The Dinnertime Debacle: What is there to eat?

We all know that the best way to avoid being overly stressed out in situations is to prepare for them. We live by our daily calendar and to-do lists. We plan out our lives weeks or even months in advance. So why is it so hard for some of us to plan our family meals in advance?

TITLE- The Dinner Debacle

I had plenty of excuses for not planning our meals, and by meals, I mean dinner. Let’s not get too crazy here. There is a reason cereal was invented. I avoided planning because it seemed like a daunting task, also what if I didn’t feel like cooking or didn’t have time, or what if I didn’t feel like chicken parmesan come Thursday?

Time for a Plan

All of those excuses came to an end for me one night as I stood staring in the freezer wondering whether to feed the kids fish sticks or chicken nuggets and I realized that I was feeding my family crap. Organic, whole grain crap, but let’s be honest folks, a nugget is a nugget. It was time to go back to the basics food-wise and to do that was going to take work (and more boxes of nuggets for potential lapses in planning). I was going to have to plan out a meal for every night, not just two to three nights.

My first thought was to tackle the dusty collection of recipes I have in a binder on the kitchen counter and usually only pull out on holidays. Obviously, it had a few gems, but was mostly full of well, pies.

So on to the next thing: my stack of Clean Eating magazines. It is my favorite food magazine and I had made a recipe or two from each already, but I went through each magazine and pulled out recipes I wanted to try. I put them in the dusty binder. Next I turned to the Internet to search for such anomalies as “clean brownies” and “clean enchiladas.” Print, put in now less-dusty binder.

Fail to Plan

Chalkboard = Commitment

I decided to plan out my meals for the week for all the world to see on the chalkboard on my kitchen wall. Talk about commitment. I decided on what days what meals would be served and their accompanying sides. Then I made my list and went shopping. Total rookie mistake! I ended up coming back with all the food I needed for my meals, but also a few bags of BOGO and sale items that I now had to freeze. The next week I checked the grocery store circular before planning out my meals.

One of my weekly meal plans
One of my weekly meal plans

My “Keep It Simple” Spreadsheet

After many months of this, my binders (yes, they multiplied) were getting a bit unwieldy. I decided a more digital approach was due and started a spreadsheet in Google Drive that I can see from any device. Regardless of method, this planning thing was working! I spent less than an hour planning out meals for the week and went to the grocery store only once a week. Sure things happened like impromptu meals out and schedule delays where a pizza was ordered, but for the most part, we are now eating real food most of the time.

Meal Planning
A screen shot of my ‘Meal Ideas’ spreadsheet – it doesn’t have to be fancy!


The way I do it is just one way to plan your family’s meals. There are much easier ways to plan meals such as meal planning software, apps, and services. Meal planning software can do everything but buy the groceries and cook for you. You can create menu plans, manage nutrition and caloric intake, create shopping lists, manage your pantry items, and even sort by store aisle. A quick search will yield a bevy of applications for you to try.

Meal planning services are an easy way to get your meals planned for the week or to inspire and freshen your recipe repertoire. A plan like The Fresh 20 is an easy alternative and the meal plans are separated by dietary restriction (gluten-free, vegetarian, kosher, etc.). $13/mo for 3 months or $52/yr.

Another meal planning service is Food on the Table. These plans can be individualized even further by your inputting preferences and receiving a new plan each week. They even check your local grocery store circular for specials and compile your departmentalized grocery list for you. $30 for 3 months or $60/yr.

No matter how you chose to do it, the benefits outweigh the initial amount of time investment. No more wondering what’s for dinner, no more piles of unused veggies rotting in the crisper, and on top of that, you get a healthier family!

Do you have any meal planning tips to share? If so, I would love to hear them! Also, enter below to win a three-month subscription to The Fresh 20!

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Jennifer is an attorney who came to Jacksonville for law school over a decade ago and decided to stay after meeting her husband, Steve. They have three children: four-year-old twins, Liam & Daphne, and a three-year-old son, Gavin. Jennifer served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps, which has provided her with a unique perspective on “assembling the troops”, an especially useful tool when trying to get three kids out of the house on time for school. Always striving to achieve the perfect balance, Jennifer consistently has a race on the horizon and a new recipe pinned to try. She is General Counsel for Neptune Fire Protection Engineering, LLC and currently serves on the Neptune Beach Police Pension & Retirement Board, in addition to volunteering at her children’s’ schools. Her interests include travel, nutrition, and fact-checking posts on FaceBook in between gratuitous viewing of cat videos.


  1. I use a weight watcher friendly service “Slender Kitchen” then take her grocery list to my pantry to weed out the stuff I have and also put it in grocery aisle order (I’m OCD like that) but while the produce is generally in season it doesn’t take into account local sales.

  2. This is a great article! I’m not so good at meal planning and end up going to the store several times a week. Love these tips!

  3. LOVE seeing real food and tons of veggies for small children! We keep it basic by batch cooking meat on Sundays and then cooking fresh veggie sides on days with more time and frozen steamer bag veggies on days with less evening free time. No fancy recipes and admittedly a little boring, but when things get hectic, you can always rely on some leftovers and a new frozen veggie while keeping it healthy. I don’t know how you recipe moms get those meals done at the end of a work day! My kids also love raw carrots, peppers, tomatoes, and avocados so those are frequently their sides.


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