Ask Design Mom — Dinner Help

Ask Design Mom Question:
Dear Design Mom, dinnertime and menu making is my nemesis. How do you handle your dinner planning? — Margo

Design Mom Answer:
Oh Margo. This is a question I should be asking. Dinner is my nemesis too! Tonight we ate spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread — so exotic. I have a few suggestions, but I’ll mostly leave this to my Dear Readers, who no doubt will give you excellent advice.

1) Look for blogs and websites that post weekly menus. My lovely sister-in-law Erin posts hers occasionally (all menu links are in her sidebar). And there are other great menu sites as well.

2) Look for recipe books that focus on fast or simple dinners. Martha Stewart just published one called Dinner at Home. Her company sent me a copy and the first recipe I tried was #3:

Roast Salmon and Potatoes
Mustard-Herb Butter
Haricots Verts with Tapenade

We used green beans instead of Haricots Verts and skipped the Tapenade, but otherwise, made it as directed and it was a big winner with the whole family. Plus, it really was easy and fast. Plus also, since it’s a Martha Stewart book, it’s really beautiful to look at.

Dear Readers, how do you handle meal-planning, menus and dinner ideas?


Note from Design Mom:
Hey Friends! My inbox is still crazy full of Ask-Design-Mom questions. So instead of waiting a few months and then hosting another Ask-Design-Mom-Week, I thought I’d try dedicating Mondays to your questions. If I get feedback that no one is into it, I’ll definitely rethink. — kisses, Gabrielle

23 thoughts on “Ask Design Mom — Dinner Help”

  1. I'm a sucker for magazines and the recipes therein…I love Real Simple most of all and so as I peruse my subscriptions, I tear out the easy recipes I think my family will enjoy. I have a large binder with clear plastic sleeves that I put the recipes in and the binder is organized by beef, chicken, veggies,etc. Then, when I sit down with my binder in order to plan my menu on Sunday evening, I jot down the recipes that sound yummy for that week and write the ingredients listed for my grocery list. It has really made my meal planning so easy!

  2. A great resource for all homemaking duties is They have phenomenal menu templates and great ideas for cooking ahead, monthly meal planning, etc. Also, is a great site that gives ideas for menu plans.

    I love to make a running list of things my family likes and menus that include inexpensive items such as beans, rice, pasta. I also make my own broth with whole chickens, which is not only practically free, but much more nutritious. Don't be afraid to recycle meals your family loves. One last thing that has helped me, is to USE MY FREEZER! Stock up on sale items, especially meats and conduct an inventory of your food every other week & make your menu from there. Saves tons of money.

  3. has a free magazine they will send you quarterly full of very quick and easy recipes. They will also send you free weekly e-mails, and they have an awesome recipe search engine.

    However, the thing that has helped me the most is going by a schedule. For example, Tuesday night: Ground Beef, Wednesday night: Chicken Breasts, Thursday night: Pasta, etc. It makes it easier because then I know I need to look for a good chicken breast recipe for Wednesday night.

  4. i love menu planning, but i'm also one of those that gets their kicks from being organized. similar to rachel above, sunday or monday i look through the fridge to see what needs to be used and then i sit down and come up with about 5 meals for the week, accounting for two nights of leftovers or eating out. I also try at least two new recipes from the internet/cookbooks. I include new ideas for snacks/ lunch etc. I then write my grocery list and head to the store. I don't designate what days we'll have what meal, so there is some flexibility unless something might go bad. It works for us!

  5. This I think is every mother's endless quest. I just barely started something that seems to be working okay for us. I couldn't keep track of my own recipes. "Where was that …??" I decided a year ago to just start posting my recipes on a blog so that I can access them from anywhere while they are all in the same place.

    The tiny little pieces of scrap paper and 3×5 cards and turned down cookbook pages was driving me a little crazy. It didn't make organizing meals fun. The easy no frills recipe blog works for me.

    I also started planning Sunday night what I want for dinner and post it along with links to the new recipes I want to try. That way I can look back over my month and see what we've eaten. AND I can keep an easy record of what our family enjoys so I can make it again.

  6. I do menu plan each Sunday but thoroughly enjoy it so it's not a big task for me. I feel that we waste more food and spend more money if I don't plan out at least five meals a week.

    For those who don't enjoy the meal planning process, there is a great new website called Every morning they send an email with a great family dinner menu that can be prepared in around 30 minutes. The meals are seasonal and fresh and easy to make and subscribing to the website is free. I hope this helps!

