I’m so excited to get started on helping Caroline address some of her greatest challenges in cooking for her family (though, truth be told, I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that this talented woman is challenged in any way whatsoever!).

Today I’m going to tackle the first – meal planning. Caroline wanted to know if it was better to plan meals in advance, or just “wing it”. She was also wondering about striking a balance between lots of variety and rotating her family’s favorites.

If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you can probably guess what my answer to the first query is….

Yes, you should definitely plan your meals in advance – as often as possible! The hour or so spent planning meals for the upcoming week not only saves a ton of time over the course of that week, it all but eliminates most of the stress of cooking dinner:

* you’ll never have to wonder what you’re making for dinner each night (woot!)

* grocery shopping will become more orderly and predictable (did she just say that?)

* cooking dinner will actually be enjoyable.

Yes – enjoyable.

So – how to meal plan?

shrimp fra diavlo, mise en place

Look at the week ahead – wherever possible, try to plan meals that mesh with each day’s activities. Home all afternoon? Dinner can be one that needs a bit more fussing. Home in the morning but then out till just before dinner? Maybe a casserole that can be assembled early in the day, and popped into the oven as soon as you get in. One of “those days”? Take-out (It’s okay. Really).

Copy/scan/print – whether you scan from a cookbook or magazine, or cut and paste from a web site, transfer your most-used recipes onto documents to be filed on your computer. This is a game changer people – it makes meal planning a breeze, as you can easily peruse your options and print out the recipes each night as needed. This method is also great for adding notes to each recipe – such as which ingredients should be doubled, advance prep tips, or what side dishes to serve. I’ve been doing this for years, going through my files every few months to delete any “fails” (BBQ chicken pizza anyone? They’ve still not let me live that one down…).

Grocery shopping. Done. – cut and paste the ingredients from each of the week’s recipes to create an organized and complete shopping list. You can group “like” ingredients together and make notes for items to purchase later in the week (such as fish, or delicate produce). Knowing you have all the ingredients you need on-hand makes for less stressful cooking, and gives you the option of doing some advance prep – either the night before or earlier in the day.

Mix it up – I love to cook and try new things. But it can be a challenge to come up with new dishes each week. So I typically strive for one or two “experiments”, mixed with tried and true favorites. This way I can introduce something new to my family, keep things fresh for me, and have at least a few dinners that are “sure things”. Of course there are weeks where I’ve completely lost my mojo and rely more heavily on meals that are easy and predictable.

Like oven-fried chicken – a quick “shake” with your choice of crumbs, and it “bakes”, unattended in the oven. Or pasta with a quick ragu – uber simple to prepare, and most of the ingredients are pantry staples (great when you can’t think of what to cook that night!). And one of my very favorites, chili chicken tacos, which literally consist of tossing all the ingredients into a Dutch oven and baking for 2 hours…

Okay Caroline – get cooking!

Won’t you please join us? Take the mealtime bootcamp “challenge” and let us know what you think! And we’d love to hear YOUR meal planning secrets and strategies – share them here!


  1. Drew on January 11, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    Great tips, Sheri! And I’m looking forward to trying your oven-fried chicken and chili chicken tacos. Both sound perfect for me and the boy [Melanie can have a veggie burger 😉 ].

    I use a few different apps to help me with meal planning. For grocery lists, Melanie and I both have OurGroceries on our phones. Melanie has an iPhone and I have an Android phone, but with this app we can share our grocery lists and be able to update each other immediately. I can be at the grocery store mid-shopping and look down at what’s left and see that Melanie just added Quisp to the list. It’s a very handy app.

    I also love my ChefTap app. With ChefTap, I can store all of my recipes, with accompanying photos even, and be able to easily read them while prepping a meal. To import the recipes, all you have to do is open a web page on your phone that has a recipe on it and ‘Share’ the page with the app. The app finds the recipe on the page and converts it into an easy-to-read format for your phone or tablet. I have a number of Sheri Silver recipes stored in my phone and I’m about to import those two chicken recipes.

    I would bet that you could use the app to help organize meals for the week, too. Just create your own categories for the days of the week and then add that casserole to the Tuesday category.

    Do you use any apps on a tablet or smartphone for your kitchen needs?

