. re: fldhkybnva

                                I'm glad to hear it! It becomes a fine balance between planning to the letter, and being flexible enough that if plans/hankerings change you can roll with the punches. It is nice though when you have something planned that you've been wanting to try for a while, it comes together AND it's delicious. I find that keeps me inspired to keep at it.

                              2. re: 16crab

                                I also tend to keep a pretty well-stocked kitchen -- fruit and veg, frozen bits and bobs (chicken breasts and thighs, meatballs, etc), and dry goods (pasta, rice, couscous, potatoes).

                                I always have something on hand that I can make into a meal if whatever I've bought doesn't sound good tonight...then it pushes my store visit back a day.

                          2. Maybe you could plan 3-4 dinners a week and leave the others open to get used to the idea.
                            Or plan what the protein is but leave the veggies and sides as last minute decisions or based on what looks good.
                            Weekend prep for specific recipes makes more ambitious weekday meals easier, and therefore more likely you will follow through.

                            Or, you could take time to just make a list of meal ideas based on what is in your freezer and pantry when you feel inspired and on indecisive evenings refer to it to both figure out dinner as well as work with what's on hand.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Ttrockwood

                              Plan on a style of dish or a technique, such as a stir fry or a soup. It seems specific, until you are actually making it, then so many ways it could go, depending on what you have on hand.

                              1. re: Ttrockwood

                                The latter paragraph is what I've been doing, but there are so many options. I think I have to know that there's probably never a wrong choice among the options. The rest of my life is planned but meals ;) perhaps there's a reason for that, not sure.

                                1. re: fldhkybnva

                                  What's your motivation for planning? Variety? Saving $? Using what's already on hand?
                                  It sounds like maybe you need an unplanned spontaneous aspect to your day to day...... Maybe start small and plan two meals per week, new recipes you want to try, stick to them, and see how it goes....

                              2. On Sunday I ask my hubby what he thinks he would like to eat this week and how many times I have to feed him, as he generally has a dinner meeting or conference a week.

                                Then I check out the sales for the local mega marts to see what over laps with his requests (this week was stuffed shells, stir fry, and beef) and what we have to use up in the fridge (brussels sprouts and leftover cauliflower puree) and what's in the freezer. I work 3 days a week and have a 2 year old, so my prep time during the week is limited. My goal is to cook 2 meals during the week from scratch, filling in with leftovers from the weekend (aka kitchen play time) and freezer bounty (frozen soups, etc) for the rest.

                                I don't commit to I must have stir fry on Monday, tacos on tuesday, lasagna on wednesday because I might not want that then, but I do commit to having it in that week. So sometimes I'm asking lasagna vs stir fry to Mr Autumn, what ever isn't today will be tomorrow. Enforced flexibility.

                                1. One of the things that makes one not want something for dinner is boredom due to repetition, and one of the beauties of having a plan is being able to see previous days/weeks/months to avoid repetition. I can look back over my plan so I don't repeat things too often.
                                  I use an excel spreadsheet calendar matrix with seven weeks on it, to plan usually three or four days at a time. I usually create the plan just before I have to go shopping, so I'm not always planning far ahead - sometimes the last meal written in the plan was last night's meal.

                                  Flexibility in the plan is okay, but only up to a point. It takes discipline to create a realistic plan and to follow it, but there is no reason to be rigid about it. If a dinner invitation comes up, as long as what I'd planned for dinner can keep until the next night, I can shift every thing over for a day. (Unless I have fish defrosting, then the dinner invite will be a no-go!.) But a constantly shifting/changing plan is a sign that something isn't working right.

                                  I rarely vary from the plan just based on a whim or the excuse that I don't want "that" for dinner. Plan meals that you want, so you don't leave yourself an out for ignoring it. Plan meals around your life constraints: what ingredients do you have/need to buy, what time constraints exist for shopping, what time constraints exist for cooking, do you have any help in the kitchen, what is the weather/time of year, what food items are in season, do you have family or guests visiting, is there a special occasion looming, etc.

