Dinner: A Love Story (Dinner Planning & Organization)

I need all the help I can get with my goal of making healthy family dinners at home.  About two weeks ago, I found a HUGE help in the form of a new book (and new-to-me blog), Dinner, A Love Story.

I hadn’t heard of either until I was browsing one of my favorite sections of the bookstore, the Cooking section.  The cover of the book got my attention, but what kept me reading further was the description on the back about the author and her husband:

Jenny Rosenstrach, and her husband, Andy, regularly, some might say pathologically, cook dinner for their family every night. Even when they work long days. Even when their kids’ schedules pull them in eighteen different directions. 

They are not superhuman. They are not from another planet. With simple strategies and common sense, Jenny figured out how to break down dinner—the food, the timing, the anxiety, from prep to cleanup—so that her family could enjoy good food, time to unwind, and simply be together.

I devoured this book in two days.  

And this other tidbit about Jenny fascinated me: she’s been keeping a “Dinner Diary” since 1998.  Wow. 
via Dinner A Love Story
How did her book help me the most?

She nailed the biggest problem that often prevents a home-cooked meal from being prepared at our house- the dilemma of “what to make.”  I don’t know why that’s such a challenge for me, considering I have no less than 50 cookbooks on hand, the internet at my disposal, and a host of pinned dinner images.  Since I enjoy the actual cooking process, the before-the-cooking part is the hardest for me.

But, Jenny says, “MAKE A DECISION.”  In her house it seems to be a little easier because, now, her husband and kids often request a certain meal.  Here, it’s always been pretty much up to me.  So, I am making a decision about what we are going to eat for dinner on the weekend, writing it down and putting it on the fridge, doing the shopping, and then making those meals on their specified days.  The end.  Well, sometimes, what I planned for Wednesday, we’ll eat on Tuesday, but you get the idea.

To help me make the decision about what to eat, I created a computer document with a list of dishes that we like so that I can easily review it when I’m in a rut- and I can easily add to it.  If the meal was from a cookbook, I added the cookbook initials and page number for easy reference.  It’s still a work in progress with my 2 year-old because he is such a picky eater.  I just keep trying. I still need to start making him smoothies- we haven’t yet invested in the Vitamix blender.

*Thai salad
*Whole roasted
*Hot chicken salad
*Oven baked
*Chicken w veg soup
*Mozz/goat cheese, basil
*Roasted carrots, onions, tomatoes
*Green beans
*Apples w peanut butter
Ground Beef/Steak/Ribs
*Stuffed mushrooms
*Thai steak tacos
*Beef bourguignon
*Steak au poive
*Steak sandwich 
*Roasted new
*Potato skins
*Linguine w pesto, tomato
*Fried Rice
*Fish tacos
*Grilled fish 
*Crab cakes
*Crab legs
*Shrimp/pineapple skewer
*Seared tuna 
Garlic bread
String cheese
Cheese cubes
Cheese w crackers
Graham crackers
Chips w hummus
Animal crackers
Fig newtons

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*Thai chicken
*Chicken Ceasar
*Greek spiral pasta
*Cucumber, feta, tomato
*Fruit, nut, goat cheese
*Cobb Salad w/ honey mustard (F&E p.140)
*Vietnamese Herb&Noodle (F&E p.88)
*Baked ziti
*Ricotta stuffed shells
*Lasagna with summer veg&ricotta (F&E p.186)
*Pasta w/Tomato pesto (F&E p.106)
*Egg salad
*Grilled cheese
*Chicken salad
*Ham and cheese
*Chiabatta pizza (F&E p.100)
*French toast
*Eggs w bacon
*Egg McMuffin
*Hard boiled egg
*Breakfast tacos 
*Raisin bread
*Muffins (bb, banana, bran, coffee cake)
*Blueberry&cream cheese muffins (F&E p.36)

So, now you’ll find me on the weekend, sitting down to determine, IN ADVANCE, what we will be eating for at least 4 days of the week.  Some days there will be leftovers and, of course, we’ll eat out or order in sometimes too.

