How To Stop Wasting Time Figuring Out Dinner

I have a problem and I used to face it almost every night. At about 3 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon I turn to my husband and ask, “what do you want for dinner?” His response, “I don’t know what do you want?”

The reality is I have no idea what I want, because when I know what I want I just say what I want. The truth is, I didn’t pull anything out for dinner. I didn’t plan ahead.

This usually leads to us deciding instead to order food out instead of actually making anything. This leads to unhealthier choices not just for dinner but then again for lunch the next day when we eat the leftovers.

It’s this cycle that kept happening. Then I started experimenting with different meal planning styles and finally came up with one that works for us. It’s a combination of a few different types of meal planning.

Emeals is a meal planning service that allows me to pick the meals I want to eat, compiles a shopping list, and allows me to get delivery through Instacart (or Shipt or Amazon Fresh. Of course if I wanted to go do the grocery shopping myself I can.

Right now, eMeals is has a 14 day FREE trial to get you started with quick and easy meal planning, grocery shopping, and pick up or delivery options. Click here to get eMeals FREE for 14 Days to try out several meal plan options including, quick and easy meals, vegan, budget friendly, and more.

Woman wondering what's for dinner with a question mark drawn on a plate in ketchup

Different Types Of Meal Planning

Over the past several years I’ve been making a greater effort to stop my family from eating out or ordering take out so often. While it’s nice to just have someone else prepare the food and to eat it, it gets expensive fast.

It’s also not the healthiest option and when you are trying to instill good eating habits in your kids and get healthier yourself – it’s important to cook your food at home.

In my experimentation I’ve gone through a few different meal planning options and I’m going to share a bit of my experience with them here.

Freezer Cooking

By far freezer cooking was one of my favorite ways to meal plan. While I don’t do it often now – as a whole – freezer meal planning was easy to follow, and when using Once A Month meals I was able to make a month of meals in one sitting.

Basically freezer cooking is preparing entire meals at once then freezing them in baggies or containers. With Once A Month Meals I was able to choose meals that were easy dump and cook meals so I had less to worry about the day of.

Freezer cooking is still a part of my meal planning now and I’ll explain how a little later in the post.

You can read my full Once A Month Meal review here.

Fully Scheduled

This was the first type of meal planning that I tried and it didn’t go so well for me. I know others swear by it so my personal experience should not deter you from trying it.

Fully scheduled meal planning is when you plan out breakfast, lunch, and dinner and what day you eat what meals on. This sort of strict planning works for a lot of households but in mine it did not.

Due to depression and anxiety on any given day I could feel like I’m just not in the mood to cook. With a fully scheduled plan I find myself not in the mood to cook on days where the meal is a little more complicated or takes a bit more prep time.

I don’t schedule my meal planning like this anymore due to my sudden changes in schedule and mood that might prevent me from following through on the schedule.

Happy father serving meal to son at table in kitchen

Loosely Scheduled

After failing at a fully scheduled meal plan I decided to go with a loosely scheduled meal plan. I would choose a couple different breakfasts and lunches to make through the week or two week schedule. Then I would plan out different dinners to make.

Then it was a matter of choosing what I felt like making that day instead of knowing ahead of time what I was going to make. This worked really well paired with freezer cooking with Once a Month Meals.

I use a bit of loosely scheduled meal planning in my current type of meal planning.

Themed Days

Themed days was a fun switch up to normal meal planning. Themed days are where you choose a type of food for each day of the week.

An example week would be:

  • Monday – Vegan
  • Tuesday – Mediterranean
  • Wednesday – Chinese
  • Thursday – Mexican
  • Friday – Italian
  • Saturday – Fun Finger Foods
  • Sunday – Soup, Sandwich, or Salad

This is a great way to at least have an Idea about what you might be cooking on any given day of the week. It’s also great for large families where you have kids who each like different cuisines.

Themed days didn’t work out well for us because it was too similar to a fully planned schedule. So I’d get to Wednesday and have to whip up one of my Chinese dishes that required more dishes and not feel like doing it.

Sales Meal Planning

My next favorite meal planning type was shopping and planning meals around the sales at the store. This type of meal planning actually worked out well with my loosely scheduled planning and the freezer cooking with Once A Month Meals.

I’d simply look at what was on sale and then plan a week or two weeks worth of meals around what I could get on sale. So if pasta and sauces were on sale I would stock up for a few weeks and have an extra pasta dish in the meal plan.

Easy Meal Planning Hacks

The way I currently meal plan I combine a little bit of freezer cooking and sales meal planning with a loosely scheduled plan on when we will eat what meals.

Basically all of my cooking is based around what I can get on sale. For instance, if I can get peppers on sale I will wash and slice a bunch of peppers and then dry them off all at once. Then I freeze the peppers in individual bags for meals.

Woman cooking spaghetti

When I can get celery and carrots on sale I chop and freeze them in bags together for soups. I do the same for sweet peppers and squashes.

This allows me to pull out exactly what I need for the meal that day while cutting down on my prep time. It makes every meal easier to make.

I stay pretty well stocked one items for a month or two and only need to do big shopping once every couple of months. When something goes on sale I stock up, prep, and freeze items. Then on the day of or the night before I stick those items in the fridge to defrost.

Get Groceries Delivered

Emeals has integration with Instacart, Amazon Fresh, and Shipt which makes getting groceries from my favorite local store easier. It also means I save at least an hour of my time every week in grocery shopping and I never forget a necessary ingredient.

It also takes away all the last minute purchases too so I actually end up saving money on my grocery shopping. Between the time and money saved Emeals is a life saver for me.

Right now, eMeals is has a 14 day FREE trial to get you started with quick and easy meal planning, grocery shopping, and pick up or delivery options. Click here to get eMeals FREE for 14 Days to try out several meal plan options including, quick and easy meals, vegan, budget friendly, and more.

Master Grocery Shopping List

I keep a master grocery list that has all the items we use often in our home. Then when I do my grocery shopping I can easily see what we may need to stock up on.

This pairs really well with keeping a favorite meals list.

Related Post: How To Build A Healthy Master Grocery Shopping List

Favorite Meals List

Our favorite meals list is filled with a bunch of family favorite recipes. They are separated out by typical time of day – breakfast, lunch and dinner – then also noted in ease of cooking.

When you are trying to decide what you can make for dinner that night having an easy go to list to figure out your options makes meal time so much easier.

Final Thoughts

Meal planning feels hard when you are first getting into it and figuring out what will work for you. It’s a process for sure. We aren’t all lucky enough to live one specific lifestyle or have one specific work schedule.

Try out the different ways to meal plan and see what works well for you. The good news is eventually you’ll get your own system down and be able to plan your meals quickly.

What type of meal planning interests you the most? Let me know in the comments below. Follow me on Pinterest for more like this and pin this to your favorite meal planning boards.

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    Crystal Lynn

    Crystal is the founder & CEO of MommyThrives and also full-time mom to a very active little guy. She’s passionate about cooking, cleaning, and organizing and turns her experiences into actionable systems to make mom-life simpler. When she’s not busy, you can find her reading, painting, or even on occasion indulging herself shooting bandits in Borderlands on her PC.

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