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Meal Planning: Shop Once For the Entire Week

It seems like every day, around 5 o'clock, my Facebook feed is flooded with people desperately asking the same question: "What should I make for dinner?"

The "witching hour" is bad enough — whether you have little ones running around, you've been shuttling kids from one after school activity to the next, or you've just come home after a full day of work. Having to think up a healthy, delicious meal each night just adds to an already stressful time.

But while there's little you can do to avoid the occasional toddler meltdown, you CAN know what you're making for dinner — EVERY night.

I've been meal-planning for as long as I can remember, and I can't imagine getting through the week any other way. Sound good? Here's how to do it:

Look at the week ahead. Once a week, take an hour and plan meals that "match the day" for the upcoming week. A lazy Sunday is the perfect time to make a dish that requires hours of simmering on the stove top, or fussing with multiple ingredients.

I'll reserve those times for a dish like these Braised Short Ribs.

But what if you're only around in the morning, with an afternoon spent running around? Marinate some chicken or steak early in the day (or the night before), so that you can simply pop it in the oven when you get home. This Maple Sriracha Chicken is a weeknight staple.

Flying solo one night? A dish with minimal prep/cleanup. I'm a big fan of the sheet pan dinner — everything is assembled and baked on a cookie sheet. This Sheet Pan Salmon and Broccoli is as delicious as it looks, and could not be easier to put together. All you need is a grain to round out the meal.

File it! Years ago I began scanning and transferring all of my most-used recipes onto documents that I file on my computer. I have them organized by category (entrees, soups, salads, sweets, etc.) so that I can easily peruse them — a lifesaver when I've completely run out of ideas for what to make. Better? I can print out the recipe I need each night, rather than try to remember which cookbook or magazine it came from. And best of all? I can make notes on each file — what needs advance prep, side dishes that go well, shortcuts to make things run more smoothly.

As grocery shopping is my least favorite chore, the last thing I want to do is aimlessly wander up and down the aisles, looking for "inspiration," or doubling back because I forgot an ingredient. Once I started putting my recipes on the computer, generating a shopping list became as easy as cutting/pasting ingredients and then grouping similar ingredients together. I make notes for items to purchase later in the week (like fish or delicate produce), and I can shop once for the whole week. I love knowing that I have all the ingredients I need on hand each night.

I can't tell you how much time I save with an hour or two spent one evening each week. Having most of my ingredients on deck and ready to go is a HUGE stress reliever in my busy life. And I never have to think about what I'm going to make for dinner!

Images via Sheri Silver

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