What’s for dinner? (with menu planner giveaway)

Essentially, I do my meal planning backward. Instead of seeing a recipe and writing the ingredients on my shopping list, here’s what I do. For bulk shopping, I check sales at the store, make a list, buy what’s on my list and any in-season, fresh fruit and produce that catches my eye. This technique 1) saves me money and 2) ensures I am taking advantage of seasonal produce.

Then I go home and figure out what I am going to make with those ingredients. I have a fairly well-stocked pantry and only occasionally do I need to make a quick stop at the store for another item or two. 

I have a good idea what’s in my fridge that I need to use up first and a vague idea of what type of dish I plan to make in the evening. Typically, unless I am using my slow cooker, I open my fridge at about 4 p.m. to ponder the question…What exactly is for dinner? (Four o’clock is the magical witching hour because that is the time my kids come home hungry from school and ask me that very question.)

However, my increased workload, evening rehearsals for an upcoming play, kids’ evening activities, and my husband’s increased travel schedule have forced me to be more organized about my meal planning. I know I can throw together a balanced, healthy meal at a moment’s notice. However, my husband…not so much. Recently, I left him alone for 5 days when I was on a trip and returned to find both the vegetable bin and the fruit basket untouched.

My upcoming production of Twelve Angry Jurors
My upcoming production of Twelve Angry Jurors

I have a multipronged strategy here. First, I have increased my once-a-month cooking (OAMC). I cook larger portions of meals and freeze them. This technique can be used for anything from spaghetti sauce to prepped veggies to rice. When short on time, you can pull a fully prepped—or even a fully prepared—meal out of your freezer. Cooking for the freezer has saved me a lot of money on convenience foods. Plus, it’s healthier.

Second, I have started doing the week’s planning in one sitting. I have a list of our favorite recipes and rotate them every two or three weeks. I also figure out in advance who will be missing on what days so I know whose tastes I will be cooking for.

When I do this planning, I like to have an overview of what I need to still use up in the fridge and what I still need to buy for the recipe. None of the templates I found online included this. So, I created my own templates, and I am offering them to you here.

Menu planner (vertical)

Menu planner (horizontal)

I have laminated mine. It hangs in a plastic sleeve that is taped to a kitchen cabinet. I write on it with a dry erase pen. A magic eraser erases the pen beautifully. Here are some other ideas of what to do with it to avoid printing a new one out every week (waste of paper):

– laminate it and use a magnet to put it up on your fridge

– laminate it and clip it to a clipboard

– laminate it and put it in a plastic sleeve

– frame it and hang it on the wall

I simply have mine laminated, but you can also frame it.
I simply have mine laminated, but you can also frame it.

Despite my best efforts, Dear Hubby still asked me where to find the stuff he was supposed to serve. To make it easier for him, I did this: 

What's for dinner? This sign helps solve male refrigerator blindness.
What’s for dinner? This sign helps solve male refrigerator blindness.

And here are the templates for those too.

Fridge sign (vertical)

Fridge sign (horizontal)

Hope you can use these. Happy planning.


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