Answering the “What’s for Dinner?” Question

By Jen Ashenfelter

Mmmmm... spaghetti! (Photo credit: freedigitalphotos.net)

Mmmmm… spaghetti! (Photo credit: freedigitalphotos.net)

“What’s for dinner?”

When I was younger, this question was important to me, and waiting to hear the answer filled me with nervous anticipation. With dinner the most important meal (to me), I just needed to know which way my day would go. Spaghetti or meatloaf and mashed potatoes could make the day, and hot dogs or lima beans could break it. (There’s nothing worse than knowing the day was ending with a spoonful of evil.)

Apples don’t fall far from the tree: I have two boys and everything revolves around food. I totally understand their need to ask me what’s for dinner first thing in the morning (with apologies to my mother for constantly asking), but that doesn’t mean I have to actually answer them. And no, we never end the day with lima beans.

With that in mind, a little preparation every week goes a long way toward maintaining a lot of sanity—and it probably saves time and money too! I can’t remember exactly when I started planning meals for the week, but I can tell you it makes it big difference and whenever I fall out of the practice—chaos ensues.

There’s no silver bullet or divine secret to meal planning—just takes a little time and creativity. I’m happy to share what works for me, and I encourage discussion on what works for you. Regardless of your work/home balance, from grocery store to dinner table, we are usually responsible for feeding the family. Who really has the time; why not make it as easy on ourselves as possible?
Planner
• Collect recipes – Keep them in a notebook, envelope or box—doesn’t matter where, just as long as you can quickly scan through recipes of family favorites or easy one-pot dishes. Research the web and ask friends for great recipes.
• Find a planner – Go to AC Moore, Michaels, or your local arts-n-crafts or dollar store for a planner pad you can stick to the refrigerator. (My pink and black zebra print pad has seven columns so I can plug in the date.) You can use your computer or iPad, but I prefer old-fashioned paper because I can stick it on the frig where everyone has 24/7 access—which eliminates the “What’s for dinner?” Q&A…and, at times, the follow-up whining and complaining.
• Plan for the coming week – I start by noting which nights have soccer or karate or meetings—dinner should be quick and easy on these nights. Before I go grocery shopping, I look through my recipes and/or store flyers to help keep the menu interesting and inexpensive. Cook enough for two nights when you can—eat half now and freeze the other half for later, so next week’s menu is easy to create and the only requirement is reheating.
• Make the grocery list – Use the back of last week’s menu to write your shopping list. With recipes on hand, it’s easy to list everything you’ll need. Planning and shopping for the week saves time and money since I’m less likely to run to the store for a few items and return with a cart full…or resort to spending money on fast food. We definitely eat healthier when I take the time to plan for the week.

That’s it! I fell out of practice during the summer, and by Friday evenings I was so frustrated with the questions about what’s for dinner and last minute planning that I didn’t care if anyone got dinner. (Note the snippy tone.) Now that school is back in session and the activities and sports are in full swing, planning is essential. And I actually like Friday evening dinners again.

Here’s a delicious recipe for chicken that turns any dinner into a Sunday dinner without much effort. Add some rice or bread, microwave a bag of green beans and dinner is served. Please share your time/money-saving tips or a favorite recipe with everyone. Enjoy!

Orange chicken
Chicken A L’Orange
4-8 shallots, peeled and halved lengthwise (quartered if large)
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 3-3 ½-lb whole chicken (I use package of cut-up chicken w/extra package of thighs so there’s enough to create 2 dinners.)
½ cup orange marmalade
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped

1) Heat oven to 425. In a large shallow roasting pan, toss the shallots with 1 tbsp oil and ¼ tsp each salt and pepper.

2) Cut the chicken into pieces. In a large bowl, whisk together the marmalade, vinegar, rosemary and remaining oil and ¼ tsp each of salt and pepper. Add the chicken; toss to coat.

3) Place the chicken mixture in the roasting pan, nestling the pieces among the shallots. Bake until the chicken is cooked through and browned and shallots are tender, 25 – 30 minutes.

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3 thoughts on “Answering the “What’s for Dinner?” Question

  1. Oh your family is so lucky! I definitely need to “up the ante” in the dinner meal preparation department! I really like the magnet pad trick so everyone can see what is going on … and, pre-planning works well for our grocery budget too since we are then shopping with a purpose. Two other suggestions I have are: 1) Always make sure you have one or two quick dinner meals in case an unexpected busy evening arises — i.e., frozen pizza! 2) Stock up on ingredients that keep a long time (canned or frozen) and can be used to put together a variety of meals. That way, if you run out of food and can’t make it to the store you have a meal ready to be made. For example, frozen chicken breasts along with a few crock pot ingredients to toss together in the pot one morning for a ready-to-eat meal that evening. Thank you for this great article!

  2. Thanks for this — I love the idea of posting the menu! I usually come up with a plan for the week’s dinners on Sunday afternoon and shop on Sunday night based on that. The weeks I don’t do that are so much more stressful — and pretty boring too, dinner-wise…

  3. Pingback: 50 Ways to Spend a Snow Day | Off the Merry-Go-Round

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