The Meal Planning Jar – Getting Organized and Eating Healthy!

5 Jan

005What’s for dinner?

I hate this question. I hate asking it and I hate hearing it. I hate having to think about what I’m going to eat later that day. I hate standing in front of the open fridge trying to piece together items that might make something palatable to put on my plate. I hate not having that one thing that might have made one meal or the other possible.

And when that happens, I usually end up ordering pizza.

Most of these problems can be solved by meal planning once a week, but even that was torturous for me. Trying to think of what meals we hadn’t had in a while, what would suit both of our tastes, who was going to be home to start cooking when, if the recipe that night was too complicated for our busy schedules, just gave me a headache. We ended up cycling through the same six or seven meals each week, and when that got boring, the hours spent scouring online recipes for something new we might like became too tedious and we slid back to it:

The dreaded question. The fridge-staring. The groaning. The pizza-ordering.

While browsing Pinterest one day, eating a slice of pizza, I came across that “date night jar” you’ve probably seen floating around. You know, the color-coded sticks with date ideas on them? You pick one out and it tells you what you should do that night. Magic. So the idea hit me: what if there was a magic jar that told me what to eat tonight?

So I decided to make one.

Prep Time: 10 minutes.

001Ingredients:

1. Popsicle sticks.
2. Markers (paint also acceptable)
3. Jar big enough to hold popsicle sticks.

The recipe is easy to follow:

1. Write your favorite meals on the popsicle sticks. This can be as open-ended as “pasta” or as specific as “lemon chicken with sweet potatoes and green beans.” For more vague entries, you could write side ideas on the back of the stick and pick one when you do your meal planning.

0022. Don’t forget to include some of your favorite restaurants so that you have the option to go out!

3. Add in a “Try Something New” stick for varied flavor (because finding one new thing is a lot less stressful than finding seven!)

4. Optional: color-code your sticks. For my jar, I used red for beef dishes, green for chicken dishes, and gold for restaurants (though the green looks like blue and the gold looks like green in the picture below!). This helps me keep the menu varied throughout the week. You could color-code however you’d like; another idea is “crock pot meals, 30-minute meals, more involved preparation.”

5. Put all finished sticks in the jar. Keep blank sticks somewhere handy–you never know when you might think of another idea to add in!

004

6. One day each week–let’s say Sunday–pull out seven random sticks. That’s what you’re having for dinner each night of the week. You could either clip the sticks to a weekly calendar or simply write the meals down and pop the list on the fridge. Either way, you now know what you’re eating and can grocery shop effectively so that you’re not staring at the fridge in the evening, thinking about ordering pizza.

And there you have it! Making the jar takes barely any time at all–I whipped up about 10 sticks in 5 minutes (so much easier to think of food I like when I’m not thinking about the whole week at once!). I’ll be adding more throughout the day as I think of things, and I’m sure my husband will have some ideas when he gets home too. Here’s to a new year of stress-free meal planning!

**If you have kids, this is a great way to get them involved in decision-making for the weekly meal rotation! Let them contribute to the meal ideas that go on the sticks. By letting them have a say in what meals will be offered, you might find that there are fewer complaints come dinnertime. Let them pull the sticks out each week, too. If you treat the jar as something that can’t be argued with, if they pull out something they don’t like, you can just shrug and say, “Well, the jar says we have to have asparagus, so we’re having asparagus.” Can’t blame you, right? 😉

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