Step One to Streamline Dinnertime: Planning

The first step to streamline dinnertime is to plan dinner ideas. While this may sound like a daunting task, it really is the first and necessary step to make dinner times calm rather than chaotic. By following the instructions below you can plan two weeks of dinner ideas in fifteen minutes or less.

1. Sit down with two index cards, and write Week One at top of one card, and Week Two at the top of the second card.

2. Brainstorm five dinner ideas that you know your family likes and write the five dinner ideas on the Week One card, in a bullet point format. Repeat the exact same thing on the Week Two card, and make an effort to vary the dinner ideas. For example, try not to have every meal on Week One Italian in nature.

Congratulations, you just planned two weeks of dinners for your family. You now have a variety of dinners that stretch over two weeks. If you would like to have an entire months worth of meal ideas, just repeat this process one more time. Keep the meals on the cards simple and be sure to add some family favorites, but broaden your thoughts beyond a “chicken nuggets” type of dinner. As you plan these dinners, try to make these meals as healthy as possible. For example, the tacos or spaghetti listed in the example below can be made with lean ground chicken or turkey or lean beef, or they could be vegetarian. Here is an example of Week One Dinners:

Week 1

Grilled Chicken and Veggie Kabobs
Farmers Market Delight (do one night of a meatless meal, serve five to six different vegetables)
Stir-fry with beef, check or tofu

One of the keys to meal-planning success is simplicity. By keeping your main meal ideas listed, without detailing every single side item, you gain some freedom and spontaneity. Once the main dinner idea is determined, adding on side items can be pretty simple. For example, if spaghetti is on the menu, you may think to pair that with a salad or rolls. If you’re having tacos, you may pair them with corn or rice or salad, so there can be many options for the additional side items to add to your dinner.

Also notice that by listing the meals in a bullet format, and not on assigned days, the meal card becomes user-friendly. Many meal plan ideas will list what to prepare each day, but these meal plans do not always accommodate your schedule and can end up creating frustration. With your personalized menu cards in hand, you can just look at your cards during the week, and based on your family’s activities, you can determine which nights your dinners need to be a quick and easy meal, or if you can prepare something that is more time consuming. Congratulations, you are ready for the next step to streamline dinnertime, which is purchasing your items for the two weeks of dinners.

Tracy Owens, owner of Triangle Nutrition Therapy, is a board-certified sports dietician and clinical dietician. She is the UNC-Greensboro sports dietician and also works with the athletes of Triangle Volleyball Club. She has 29-plus years of experience and develops customized nutrition solutions that are simple and easy to follow. Learn more about Tracy at

Categories: Fit Family