                                  Really a plan is one life tool that takes the guesswork and ad hoc nature out of cooking and eating. I can glance at the plan in the morning and get a mental picture of what I need to do and when I need to do it. And then I do it. Actually following through is a matter of motivation and will, discipline if you will. Knowing what's coming eliminates uncertainty and stress. There's enough chaos in life, I prefer to manage it out of my home life.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: janniecooks

                                    Haha, I'm the opposite. My not wanting something is usually because it's new. Last week I had the same meal 4 times in a row primarily because I was indecisive and I know it's always a winner. What does this mean "But a constantly shifting/changing plan is a sign that something isn't working right?"

                                    1. re: fldhkybnva

                                      It means that the planning is flawed - either the assumptions or constraints you use in forming it are flawed, or your motivation/will to follow the plan are just not there. That is all. Different for each person.

                                  2. My 'planning' is pretty loose and doesn't involve anything complicated, e.g. Excel. I get enough of that at work.

                                    I plan for 4-5 meals per week, dinner only. Every other Wednesday, it is something in a crockpot that can be served up in the 15 minutes I have between kid specialist vist and my choral group rehearsal. Also, except for the aforementioned Weds, I don't really associate meals and days of the week. And, further, I often just plan the main ingredients rather than a specific recipe, leaving that to sort out day of. If there is something in particular I want to make, that usually happens on the weekend and isn't on the plan per se. Here is an example for a recent week:

                                    Meal 1
                                    BLSL chicken thighs
                                    Cheesy grits
                                    Steamed broccoli

                                    Meal 2
                                    Meatloaf (make in the AM before work)
                                    Potatoes - mashed
                                    Corn

                                    Meal 3
                                    Pasta with olive pesto (make in advance)
                                    Meatballs
                                    Salad
                                    Garlic bread

                                    Meal 4
                                    Turkey burritos
                                    rice and beans
                                    pickled onions
                                    assorted condiments

                                    Meal 5
                                    Crockpot chili
                                    Rice?
                                    Fruit salad

                                    1. I can't plan meals more than a day out because I have no idea what I will want.

                                      5 Replies
                                      1. re: magiesmom

                                        Hear hear! OK, I'm not the only one :)

                                        1. re: fldhkybnva

                                          Nope! Actually eating what I want is a really essential part of heating healthfully. I think the body knows what it needs at a given time, and also that I eat much less when I really have what I want.

                                          1. re: magiesmom

                                            All that is so true. It feels good to be able to nurture the body and the soul at the same time.

                                        2. re: magiesmom

                                          I' m with you. But i also live alone and am not responsible for any one else's dinner. My "plan" would read something like:
                                          Eat the rest of my fresh veggies before buying more, make a new soup since i'm tired of what i made last week, and olive and pickles appetizer every night :)

                                          1. re: Ttrockwood

                                            Even when my son lived home we worked pretty loosely.

                                        3. I like planning ahead with the idea of flexing where needed. I keep a running list so we don't have the same thing too often. And I usually try to throw in a meal I have not prepared before. So for us, I've planned out my menu "so far" through April! We cook on Saturdays, Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. The other days are clean out the fridge night and usually Fridays are some kind of take out. We sit Saturday morning and update the week ahead and then shop for the week accordingly Saturdays. Thursdays during winter are my soup days and during the summer they are salad days. But by keeping this running menu, I can tell you what we had back to 2010. And be able to look back for when we had something last. Each week we talk and readjust the menu as needed.That way we maximize the ingredients we buy. If I need to buy a specific ingredient I want to make sure to have something else to use it for if I will have extra. This method works wonderfully for us. We also buy in bulk and vacuum seal, so it helps us utilize what's in the freezer when planning our buys and filling out the menu. I like to cook and DH likes to shop. So we also utilize Grocery IQ for our shopping lists. I fill out the week on the computer and DH then uses the list on his phone while in the stupid market.

                                          1. I have not really planned weekly meals since my kids left home. When they were little, it went something like Monday I cooked; Tuesday, we went out to a pizza place; Wednesday was Sonic night; Thursday I cooked. Friday we had leftovers from the week; Saturday was up in the air. We might go out or eat at home...not set. I always cooked a huge meal on Sunday.

