Solving the “What’s for Dinner?” Problem—How to Budget, Plan, and Prep any 7 Meals
You know the feeling. It’s been a long day and you’re tired. You worked, cleaned, took care of your kiddos, ran some errands, and dealt with clutter and paperwork. The 5 o’clock hour looms and it’s time to figure out what’s for dinner.
But your brain cells are shot. You want something tasty, healthy, and fast. You don’t even mind just a little bit of work to get it cooked (key word “little”) yet what the heck should you make? Figuring it out is just too draining, yet this happens, what, every day??
The solution to “what’s for dinner?”
Never fear, your Any 7 Meals Plan and Prep hero is here! OK I know that sounds dramatic and cheesy, but doesn’t it sound great to have dinner all figured out AND ready to cook on the nights you need that most? It is possible. And with meals that you choose, not just pre-grouped recipes your family might or might not eat. Hey, this tool even makes sure these meals fit in your family’s financial budget—huge bonus that should make you smile!
**Before we keep going, heads-up… I’m on a quest for the best, and committed to sharing what I love with you. So this article contains some affiliate links to solutions I personally use, plus some good-ol’ freebies. If you do decide to make a purchase, I truly appreciate your support by using the links below.
Step 1 = Get your free Any 7 Meals Plan and Prep Tool
Let’s get going. First, sign up for your free Any 7 Meals Plan and Prep tool, if you haven’t already, and I’ll show you how easy getting dinner on the table on weeknights can actually be. This planner is my free gift to you.
I couldn’t find a simple-yet-amazing tool to plan and prep any 7 meals of my choice, so I created this one to make my life easier. It will do the same for you, and the price (free) is right! Yes, when you sign up you’ll be added to my email list. You won’t get any spam, just weekly time and sanity saving tips for busy women.Optin Cat: Missing Form Data. Is it in the trash?
Got it? Great, on to Step 2.
Step 2 = Choose 7 Meals
I’m not gonna lie, this step requires a few brain cells. It’s not that difficult, but this is the part where you do need to choose the actual meals you’ll cook for the week.
I recommend doing that on Saturday (or whatever your first day off of your work week is), before you go grocery shopping. Or whenever you’re at your best. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Start with the free 7 10-Minute Meals that come pre-loaded into your Any 7 Meals Plan and Prep tool. Yup, it’s just that easy, these recipes are free and a total no-brainer. They are actually 7 of my family’s favorite go-to meals. The complete shopping list and estimated ingredient costs plus prep instructions are ready and waiting for you.
These meals are great for picky eaters. Be aware—some of these meals take longer than 10 minutes to actually cook, but just 10 minutes to whip together. Give ‘em a try!
Try Lindsay Brin’s Cook Once meals. No joke, my family and I totally love these. And as a family of 4, 3 of us (yes, all but me) are pretty picky eaters so I don’t say this lightly. These meals are hearty, nutritious, have lots of cooked in (AKA slightly hidden) veggies to fill you up and make them tasty and healthy.
As the title says, these meals are designed to be prepped and partially cooked ahead of time so that the day you eat you just plop ‘em in the Crockpot or oven and you’re done. My dad’s new favorite meal is Lindsay’s Pasta Fazouelle, he just can’t get enough of this hearty yet healthy dish. It’s one of my faves too.
I should mention that a Registered Dietitian helped make sure each meal is nutrition filled and well balanced which makes me feel good when I serve them to my family. The meals use both fresh and frozen veggies—and what’s easier than dumping frozen pre-cut vitamin-filled veggies in a bowl, pan, or Crockpot? If you want meals that are fast and easy-peasy meets yummy, definitely try these.
Expand to relishrelish.com’s family-friendly fare. Welcome to one of the best meal planning programs out there, Relish. Started by the dynamic duo of moms Ann Bender and Karen Hutcherson to answer their own family’s nightly “what’s for dinner” question, these meals are family and budget friendly. You can sort them in categories like Kid Friendly and Budget Friendly, some are freezer-ready and others cater to gourmet palates.
As if that wasn’t enough, you can also change the quantity of each meal (make enough for 2 people, 4, 6, etc.) and the recipe instructions and measurements change accordingly. Once you choose the meals you want (that’s right, you don’t have to choose all of them you get a variety of recommendations each week) you can easily print out a shopping list for your choices. You can even check off ingredients you already have at home, and it will remove them from your customized shopping list.
All that’s left is some easy prep, so your Any 7 Meals tool still comes into play, then you’re ready to make and enjoy home cooked meals each night. Take these ladies up on their free trial offer. Continuing your membership is as inexpensive as $4.90 per month. Totally worth it for the convenience and amazing recipes. I can honestly say I haven’t cooked one yet that my family didn’t like. And their California Quiche is a long-time family favorite.
Surf Pinterest or your cookbooks. Last but not least, your Any 7 Meals Plan and Prep tool was specifically designed to handle ANY recipe. One of my favorite tricks is to surf Pinterest for meals that look great, then create a Pinterest board named “Dinners for the week of April 26” or whatever week you’re planning for.
Then you can simply plug each recipe into your meal planner and go. Start actually cooking all those gorgeous-looking meals you see online, and stay organized and budget-conscious too.
Step 3 = Load up your planner
Now that you have your 7 recipes picked out, take a few minutes to plug each one into your planner so you can shop, budget, and prep with ease.