The OrganizHer grocery list with a weekly menu planner on the side is something that I now cannot live without.  I’ve always liked these pre-printed grocery lists, but the one below is super cool because I can write out our meals for the week, then check the items I need for each dish.  Then, I can cut off the weekly meal plan and stick it on the fridge so I don’t forget what I had planned for each day. 

The nice folks at OrganizHer sent me a few other organizing products to try and the dry erase magnetic weekly planner is also a favorite of mine. 

I’d love to hear what works for you and your family regarding your dinnertime planning and routine. 

* * * * * 
Thank you to everyone who entered the Kirkland’s $100 Giveaway.  
The winner is Kristal!  Congratulations!  Please email me at: honeywerehomeblog@gmail.com 



  1. July 30, 2012 / 11:24 am

    I am with you – the planning is the hardest part. I also have a million cookbooks but I just can't get myself to commit to a few days worth of meals. Now you have me motivated!

  2. July 30, 2012 / 12:14 pm

    We certainly order out or eat out sometimes but I've committed to cooking dinner at home most nights and you (and Jenny Rosenstrach!) are right on – planning, for me, is the key to making it happen. I sit down the night before I food shop and make a list on the back of my grocery list with the days of the week as headings and then go through cookbooks, cooking mags, my "favorites" binder, and plan out our meals for the next week. It helps me to make sure there's a balance of meat, poultry, vegetarian, pasta, etc. And I fill in if we're having guests or going out, etc. It takes a little bit of time but is so worth it for me to not have to think about it for the rest of the week beyond pulling out my list and saying, "Okay, tonight we're having Mexican Caesar Salad!"

    Good luck, hope your new system works for you!

  3. July 30, 2012 / 12:15 pm

    I sit down every Friday night and plan the menu for the week. I have a calendar that is on the fridge, and I write everything in there. I also went to the trouble a few years ago of typing out a one page grocery list that corresponds to the grocery aisles in my local Publix. Now I only have to circle what we need or write it in if it is something I don't buy very often. I am thinking about tryin emeals (recently reviewed on another organizing blog). I teach, and I am about to go back to work which always makes meal planning much harder. Emeals actually corresponds to your local grocery store's weekly ad, so you are getting menus and saving money. I am jazzed to try it.
    I am recently new to your blog (from I Heart Organizing) and am enjoying it very much!

  4. July 30, 2012 / 1:22 pm

    I tend to struggle with this too. With a new baby at home planning and preparing healthy dinners can be a challenge but I am determined to find a process that works for us. I am going to check out this book and blog! Also like your idea of writing out your families favorite meals and categorizing them. I might try that as well. Thank you for sharing!

  5. July 30, 2012 / 1:36 pm

    My friends were always amazed that we too ate dinner almost every night as a family. Sometimes that meant it was earlier, sometimes later, sometimes quick meals were in order. We made it a priority! I too have a notebook that I sit down to on Sunday afternoons, plan meals for each day of the week (some based on our schedule, like quick meals when Katie had vb games last year). I ask for input (likes, dislikes, what haven't we had in awhile). Each day a meal is assigned, the grocery list made at the bottom of the same page after going through the pantry to see what we have/don't have (this is also a good way to use up what is already on hand). Then when it comes time for dinners during the week, we are running to the store or trying to come up with something last minute. I keep the notebooks so I can refer back to see what was popular, what wasn't, when the last time we had a particular meal was. As you have already done, you will see there are favorites. Save new dishes, or dishes that require more time for evenings you know you won't be rushed. Some of our best (and funniest) conversations have taken place at the dinner table. And, even though it will just be Mark and I soon, we will still be meal planning.

