Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Anxious about meal planning? Here's one small tip to help

We're all here at this blogpost for the same reason: Dinner dread. Planning, prepping, executing, serving, sitting--even if you've got a fabulous partner and kids who are pitching in, this is not an easy task.

So let's take one small step to reduce dinner dread and get everyone fed:

Use Google Calendar to make yourself a Meal Calendar.

It's simple to create. You can set an alert to remind you on your phone. And it takes a ton of stress out of the daily "what's for dinner?!" question.

All you have to do is think of the basic dish you want to serve on a particular night, and set up your reminder. 

Here's how to set it up:
  1. Head over to https://www.google.com/calendar/ and login with the Google account you want to use.
  2. On the left sidebar, you'll see a red "Create" button. Click it.
  3. Title your new event "Prep dinner" and have it start whenever you want the reminder. You don't have to actually prep the entire dinner at that time. It can be set in the mornings as a reminder to just pull the spaghetti out of the pantry and leave it where you'll see it later, closer to dinner time. Even just chopping one onion for later helps.*
  4. Be sure to click the "Repeat" box and choose to have the event occur weekly at the same time.
  5. In the description box, write the basic dish you'll be making (keep it very basic so you can tailor it week to week; see below). Click Save. 
  6. Do this for each day of the week. Think of a main dish and a couple of sides you want to eat or have for leftovers. Think of your schedule: Is Monday evening super busy? Let it be sandwich night. Every week, you'll know you have Sandwich Mondays. The filling can change (and so will your prep work), but now you know roughly what will be on the table. There, doesn't that already feel better?  Keep the sides simple, too: Toss some baby carrots into a bowl and some dressing on the side, steam some broccoli in the microwave and you're done for Mondays.

Of course, it's more fun to have everyone in the kitchen if you've got kids and adults around who are able. And with your new calendar, it'll be much easier to assign tasks and get dinner served.

* This is my #1 favorite technique for busy people-- do little 5 minute tasks ahead of time. I learned it from Debbie Koenig, who calls it "naptime cooking" in her fantastic cookbook "Parents Need to Eat Too." Ain't that the truth. I give this book to everyone as a baby shower gift. The slow cooker chapter itself is worth it. Check it out!

** More inspiration for 30 minute meals, like this Green Bean Salmon Salad I tried and loved, at Sunset.com.