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Everyday Home Blog: What's for dinner?

Sonya McDaniel, Extension Educator, FCS/CED OSU Extension Center
The Shawnee News-Star

If you live this every day, you know the struggle!  I find myself driving home wondering "What's for dinner".  I have even resorted to calling my best friend or sister, only to ask them what they are fixing so I don't have to try to think of something!!  It is sad.

Research tells us meals prepared at home offer more fruits and vegetables, are lower in fat and sodium and are a lot less expensive.  So, if you need to be inspired, like me, here are the simple, tried and true ways to get your family back on track for eating meals at home.

If you are a small family, only plan for 4 nights a week so your refrigerator doesn't pile up with leftovers.  Reserve your busiest day or evening for "leftover" or "planned over" night.  It is also helpful to cook a little extra to help stretch and add creativity for these nights.  Cook an extra chicken breast or cook more rice or pasta then you need for one meal.  These can be turned into a new creation on leftover night.

The key to ending the "what's for dinner tonight" frustration ... only think about it one time!  Plan your menu for a few weeks or even a month.  This seems challenging, but here are a few tricks.  Have set days of the week designated for a specific food or cooking method.  One night use the crockpot, another is on the grill, one night is a convenience meal (frozen lasagna, frozen burritos, etc.) and the fourth night a new recipe.  "Using this method helps me mix and match easy cooking methods with a variety of foods," said Sonya McDaniel, Family and Consumer Science Extension Educator, "To help get into the habit, stick with simple meals you know well, with the addition of one new seasonal recipe."  Just because you are meal planning doesn't mean you have to become the Pioneer Women or Racheal Ray.

Facebook news feeds are full of new recipe ideas, but there are many websites and resources for recipes these days.  There are also websites that will give you a month of menus complete with recipes and grocery lists.  Using these may help or give you ideas for meals your family would like.

Meal planning coupled with online grocery ordering for pick-up or delivery can be a life changer for busy families.  Once the meal calendar is made, it is easy to check for what you need and then add it directly to your online order.  If that isn't your style, you can still use a pencil and paper to make a complete grocery list.  Groceries are a large part of a family's budget, but with meal planning you can get everything you need and save money.

Fall is a great time to re-evaluate your family routines and habits.  So, get out a calendar and take 30 minutes to plan next week's meals.  Trust me, it will be worth the effort.