  6. Anonymous
    July 30, 2012 / 1:57 pm

    I don't like having things stuck to my fridge but I did buy the Organizher dry erase board for my fridge about a month ago that we use to meal plan, I also have the Organizher family planner and use the meal planner section. I dont have the grocery sheets though, may have to try them. They are great products. Meal planning is my weakness too even though I have nearly 100 cookbooks. Also, thanks for the post on the new blog, I have not seen that one yet…

  7. July 30, 2012 / 2:09 pm

    Planning is the hardest part for me too! You have your meals so well organized; I'm so motivated!

  8. July 30, 2012 / 2:11 pm

    Menu-Planning is a work in progress for me. I have a lot of the OrganizeHer things from Target and use them for meal plans. I have yet to perfectly stick to it and stay on top of it. Going out of town for a week and a half, so plan on organizing some things (like this) in my life while I'm gone and have the time and energy to plan so I can start fresh when we get home. xoxo

  9. July 30, 2012 / 2:26 pm

    Yes, the planning is where we get stuck. And the worst part is, on the weeks when you don't have time to plan, it's the week when you need it the most! I also have saved my planned weeks so I can sometimes throw a plan together quickly from a week that I have done in the past, but it still requires planning and shopping. Actually for me the worst part is SHOPPING for groceries…the time and money and planning involved is just a headache.

    I also have the Organizher grocery list and I really like it. I have used others, but the layout of this one is better and I also love the size. It makes the grocery shopping quick and easy! I also have many of the other products they offer (bought in a frenzy of organizing last year before school started) and I really like all of them! I have been known to stop in their section and Target just to see if they have added anything new.

  10. July 30, 2012 / 3:28 pm

    Sounds like a great book that I might have to pick up! I am a believer that family meals are an important way to keep our bodies and families happy and healthy. Nice work on your family meal ideas list – I may have to brainstorm my own! Thanks for sharing!

  11. July 30, 2012 / 3:48 pm

    I plan to make 3 meals per week! I make at least 6 servings for my boyfriend and I, so we have 4 servings of leftovers to use for lunches/dinners the rest of the week. I use sites like SkinnyTaste.com, SkinnyMom.com, WeightWatchers.com, and EmilyBites.com to come up with delicious, low-calorie meals that are man-friendly! 🙂

  12. July 30, 2012 / 3:59 pm

    I've written about that book a bunch on my blog lately. Love it!! I've been meal planning for awhile now and it is a MUST. It is time consuming for me as I usually just flip through my recipe binder. Maybe I'll try your idea of the one page list, with notes about where to locate the recipe. Then, you can add new meals from coobooks that you want to try to that list also, and maybe put a check mark next to them to indicate – 'meal I'm interested in trying out.'

  13. July 30, 2012 / 5:16 pm

    I'm a meal planner for sure. Got the most recent "menu" stuck to the fridge right now, as a matter of fact.

    I did a post recently on how I get mine put together. Here's the link: http://rindymae.blogspot.com/2012/06/meal-planning.html

    I think, with anything, you have to make yourself do it for awhile until it becomes a habit. I've been doing it for so long now, it's just part of the routine. And because I'm such a food whore, I actually enjoy it. Gives me some alone time with my recipes. 🙂

    Good luck sticking to it!

  14. July 30, 2012 / 5:59 pm

    I love your idea how to organize meal ideas! I always fine harder to make meal planning because we always eat same thing but i wanted to get in healthy meal and adding to new meal. My 12 years old son is picky eater which always hard to eat what we eat together. I need to get Dinner book! Thank you for great tips!

  15. Anonymous
    July 30, 2012 / 7:23 pm

    I sort of meal plan but always get in a rut too so I have been keepin a notebook now. Ok and this is driving me crazy b/c I have been seeing it all over the place. It is the comment about getting a vitamix to make smoothies. You don't need the vitamix a regular blender will work too 🙂

    • July 30, 2012 / 9:10 pm

      Yes, I know:) Our regular blender broke so I was considering the investment, but haven't gotten a new blender yet.

