Dinner is a daily burden that virtually all of my clients would like to eliminate. In exasperation they sigh and say, “Dinner! Every. Single. Night. It never goes away!”
How often do you find yourself at 5 p.m., hungry and without a plan? You may head to the grocery store, knowing it will take at least an hour of your time to decide what to buy, bring it home, unload the food and cook it. Or perhaps you order takeout instead. When you don’t have your main meal planned in advance, convenience food is the fallback.
Realistically, there is little nutritional value to be found at the drive-thru,”
says Caroline Fornshell, a registered dietician-nutritionist in Hampton Roads, Virginia.
What if there were a way to map out all of your dinners so you would never again have to agonize over what to make or race to the store at the last minute? Imagine having all of the ingredients you need for a week’s worth of healthy meals in the fridge, no longer agonizing over what’s for dinner, and knowing your shopping list is always ready. And what if this miraculous method not only saved you time and money, it also made you a better cook? Fornshell says, “Eating at home nourishes your body, relationships and perspective. When we slow down to eat in a relaxed environment, we reduce our stress levels, which improves our digestive process and allows our body to absorb more nutrients.”
Try this meal rotation concept, which guides you to develop four weeks of unique dinners with pre-established grocery lists. To start, select 16 of your favorite simple meals that you enjoy making and eating. Sixteen meals will feed you Monday through Thursday night, allowing you to pursue other options for the weekend. If you want seven nights of dinner pre-selected, you will need 28 meals.
“Getting the entire family to buy into the meals will reduce power struggles, and you don’t prepare food that goes uneaten,” says Fornshell. Once your household has agreed upon the meals, organize the recipes in a way that works for you, such as filed in sheet protectors and stored in a binder. Separate the meals into weekly groups to create a month of dinners. For example, the first week might include stir-fry with tofu, grilled chicken with asparagus, fish tacos with cabbage slaw and pasta with asparagus. Next, list the required ingredients for each meal and create a shopping list for each week.
To ensure that you get everything you need at the supermarket, add to each weekly list the other groceries that you normally purchase, such as milk, cereal and paper towels. Now you are armed with a month’s worth of shopping lists and all of your dinners have been determined in advance.
Each week, instead of making a shopping list from scratch, simply print out the existing list and cross off anything you don’t need. No more late-afternoon panic about what to eat that night, no more wandering the grocery store aisles hoping in vain for inspiration, and no more surprise revelation halfway through making spaghetti sauce that you don’t have any pasta.
Everyone experiences decision fatigue at the end of the day. By removing the dilemma of “What should I make for dinner?” you save mental energy and reduce stress. Shopping trips are less frequent, and since you already know what to buy, become more efficient. There is a purpose for everything that goes in your grocery cart, so nothing is wasted and money is saved. Repeating meals only once a month provides enough variety that you won’t get bored. If you do need a change, simply swap out the tired meal for something more appealing.
Do you already feel a sense of relief? A meal rotation plan is guaranteed to reduce the daily stress and frustration you feel about managing dinner. In addition to being cheaper, smarter and faster, you will soon become better at preparing each of these meals because you practice every month.
Besides eliminating dinner oppression, a meal rotation plan is very helpful for those who are watching what they eat, no matter the dietary reason. When dinner decisions are left to the last minute, you are more likely to make an impulsive, hungry decision at the store, or while staring into a half-empty fridge. Whether you are feeding growing teenage athletes, trying to reduce calories, or avoiding certain allergens, having the ingredients on hand for pre-planned, wholesome meals ensures success.