  7. I keep recipes that I find online on delicious. That way, they're easily searchable and I can delete or add as I like. I think I read about it on Simple Mom, and it's worked great. A few recipes (ones from the family, etc) I do keep in a binder in my kitchen.

    And I do couponing, etc, so that all factors into my meal planning. I'm still not good at it, but I"m getting better!

  8. Despite my pathetic kitchen skills, I like to cook and enjoy planning a menu, but finding time to scour cookbooks and mags is another thing. What I've started to do is subscribe (via Google Reader) to cool cooking blogs and websites (like those recommended). I then star the recipes that look promising. On Sunday nights, I scan down the list and pick about 4-5 for a week's menu and make a grocery list of the ingredients I'm missing. My cookbooks are lonely, but it's a lot less stressful for me.

  9. is all about weekly meal plans. Plus, Jane is a total sweetheart!

    As a foodblogger myself, I don't typically have problems coming up with the meals. For me it's more about being organized so I can make the meals. I make a list of a few things we'll want to eat that week and put it on the fridge. When I do my grocery shopping I pick up anything that's missing from the ingredients. I don't assign meals to different days because with 2 little ones the days can really vary. Instead I go through the week day by day and pick what I'll have time to make that day. Sometimes there's lots of time, sometimes not so much time. I always account for 2 days of leftovers for the really crazy days. and and visually inspiring places to visit as well. :)

  10. A number of comments have said that they don't assign specific meals to each day, but honestly I've found it more helpful to assign meals. What I do is think about what I have going on each day, how much prep time I'll have, if I'm likely to be exhausted, etc., and then plan my menus accordingly. That way I don't skip out on my planned meal because I'm too tired or I don't have enough time–I've already planned a meal that will work with whatever constraints I have. Planning ahead and knowing what you'll have for dinner each night also means that you can start beans soaking the night before, or bread two hours in advance, or chop vegetables for dinner while the kids are eating lunch.

    Another thought–if you have kids, don't feel like you have to only make "kid-friendly" meals. Yes, my children will occasionally refuse to eat something really exotic. But on the other hand, it's my four-year-old who makes sure that pomegranates, sprouts, and French cheeses go on my shopping list. It's a lot more exciting to cook when you're making things that you genuinely look forward to as well.

  11. I'm a planner, too. What I've found works for me is using a little white board that I stick on the side of my fridge. I write the days of the week on it and then on Sundays (or over the weekend) write what's planned for dinner each night of the week on it and then I stick it on the fridge. I go grocery shopping for what I need for that week's meals and ta-da, it's done!

    It's handy as an organizational too and as a tool to communicate with the family what we're having so the Mister can start on stuff if he gets home before I do on a given night.

    Also, I am a big fan of healthy whole-food crockpot recipes. I find that if I do one or two crockpot meals a week, I am much more sane. I prep and combine everything for the next morning the night before in the crockpot and then in the morning I take out the prepped bowl out of the fridge, pop it in the crockpot and press go and it's done! Here's a link to a post about the white board and crockpot :)

  12. I hate cooking, I hate making dinner, and I hate cleaning it up. The only thing that works for me is my husband cooking and cleaning right along with me, he makes it much more fun.

  13. I love the "What to Eat" magnetic note pad from "knock knock" that I stick on the side of my fridge. Sunday evenings we have a little pow-wow to decide what we'll eat that week. I usually make a grocery shopping list as well organizing the ingredients into Produce, Dry, Protein, and Dairy categories. Deciding what to have is more than half of the battle. I also like to always have a couple of "last minute" meals on hand. Pasta is always a great option after long days. Check out my cheater homemade tomato sauce here.
    Good luck!

  14. I want to reccomend the book "six o'clock scramble" it has helped me out so many times! it's written as a meal planning book- but i can always seem to pull it out in a pinch and make something from it with ingredients i just happen to have (and i usually don't have too many ingredients on hand) i found it via

  15. I am NOT a planner, but have been subscribing to It will plan your meals around where you shop and what is on sell that week. For a family of 4 (you can really feed more than 4) they promise that you won't spend more than $70-$80.

  16. my dinner planning consists of thinking in the morning, hmmm, what do I want to eat for dinner? Then I rummage through my cupboard to make sure I have all the ingredients and then I either go with it, or I change my mind if I don't have the stuff. I do it in the morning because then I can start it in the crockpot or decide the time I should start dinner to have it ready when my husband gets home.

    I love experimenting with recipes and I sometimes browse ALLRECIPES.COM or I have some great recipes assembled from years of cooking that are family favorites. Also, my family started a blog that we swap recipes between eachother that you can search by labels. find it at

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