                                            Now there are two of us here and I don't really plan other than to think, okay, I want a roast this week or fish on Friday. I still cook a big meal on Sunday and kind of take it from there for the rest of the week. For example, tomorrow I'm cooking stuffed chicken breasts and I have a pork loin roast in the freezer I've been wanting to cook so that's two meals I'll definitely be cooking this week. I also know that there will be leftovers from the roast so that's at least a third meal with the meat in it's original form.

                                            Now, as to the sides, I'm not too sure. I have garden frozen veggies stored in the freezer and it depends on what's in my crisper. And even though we'll have the pork roast twice this week, more than likely there will still be leftovers cause we are only two people so perhaps I'll make pork fried rice with some of it and a different main protein and a veg for that fourth meal or maybe the leftovers will be frozen after the second meal until we feel like eating it again.

                                            Other variables are what is on sale at the store and the weather. A few days ago, my fiancé showed up at home with a 30 pound box of turkey wings. It was not something I was planning to cook this week but while packing them for the freezer, I thought, why not cook a few for dinner that night. Totally unplanned. Also, while not planning to make a soup, a snow storm or a cold dreary day might inspire me to change my mind and throw on a pot of soup at the last minute.

                                            One last thing for me is requests. My fiancé will pretty much eat what I cook, no problems. But every now and then, he'll ask me to make something specific like the pot of chili & grilled cheese sandwiches we had this week. I didn't have chili on my mind this week as I made some about 3 weeks ago but he asked so I obliged. So with me, you just never know. One thing is about 95% certain: I don't cook on Saturdays. I'll do it if for some reason I didn't cook for a few days during the week (sort of to make it up).

                                            1. I fall in the indecisive category too, but in my case it is more about having a mix of uncontrollable factors - timing, energy level, amount of leftovers.. and then also everyone's appetite and we are in the mood for.

                                              My fridge always seems to have leftovers and expiring produce. While driving home (especially when stuck at the lights or in traffic), I try to recall what is in the fridge, and ask myself what I am in the mood for, and how much time/how much energy I have, or how hungry everyone is...Then try to construct the menu considering all those parameters. I visualize, still behind the wheel, whether that works and by the time we get home, I could typically get a quick dinner for everyone within 15-30 mins., more if I take my time or do completely from scratch.

                                              When my fridge is getting empty, I take it as a cue to shop. I almost never shop for a whole recipe except for special occasions. What I do is, I shop for 1 or 2 proteins (meat, seafood) that I have in mind or that inspires me at the store. Then a few different kinds of vegetables, which I have in mind would go with the meat, or whatever that looks good if I haven't decided. During the week I then check again what style of preparation works, given the parameters, and then build a meal around it.

                                              It helps to be creative and have a very versatile pantry. I also do last minute lookups online to check on the practical aspects of specific techniques and food combinations.

                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: vil

                                                This is fairly similar to our meal planning except that, instead of simply thinking through/ visualizing dinner on my commute home, it's an active discussion that I have with my husband, with whom I commute. We typically agree in the morning on a meat protein to take out of the freezer to defrost, generally trying to rotate through a variety so that we are not eating beef, fish, chicken, etc. over multiple sequential evenings. We then figure out exactly how that protein will be prepared and with what sides on the way home. Part of that discussion includes who will be cooking, as we share the cooking -- he has his specialties, I have mine, and there are some dishes that we both do.

                                                It's just the 2 of us at home now, so our goal generally is to get dinner on the table in 45-60 minutes from the time we get home. If we are running late or just crumped-out, then we have a few go-to dinners that are ready in under 30 minutes.

                                                I do my grocery shopping over the weekend, stocking up based on what's on sale and what we need -- so, the shopping list will say "vegetables" or "fruits" but I wait to see what looks good and is well-priced when I get to the stores. Using up the fresh vegetables before they spoil very much dictates the food preparations during the week -- e.g., asparagus does not hold as well as cabbage so we are likely to have a meal involving asparagus at the beginning of the week, whereas the cabbage might sit in the fridge for 2 weeks or more.

