I hate deciding what to have for dinner. But even more than that, I hate when Chuck gets home from work and asks, "What's for dinner?" because if it gets to that point, well, it'll be cereal for dinner. Cold, sugary cereal. Not good. (Or is it...?!?) Of course, if there are Skinny Cows in the house, they always make a good substitute for a real meal. There's this dinner as well. Gee, now I'm starting to doubt this desire to have real meals. Focus, erin, focus...
Some time ago, I started planning our meals two weeks in advance. But having to do this every every two weeks got to be too frequent for me, so now I plan for four weeks. I do this in Excel, for reasons to be explained later.
Still, filling the 28 nights was a chore. I could never really remember the things that we both really liked and often similar things ended up next to each other. My first AHA! moment came to me in the form of "theme nights." Every Monday was Mexican night; every Friday night was breakfast-for-dinner night, etc. This helped tremendously in filling the nights, and made it so that spaghetti was never eaten the night before stovetop lasagne.
The next AHA! moment was inspired by my sister-in-law, Linda. How we work it is as follows: pick dinners that we would like to have (or at least don't mind having) every four weeks. (This turned out to be 22 for us.) These 22 dinners are marked with asterisks in my meal calendar (why Excel works so well--I don't have to retype them every month); they are permanent and not to be changed, altered, or adapted in any way (ooooh, scary!). The other six nights are therefore alternates. Maybe the alternate is a new recipe I've been dying to try from that fabulous site, The Foodees. Or maybe it's a recipe from a cookbook I've won from the Washington Post food chats. Or maybe it's just an old recipe that we like, but don't want to have every four weeks. Having the same 22 dinners allows me to better stock the pantry and freezer as I know the basic supplies we need for these meals, but having alternates inspires me to try new things.
One little tweak to this are the alternating permanent nights. (Permanent alternates??? My head hurts.) If you look at the picture below (clicking on it will make it larger), the Wednesday at the bottom of the picture shows us having alfredo pasta or spaghetti with meatballs. These are dinners that we alternate. So these meals will be eaten once every two months. Confusing? Sorry.
Of course, we're still flexible. If I really really want cereal for dinner, well, we're having cereal...with Skinny Cows and Starburst jelly beans for dessert.