Make one simple shift to revolutionize your cooking, save money, save time, and improve your health.
You already do this. Every day. If it’s before 4 pm, though, it’s likely that you haven’t done it yet.
Quick, tell me: what are you having for dinner tonight?
You have to decide, even if it’s eating whatever is put before you by your beloved or your warden. I’ve found that just the tiniest bit of planning results in a huge increase in enjoyment and value.
Here’s the shift: decide today what you will eat tomorrow night. Tonight, celebrate your new habit–go to your favorite cafe or snarf bean dip and chips while binge-watching TV–but only after you decide what’s for dinner tomorrow and record your decision. Here’s an example, starting with a celebratory date night last night.
Seven ways planning dinner makes it better
When you zoom into the nearest drive-through lane, you might yield to a Double McFatty with fries and a shake. When you mull your options while staring glumly into your refrigerator after a long, long day, you might pour yourself another adult beverage and call for a pizza.
When you decide what to eat the day before, you give yourself time to:
- Base your meal on what you already have. Check your refrigerator to see what needs to be eaten soon or tossed out. (When you cook the Cook for Good way, you don’t waste food!)
- Make a grocery list that includes exactly what you need. It’s annoying to be half-way through making Spicy Peanut Sauce only to find out that your ginger has gone bad. It’s a waste of time and money to stop at the market for ginger when you already have a fresh piece at home.
- Do a little prep work. Move something from the freezer to the fridge to thaw. Soak beans. Whisk up dough for pizza or bread. Cook ahead by making a double batch of rice or caramelized onions.
- Enjoy the anticipation. Instead of fretting about what’s for dinner on the drive home, you can look forward to something good.
- Share the menu with those who will be eating with you. Post it on the refrigerator or share it online. Let them anticipate a good meal too and enjoy feeling loved and cared for. Reduce the plaintive cries of Mom/Honey, what’s for dinner?
- Balance the day. If dinner will be high in protein or fat, then eat lighter at lunch. If you will be having fruit for dessert, then indulge in a cookie during your afternoon break. Some people might not want to have eggplant, Indian food, or soup twice in one day.
- Accumulate a weekly menu. Plan and record your dinner menus for a week and–behold!–you have a personalized seven-day menu plan. Use it for inspiration, making it better as you go.
For inspiration, check out the seasonal menus and starter menu in my book Wildly Affordable Organic. You’ll find a month of menus for each season and three weeks of quick starter menus that take only 20 minutes a day to cook.
For tips on developing this small yet powerful habit, watch B.J. Fogg’s TED talk on tiny habits.
Resources for Members
- Blank weekly menu planner with space for a week of meals, tips, and a section for your notes.
- Example weekly meal calendar (PDF) showing how I might fill out this blank calendar above.
- For Cook for Good supporting members, Word versions of both the weekly menu calendars above that you can edit. Just sign in, then click on bonus content in the top menu bar.
- Also check out the menus in previous Cook for Good Challenges.
When do you decide what to eat for dinner?
Please share your tips and challenges in the comments below.