                                                1. re: masha

                                                  Yes, very similar. I do discuss a bit with my little 5 y.o. passenger too, although she is currently not much help in the kitchen. It sounds like great teamwork and wonderful communication for the two of you.

                                                  1. re: vil

                                                    The actual conversation is less than 5 minutes of our 30+ minute commute. We have a repertoire of maybe 20 meals that are part of our regular weeknight rotation so it's simply a matter of a shorthand reference to one of those preparations, with maybe a short discussion of "sure," or "no, I'm not in the mood for that, what about X?"

                                                    As to your 5 year old, she'll be ready to help you in the kitchen soon, if you'd like her too. Of course in the short run her participation may be more of a distraction than a "help" so it may be more welcome on a weekend when you are less harried in getting dinner on the table. One advantage I found when our son was that age was that, if I delegated preparation of raw vegetables or fruit to him -- especially peeling carrots -- he would snack on that food while the meal preparation was in progress: a double bonus since it took the edge off of his hunger and meant that he was eating healthful food.

                                                  2. re: masha

                                                    That's great. Every week I ask if he feels like anything, "I don't know" and what I should make "I don't care".

                                                    Since it is just the two of us he knows it is eat it or have "second dinner" (pretzels and ice cream, peanut butter and celery, elbows and eggs etc.) later when I go to bed. No wasting food though.

                                                2. I planned when children were in the house. Easier to shop and no going back and forth with 'I dunno, what do you want?'

                                                  However, I wasn't hard and fast with a schedule. If I'm supposed to make pork chops tonight but want Wednesdays chili, I make Wednesdays chili. It basically just narrowed down choices for us.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: deputygeorgie

                                                    This is it. Plan my meals narrow as I go. If I absolutely hate the idea of something on the last night, we order in.
                                                    Otherwise things just shirft as needed. My husband hates if I try to cook out of the pantry because he says he can tell I'm not "trying".

                                                  2. I sometimes change the plan.... I might plan a stir fry but decide I want a roasted meat instead. So, I use the same protein that I defrosted, but in a different way. But I would say 85% of the time I just make what I planned. I usually look forward to what's planned all day. Also as I've mentioned elsewhere, my food budget is pretty strict, so having a very specific plan for the week helps me save a lot of money. I've also found if I don't plan, I tend to eat less healthy. That's me though.

                                                    But, like others mentioned, what's your motivation for wanting to plan ahead? If it's just because you think you "should", then that's kind of a lame reason. Do what works for you! If you are OK with what you're doing now, then why change it?

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: juliejulez

                                                      "I usually look forward to what's planned all day."

                                                      There's something to this. I've found that when I plan my meals (which I don't do often), or know I'm going to "have" to eat something that night, I start looking forward to it more and more as the day goes on.

                                                      Reminds me of being in boarding school, where our meals were posted for the week. You ate what they served you, or you didn't eat at all. I hated this approach to eating when I first arrived, but after a few months I found myself SUPER EXCITED to try new meals, and looking forward to the comfort of the meals I already knew. I'd start thinking about it around lunchtime, and I'd fantasize about it all through the afternoon. It does something to whet the appetite.

                                                      I have a feeling it won't be quite as difficult as you think, fldhkybnva. The only other things I can think are to at least plan a few perishable ingredients for each night (like chicken/mushrooms/asparagus, or beef/bell peppers/Greek yogurt) and stick to that for the sake of easy grocery shopping. But each night you can kind of get your Iron Chef on and steer towards whatever flavor profile suits your fancy based on pantry staples.

                                                      I cook like you, just throwing this or that together based on what I think will taste good or what I'm craving in the moment. I try to always keep on hand perishables that "go together" in a variety of preparations because I'm often planning on having pasta but end up making tacos at the last minute. Either way though, I still have all my ingredients on hand.

                                                    2. I once was in the indecisive group, but now I plan my week's dinners and weekend breakfasts Saturday before my shopping. Lunches are usually assume to be leftovers and weekday breakfasts for me is large coffee with cream and granola bar. My SO fends for himself.