    • sherisilver on January 11, 2013 at 3:03 pm

      Wow Drew- I’m impressed! No, I don’t use any apps for meal planning – I find my phone to be hard to use for any major reading, preferring my PC for most tasks (I don’t own a tablet – yet – but could totally see that working beautifully). LOVE the “OurGroceries” idea – off to check it out now; thank you! 🙂

  2. Leslie on January 12, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    Maybe one day I will get back to planning meals and sitting down to dinner every night instead of doing it all on the fly and being a short-order cook most nights. Anyway, I’ve pinned this for when that day may come . . .

    • sherisilver on January 12, 2013 at 3:39 pm

      Ugh – don’t feel badly! You are “full plate” right now – I personally can’t wait to hear how this works for Caroline (and a bit nervous too!!) xoxo

  3. Sue Anderson on January 12, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    What great ideas. I think I will begin by transferring my recipes to the computer.


    • sherisilver on January 12, 2013 at 3:38 pm

      Yay! Let me know what you think! 🙂

  4. Megan on January 14, 2013 at 4:17 am

    I totally agree with the recipes on the computer bit because I have fallen in love, it’s a deep committed love, with YummySoup.

    It’s an app for your Apple computer (so not for everyone), but it is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. You can import recipes from its smart importer, and the smartness just recognizes the recipe title, ingredients, etc. and it’s quick and easy.

    After that, you can tag, organize, pretty-up, add photos, and more… you can also… drum roll… drag and drop recipes into a calendar for your weekly meal plan. Then click to export your grocery list and the smartypants app organizes that list by grocery aisle! You can even check off ingredients you already have so you’re left with ‘your’ list.

    It’s not perfect and there are other apps out there, but this one has my heart for now. Seriously though, I’m in NO WAY affiliated with this app, I just think it’s awesome and could totally help those with meal planning challenges. http://www.hungryseacow.com/

    • Megan on January 14, 2013 at 4:19 am

      I also second the OurGroceries… love that in a big grocery store it works real time so my bf and I can split up and keep track of who has grabbed what… although, in the time I can grab about ten things he is still hunting down one 🙁 Boys…

      • sherisilver on January 14, 2013 at 7:48 am

        These are great suggestions – thank you so much for sharing! (And love your last line…)

  5. Elisabeth Kinsey on January 14, 2013 at 10:22 am

    I have a dumb-phone, so no apps. But, I find Excel works very well. I am excited to try out a recipe a week – great idea. Also, turn those tacos to fajitas easily by cutting a few chicken breasts. This is awesome.

  6. Alison Marra on January 14, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    My husband and I also love Our Groceries, for all the same reasons said above… I have just started meal planning in the past couple of months and I honestly don’t know why I waited so long. It makes everything so much easier. All about being pro-active instead of reactive 🙂

    The most helpful thing for me is to map out what our family is up to on which days, and schedule the dinners that go best with our schedule. So many weeks I have been surprised, when I really look ahead of time, to realize that between night shifts and meetings and sports practice, there’s only going to be one evening when we can all sit down together for a proper meal– but then in knowing that I can plan accordingly and do the roast chicken THAT night, and easier, quicker things the other nights. Also helps me not get seduced at the grocery story by things we can’t possibly use that week.. Loving this series, Sheri!

    • sherisilver on January 14, 2013 at 8:49 pm

      So glad you’re enjoying! “Proactive instead of reactive”. Perfect! 🙂

  7. Jesse on January 15, 2013 at 11:08 am

    This is so great…the post, as well as all of the comments with cool app suggestions. I am about to download the recipe translator app so I can save that oven chicken recipe of yours, which looks pretty darn exciting (and easy) compared to the messy prep of traditional fried chicken…which interestingly is one of the meals that my mother used to make (who was also not a tremendous fan of cooking). Love the pics of the Highline in winter, in that other post. Oh, and I’m back from France and almost over my “I had to come back from France” grieving period. 😉

    • sherisilver on January 15, 2013 at 2:12 pm

      Welcome back – we’ve missed you! I could only imagine. Chelsea did a month abroad there last January and it killed her to leave!! xo

  8. Jackie Vanover on January 15, 2013 at 9:02 pm

    Hi Sheri – Great tips and I’m going to check out Our Groceries after the raves here. A big pot of soup is our latest meal savior strategy We’re making a pot a week, mostly from leftovers. There’s no set recipe – it’s really just a good mix of what we have in the fridge.

    • sherisilver on January 15, 2013 at 9:45 pm

      Agreed – soups are pretty much perfect in every way….

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