How to Get Organized for Dinner: Part 1 – Meal Plan

As much as I have been full out crushing on summer, it’s been a huge relief to transition into a fall schedule with the start of school.

I’ve been sharing a peek at my meal prep efforts over on Instagram and many of you have asked about how I get organized for family dinner. September feels like a good time to revisit some of my favourite (and most popular) blogging topics such as meal planing, meal prep and batch cooking.

No one wants to be looking in the refrigerator at 5 o’clock at night, wondering what to make for dinner – again. Even food professionals like myself have to have a strategy for putting a meal on the table every night.

Chances are if you’re considering integrating a weekly meal plan into your life, it’s because you’re looking to simplify cooking. We’re all busier than we’ve ever been, yet we don’t want to compromise on wholesome food. This series is here to help, my friends; it’s time to get organized for dinner.

How and Why to Meal Plan

Every Sunday (and occasionally Friday) I scratch up a loose meal plan for the week and in doing so, save myself time, money and sanity. It doesn’t take more than 5-10 minutes, but that effort helps to shape nutritious dinners all week long.

Sunday works best for me as I am able to do a Monday shop for groceries as well as a little food prep too. For many of you who need to take the weekends for these tasks, you might want to sit down at some point on Friday and make a plan for the next seven days.

How to Get Organized for Dinner: Part 1 – Meal Plan

Here’s how to get started.

1. Grab a notebook and a pen and list the days of the week. Then fill in any known meals, such as ‘BBQ at friends’, Pizza Friday,  etc. Go digital if you are more comfortable; I love scratching out my menu plan on paper – and keep the notebooks around for reference.

2. Brainstorm simple dinner ideas for the remaining days. Take into consideration what produce is in season, or on sale that week, or waiting to be used up in your freezer (a ham, fish stock, etc). Don’t waste time surfing Pinterest deciding what to make, but instead go with a few family favourites and perhaps one new-to-you dish from a tried-and-true cookbook. If you get stuck, ask the kids what they want to eat or help make.

3. Plan for leftovers for at least one of the days, thus getting two meals from the effort of preparing one. Double the recipe and freeze half for the same dinner on another week when you don’t have time to cook (batch cooking). Similarly, incorporate the leftovers from one meal into the next. For example, tonight’s lemon roast chicken can be tomorrow’s Apricot Basil Chicken Salad.

4. Do a quick pantry, fridge and freezer check. Start a grocery list and jot down any missing ingredients needed to complete the recipes on the menu plan.

5. Post the weekly meal plan in plain sight so you remember to stick to it. It also serves as a reminder if you need to thaw anything from the freezer. I use a small whiteboard on the refrigerator. This also is helpful for my kids who used to ask daily what was for dinner.

6. Shop only for what you need. Better yet, shop online for groceries and have them delivered or use a pick-up service. You’ll only get exactly what you need (you’ll spend less and have less waste) without the hassle of shopping and waiting in line at the checkout.

7. Use your meal plan as a loose guideline, not a rigid schedule that makes you squirm. If you decide to eat out and have to toss a package of sausages in the freezer for another week, it’s no big deal. There’s always flexibility in my meal plan; recipes can be switched around as needed. My friend Megan at Kitchn says to ‘Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan‘ – that means: plan out the meals you will make, but also be flexible. I agree completely. No week goes as per the plan, ever.

Like any good habit, menu planning takes time to implement, but the long-term benefits are well worth any effort put into making it a standard practice. If this feels like a lot to take on, start with planning 3-4 meals a week and see how it goes.

Menu planning is a game changer for busy young families; you’ll be hooked before you know it. Not only will you have a sanity-saving strategy for the week, but you’ll save time and money in the process. Let me know how it goes.

Weeknight Eats for the Whole Family

Here’s a list of our favourite weeknight dinners that go on regular rotation, especially in the fall. Of course there are also the no-recipe basics such as tacos, pizza, mac & cheese and the like.

I have to say, the absolute best recipes are in my cookbooks. Recipes like Chicken Leek Shepherd’s Pie, Maple Pumpkin Chili, Tender Baked Meatballs, Braised Lamb with Olive and Tomatoe, Mild Chicken and Chickpea Curry….if you don’t have my cookbooks on your shelves, consider adding them to your Amazon wish list. Christmas is coming, after all!

Thanks for the support!

Now stay tuned for Part 2: Meal Prep, and Part 3: Batch Cooking, two entirely different things and two absolute lifesavers for the busy home cook. (Update> They are live!) And please, leave me your questions and your suggestions in the comments below. I’d love to hear what’s working for you in your household.

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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  1. Thanks for the inspiration! I’ve always struggled with meal planning and love reading ideas on how to make dinner time go a little smoother. It’s always the most hectic part of my day!! I have both your cookbooks and look forward to reading parts 2 and 3 – thanks again 🙂

  2. Love this! It is exactly what we already do, down to the whiteboard on the fridge!! Ha! We usually have our leftover dinners for lunch the next day, so we don’t end up wasting much food.

  3. I love meal planning and even have days of the week where I stick to a theme or base the meal on after school activities. Currently we do: Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, Soup Wednesdays, Fish Thursdays, and then mix it up for the rest of the week. Having this plan helps to keep my sanity in check.

  4. I do the same things you suggest. It is a sanity saver for me. I have learned not to set my sights all high-and-mighty when planning menus. It has to be do-able, easy to stick to, so I’m not letting myself down when it doesn’t work out to cook those 5 new recipes! There is take-out on our table once a week for supper and once for lunch.

  5. Thank you for this post. Its very inspiring.

  6. So glad this wasn’t another add for hello fresh. You don’t have to let someone else do the planning and prep for you in order to have healthy weeknight meals.

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