                                                      But what really caused the switch was when my SO moved in and now I had to feed two people dinner and have leftovers for two lunches. But on the up side, I have very few leftovers for dinner the next day so I'm never bored of the meal.

                                                      1. Actually I blame being a daily food shopper. Plenty of ingredients I have on had get bumped if I happen to find something wonderful during a trip to the food store(s). The only thing I am consistently good at planning is bread baking and keeping plenty of pantry items on tap.

                                                        Tonight's dinner was going to be shrimp with Thai fried rice and this fabulous green tea spongecake but instead I'm making shrimp cocktail and roasted veg sandwiches with a pineapple dessert.

                                                        6 Replies
                                                        1. re: HillJ

                                                          Another issue. I just like to go to the store, almost daily. Then I get new ideas and the cycle continues :)

                                                          1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                            If I went the to store each day I would spend a bundle and waste more. With once a week, if I have to stop for one thing later on, I usually keep it that way. For example the store didn't ahve snow peas and I really wanted them for a meal, so I went to a different store the next day. Because the sales don't change during the week I won't impulse buy for a deal as much. I would end up with 15 meals for one week if I let inspiration take hold in the store. I can change things up though.

                                                            1. re: melpy

                                                              I'm with you Melpy. I have a full time job during the week so I have neither the time nor inclination to shop every day. I shop on the weekends, typically going to 3-4 stores over that 2 day period (service butcher, local independent grocer that has great produce quality & prices, major chain grocer, and TJs) and then don't set foot in a grocery store until the next weekend. Very occasionally, we'll stop at the grocer to pick up 1 or 2 items on the way home mid-week if there is a particular dish for which we have hankering & need a particular ingredient (or, if through bad planning, we've run out of 1/2 & 1/2 for our morning coffee). But, even without a rigid meal plan -- which we don't do -- I start my week on Monday with a freezer full of meats, fish, chicken, etc, and a fridge stocked with a variety of vegetables, dairy products, fruits, and condiments that are sufficient to get us through the whole week, and then some, improvising each day based on the ingredients on hand. I refer to our meal planning as "Chopped" without the weird ingredients.

                                                              1. re: melpy

                                                                I have decided to drive in the other direction. It's just so easy to swing by and browse around but I can't proliferate options if I don't go in. This morning I found myself browsing and decided it was time to leave. I have plenty of food at home.

                                                                1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                  Good for you! Browsing is quite dangerous. Inevitably I buy a baguette if nothing else and down it in a day or so.

                                                                  1. re: melpy

                                                                    Ha, I ALWAYS grab a baguette on my way to the register. It's ridiculous. I go in for a couple carrots and leave with a bunch of bread.

                                                          2. I love cooking fried chicken cutlets on the weekends. You can use a chicken cutlet for so many easy and quick meals during the week;

                                                            Parm
                                                            Milanese over a nice salad
                                                            Layered with roasted pepper and mozzarella
                                                            With a simple chicken gravy
                                                            Drizzled with balsamic reduction
                                                            Plain

                                                            The list can go on and on........but I find chicken cutlets to be one of the most versatile things to have on hand for a quick and easy meal.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: jrvedivici

                                                              I eat enough chicken that I should own a farm but definitely agree, very versatile. Most of my ideas involve some form of poultry.

                                                            2. I just wanted to follow up. It's being going pretty well. I've been planning lunches and dinners for 2-3 days at a time. I usually end up questioning my choice around dinner time, but I just force myself to move on with the plan as scheduled and I have yet to be disappointed with a meal. My issue is clearly feeling like I'm going to miss out on some great meal, but I remind myself that there is another day to eat all of the wonderful things the world has to offer :) I also have been avoiding random trips to the store as it always results in me coming home with food I didn't intend to buy and haven't planned for. And, when I do my weekly shopping trip I focus on the fresh produce and meat that were already in the fridge before even considering the new items.

                                                              8 Replies
                                                                1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                  Good to read that it's not as bad as you thought. Stick with it!

                                                                  1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                    "I usually end up questioning my choice around dinner time, but I just force myself to move on"

                                                                    It sure sounds like a commitment issue ;-) Good to see you are finding a way around it. Those are good strategies that I use too.