  16. July 30, 2012 / 9:44 pm

    We do eMeals. Best thing ever for our family of two. They have a bunch of options like specific stores, low fat, gluten free. We just do "any store" right now. It has been nice because the meals don't take that long to fix and our grocery bill has gone WAY down and there is much less food waste. My only con with it is that you never know what you will get on your 7 meal plan. But we really have had no issues substituting stuff and making SW meals more homemade than the directions and grocery list say.

  17. July 30, 2012 / 11:00 pm

    Love menu planning! I feel like I've been more lax since it's summertime, though. I also love using the site allrecipes.com for collecting recipes and then I can access them from my iphone. My main obstacle in getting us all to sit down for a family meal is my hubby's work schedule; He gets home around 6:30 most evenings, which is just too late to stretch my 3 and 1 year old. Sigh. Hopefully, someday soon we can be better committed to it. And I've been contemplating getting a Vitamix, too, but just haven't bit the bullet. A regular blender is fine for fruit smoothies, but my Cuisinart really is no match for lots of leafy greens or when I want to make my own almond milk. 🙂

    Have a great week!

  18. Courtney {a thoughtful place}
    July 30, 2012 / 8:41 pm

    You are talking my language! Summer has been harder for me. I planned this week and feel great! So much more relaxed at it literally takes 20 minutes. Last week I didn't plan and we ate ridiculous meals and I just felt stressed about dinner time. We sit down to dinner every night and when I am planned life is so much more enjoyable for me. Super cute stuff and I love their name.

  19. Tara G.
    July 31, 2012 / 12:29 am

    I make a weekly menu and shop based on that. We just moved back from Eastern Europe, and life was simply different, so I had more of a rotating menu for a month's worth of meals or so. I would sometimes double my recipe so I could freeze a meal and have it to pull out on a busier day. I like to freeze chicken stock in portions when I cook a whole bird and I also use leftover meat for a new meal- like chicken for quesadillas, etc. Your new supplies look cute and really useful!

    Elisabeth Elliot's grandfather wrote a great book called To Train Up a Child (by Clay Trumbell, and he gives an interesting perspective on picky eaters in one of his chapters.

  20. Dream Mom
    July 31, 2012 / 5:23 am

    That books sounds lovely; I'll have to check it out.

    As for meal planning, I keep my grocery list in an Excel spreadsheet and put it on the refrigerator. I highlight items as I get low and put an asterick by items if I am out. This way, I always have everything on hand to make whatever I choose. If it's a recipe I haven't made before, I'll take it with me in case I have a question on an item I am going to purchase. I assign protein sources to the days of the week, so Monday might be chicken, Tuesday, fish, etc. During the week, it doesn't matter if chicken is really on Monday or not, but I know I'll make it this week. I definitely plan an easy cooking day on my busier days of the week.

    FYI-There are recipe software programs where once you select the recipe you want to make, it will create a grocery list for you. From there, you select the items you need, then print it to take to the store.

  21. July 31, 2012 / 2:38 pm

    Sounds like a great book. I will have to check it out!

  22. July 31, 2012 / 7:25 pm

    I have a weekly menu that I print out, I write down the meals for the week and do my shopping based on what I am going to cook. The meals for each day of the week are not set in stone, they might be switched depending on what we are in the mood for, but it is always from the list.

  23. Dani C
    August 14, 2012 / 10:03 pm

    I came across your blog through iheartorganizing and am loving it so far! With 3 picky boys in my house dinner is always a challenge but having a weekly menu is key to my sanity! I have a menu board that I made with inspiration from the almighty pinterest and it has been a blessing around here:) I plan meals for our family of 5 every 15 days and try to do one big shopping trip that will carry us through so we limit our "runs" to the store that end up costing me more than they should. Thursdays are leftover nights and Friday is take out/eat out night (usually Pizza!) I also let each kid choose one dinner (inevitably its tacos, pork chops and breakfast for dinner!) the meals get posted on the board so everyone can see what's in store and the boys get excited when their choice shows up on the board 🙂 keep up the great posts!!
    Dani C

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