- Type the first recipe name at the top of your planner. Include the website link for easy access if it’s one you found online (if not you may want to type in the source so you don’t forget—cookbook name, Cook Once menu, Relish meal, etc.)
- Enter the recipe ingredients in the Ingredients section. Notice the ingredients are sorted by grocery store area, to make it simple to shop and prep. Keep your meats together, dairy, veggies, etc. Make sure you enter the amount you need of each ingredient in the How Much column.
- Skim the recipe instructions to figure out how to prep each ingredient. Then type the instructions in the How to Prep column. For example, the recipe says “1 pound of chicken, cubed” so you type “1 pound chopped into cubes” across from your Chicken entry. Watch specifically for instructions to help you pre-prep the meat and the veggies in the recipe. If you want to go the extra mile and pre-prep spices, add your prep instructions to the How to Prep Pantry Staples section so you can measure and store the spices in baggies or small containers for each recipe later. (1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp chili powder, ¼ tsp black pepper for enchiladas in a baggie, etc.)
- After you add your first recipe, repeat the steps above for the next ones. Increase quantities and make running lists for ingredients that are the same in multiple recipes. For example, if 2 recipes call for chicken breast and each use 1 pound of chicken, your Ingredients list will say Chicken Breast, and your How Much column will say 2 pounds. The prep column will include a running list of the prep needed for each recipe. So it might say something like “1 pound of chicken cubed, 1 pound sliced into 2 inch strips.”
- If you’d like to go the extra mile and budget specifically for these meals, enter an estimated cost for each ingredient in the Price column. This will give you the peace of mind and satisfaction of knowing the meals fit into your financial budget to keep things on track. Challenge yourself to “beat” the estimated price using coupons or by finding sales! Fun game I play sometimes. If I can save at least 15% off the regular prices, I “win.” You can cook a huge variety of recipes on a budget, and knowing your estimated meal costs ahead of time will prevent surprises at the register.
Step 4 = Go shopping
Time to shop for your ingredients. Combine this list with your other shopping needs. By sticking to your list(s) you’ll save tons of money and make better shopping choices. It’s amazing how well you can eat and still save money when you plan ahead. It saves you time and dollars in the long run.
As mentioned above, watch for sales and coupons, of course. I’m a fan of electronic coupons, and shop at stores that have apps where I can simply click on the coupon and add it to my card or phone for redemption at the register. Another bonus of planning ahead is you can search for coupons that match your ingredients, so you don’t get distracted or waste time with other foods or categories. I shop at 2 specific stores, and can spend just 5 minutes or less on each store’s coupon app, to find every single ingredient coupon and/or sale price that I need.
Step 5 = Prep it up
Now to bring everything together. Taking a few minutes to prep on the weekends will save you lots of time and energy during the week. The more you prep now, the less time you’ll spend cooking each meal when you’re much more exhausted later.
At minimum, wash and chop your veggies and meat. If all your meat and perishable items have an expiration date at least 1 week out, then there’s no need to freeze anything.
I’ve tried several prep and storage methods but my favorite is using freezer bags for everything. Keep a stash of sandwich, quart, and gallon sized bags on hand, then fill ‘em up with your ingredients as you prep. Label them with a marker unless it’s totally obvious what they are. (Remember, what seems totally obvious now when you’re alert and prepping may not seem so obvious late one night when you’re trying to figure out what’s-what. When in doubt, label!)
To make things as easy as possible when you cook, label 1 gallon size freezer bag per meal with the meal’s name. Then fill it up with the prepped foods (in separate bags of course). So if you’re cooking chicken enchiladas, label a gallon size bag “chicken enchiladas.” Inside, stash your pre-measured cheese, chopped veggies, and the pre-cooked and shredded chicken, all in separate baggies. If you print your recipes on paper like I do sometimes, you can even stash the recipe itself in the bag. Seal it up, throw it in the fridge, and you’re good to go!
Step 6 = Save time later
Did you come up with a week’s worth of meals that your family just loved? Great, that’s why there are multiple tabs along the bottom of your Any 7 Meals Plan and Prep tool. No need to repeat the process every week—once you come up with a combo you like, right-click on the tab at the bottom of your planner and choose a name for that week’s group of meals. Save it on your form, and move on to the next tab when you’re ready to start over from scratch. Next time you need 7 awesome meals complete with shopping list and prep instructions, click on the tab and go.
Need more tabs? No problem, right-click on the tab at the bottom, choose Move or Copy, then click to checkmark the Create a Copy box. Select the location for your new sheet, click OK and you’re done.
Need to add more rows for more ingredients? There are instructions on the first tab of the planner, but to recap, right-click on a row number on the far left. Choose Insert and you’re done!
Made a mistake somewhere with any change? Use my all-time favorite computer command, Control+Z (undo). That will reverse almost anything on almost any program…lifesaver!!
Cook and enjoy
I hope these meal planning tools and tips help your family as much as they help mine. We still like to make choices the night we eat, so by prepping 7 meals ahead we just pick the one we want to eat each night and throw it together. It’s so much easier when things are ready to go and takes much less energy and time to cook.
Try your Any 7 Meals Plan and Prep tool and you’ll enjoy saving money, saving time, and eating better. Perhaps most importantly, you will have the answer to the infamous “what’s for dinner” question answered every night. Enjoy!
PS…If this was helpful, or if you have ideas to make this even better, please let me know at email@example.com. You can also leave a comment below. Sharing is caring, so please recommend this website and tool to friends and family!Optin Cat: Missing Form Data. Is it in the trash?