                                                                    1. re: vil

                                                                      Most definitely! I have to commit and go with it which is not surprising to me, I am known for being quite indecisive by anyone that knows me well. I'm always the last to order at the restaurant because I just can't decide and no one ever asks me to choose the actual restaurant anymore because they know it will give me insomnia :)

                                                                      1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                        That sounds very like me in my earlier days, down to the ordering a meal and choosing a restaurant! I have since gotten better, and I think what helped is to be able to tell myself that it is "just one meal". Like you said, there is always a next one! These days, I have much less trouble narrowing down the menu choices to 2-3, and then just pick one. My well-meaning friends also give me a choice of 3 or so restaurants for me to pick, or I offer my preferences for my friends to pick - and then we live with it :-)

                                                                        1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                          That's funny about choosing at a restaurant... I actually read the menu ahead of time and choose what I'm going to have before even getting there.... I also plan my meals a week ahead of time. I guess it's just due to personality type.

                                                                          1. re: juliejulez

                                                                            I, too, read the menus online if they have them before I go. That way I spend less time checking and more time to chat. Jut a quirk of mine! Glad I'm not alone. :-)

                                                                            1. re: boyzoma

                                                                              Me too! How irritating is it when you decide what you are having and as I like to say 'have your mouth all ready', and you arrive at the restaurant and they've changed the menu? I like knowing that restaurants do change with the seasons, but boy does that every bum me out. When I've not read the menu and decided in advance, sometimes I'm torn between a few things and ask other people what I should have, or ask to go last so that I can hear what everyone else is having or so that I'm forced to make a quick decision in the end.

                                                                              On the other side of it, I love love love Mexican food and never get any at home as there's no Mexican restaurant anywhere near me. I was visiting a friend in the states and had my heart set on going to this little authentic Mexican place we'd been to before. My friend didn't care one way or the other, but her sister was going for drinks in a place they described as having 'fresh, healthy tex-mex'. I passed as I really wanted the real deal. Got home a few days later and read the menu of the place we didn't go to and learned they had freshly made churros served with chocolate sauce. That would have been a deal breaker. Next visit.

                                                                              So, yeah, personality types!

                                                                    2. We always plan several days of what we're going to eat and shop accordingly. It's the only way of keeping our costs under control.

                                                                      4 Replies
                                                                      1. re: Harters

                                                                        Harters, do your local supermarkets in the U.K. have weekly sale flyers as we do in the States? I can't recall from my brief time spent in England.

                                                                        1. re: LindaWhit

                                                                          Generally not, Linda. At least not the mainstream supermarkets. The discounters, like Lidl and Aldi, do it but I'm not generally going to drive out of the way to pick up a couple of cheaper items from Lidl (although we do go and have a periodic shop there a couple of times a year, or so.

                                                                          By the by, I think you'll love this Aldi advert. Their recent advertising campaign has been basically saying that their own brand of an item is just as good as the well known brand, just much cheaper. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Muqk3P...

                                                                          1. re: Harters

                                                                            ::::snort!:::::

                                                                            At first I was thinking "Oh MY!" and then I broke up laughing! No way in hell that that advert would fly in the States. Darn it. I might actually watch commercials if we had some like that! ;-)

                                                                            1. re: LindaWhit

                                                                              Cute. I thought it was David Beckham for a minute before I put on my glasses.

                                                                      2. I use a simple convention assigning categories of food to days of the week: chicken on Wednesday, fish on Friday, etc. It's not a strict rule, merely a guideline which simplifies planning.

                                                                        1. I have become kind of addicted to planning meals for the week. I use a meal planning website: plan to eat. This tool allows me to collect recipes from online and input my own recipes into a virtual recipe book. I drag and drop the recipes I want to cook for the week into the planner and then a grocery list is generated. It sometimes happen that we will end up going out to eat during the week, and in those cases I just move the meals that I have planned for that night to the weekend so I don't waste the ingredients. (I only officially plan Monday-Friday. Weekends are a grab bag of eating out and using up ingredients).