Top Tips For Easy Family Dinner Planning

And the winner is… Rochelle! Thanks for your entry, we hope you enjoy your Dry Erase kit.

Words by Samantha Brennan

Aside from the obvious must-haves, like family and great food, there are two things I can’t live without: red pens and notepads. I am a serial list-maker – I have right here on my work desk two diaries and four notepads filled with scribbles and important deadlines, ticks and crosses, and reminders of what and when I need to do things. I love a good list.

Try something new on the weekend - perhaps a slow-cooked stew that will freeze well for another night

Try something new on the weekend – perhaps a slow-cooked stew that will freeze well for another night

Meal planning is one of those things I really enjoy – organising what our family is going to eat for the week is a weight off my shoulders, and fun to do. Being so into lists as I am, I’ve created a bit of a system when it comes to dinner planning, to make sure cooking is easy, the food is delicious, and there’s plenty of variety. So here are my top dinner planning tips.

Start with the proteins. I start with choosing seven proteins (we’re meat-eaters) – so it’s usually red meat three times in a week, poultry twice, fish once and a vegetarian option in there, too. Then I choose difference cuts for each: beef (steak and mince) as well as lamb, and a whole chicken plus chicken breast fillet.

Choose the cooking styles or cuisines. I try to mix things up by making tried-and-true family favourites as well as new recipes during the week. We might have grilled meat and salad or steamed vegies once or twice, then make an Asian stir-fry, a soup, a Middle Eastern tagine, an Indian curry, and an Italian pasta.  

Different carbs and vegies. Once you have the cooking style sorted, it’s easy to build in a good variety of carbs (rice, pasta, bread, grains, starchy vegies) and vegetables (roasted, salads, steamed, stir-fried).

Make one double-batch recipe. I try to make one freezer friendly meal per week, so there’s a ready-to-go meal always on stand-by. Pasta sauces, pie fillings, soups and casseroles are ideal, but even raw meatballs or pre-crumbed fish can go in the freezer and halve your preparation time another night.

Try something new when you have the time. Whether it’s your day off or the weekend, save challenging recipes for when you have the time to enjoy cooking. I’ll often try a new recipe during the week, but if it’s going to take longer than about 30 minutes, I’ll save it for another day. Once I can replicate it without the recipe, it graduates to my weekday repertoire.

Are you a list-maker? Check out our great new competition! 

This week, we’re giving away one Dry Erase kit, worth RRP $41.70. Here’s a look at what the winner will receive…

Dry Erase Competition


Rust-Oleum Dry Erase, RRP $41.70

This whiteboard paint rolls on like regular paint, creating a space in your kitchen, living area or home office that you can write on, clean up and re-use over and over. Suitable for use with any dry erase markers and erasers, it’s perfect for meal planning, managing the kids’ activities or rewards charts.

Visit for more information.





Now, here’s how you can enter to win!

  1. Sign up to enewsletter (if you haven’t already).
  2. Like on Facebook (and share the love by sharing this link!).
  3. Join in the comments below and tell us: what’s your best meal-planning tip or trick?

*Competition opens 6.00am Tuesday 20 August 2013 and closes 11.59pm Monday 2 September 2013. Open to Australian residents only. Only one entry per person. The winner will be announced here at on or before 12.00pm Friday 6 September 2013, and contacted using the email address provided with their entry. For full terms and conditions, click here.

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21 comments on “Top Tips For Easy Family Dinner Planning”

  1. Ally L

    I have the kids pick a meal each a week that they would like, NOT confectionery based though! This way my fussy brood will eat, it’ll be planned, I can be prepared.. Organised Mum = Happy house!

  2. LConroy

    Get a calendar out and write down the meals you plan to cook based on what activities you and your family are doing during the week…then buy only for those meals.

  3. Narelle Rock

    I always cook at least double the standard recipe amount, that way I have enough to last for 2 meals, if not three, saving me time and effort!

  4. Belinda Smetioukh

    At the start of the week, I choose a cook book (usually a 15 or 30 minute meals one!), close my eyes, randomly open up 7 pages…and those are the meals for the week! Do the shopping for what I need, then let the kids lucky dip each night for what we’re having!

  5. Laura Jilka

    I stand in front of the pantry and come up with ideas for the week,
    It may sound bleak!
    But to the budget I stick,
    And it gets the taste tick!

  6. Cheryl McKibbin

    planning a menu for the week complete with a shopping list. i try to get my meals prepared earlier in the day so i can be more organised and using a slow cooker when i can. I freeze leftovers for emergencies.

  7. Michelle H

    Write a weekly menu and shop for those ingredients. That way, when you’re having one of those blank moments, staring into the fridge and wondering what’s for dinner – just pick a random menu item and get moving!

  8. Karyn Morgan

    I plan my meals for the week ahead. This way it saves me from spending unnecessarily at the shops simply because I see things on special so we save money this way. I also buy my meat monthly which I find to work out more economical!

  9. Kirsten W

    Check the weather. Huh? what’s that got to do with it you may say? Well, I look at the weather forecast, and try to predict if I’m going to be in the mood for soup or salad or will it be a good night to BBQ! Leads to less waste and easier planning ahead.

  10. bubble936

    By planning ahead for the week I reduce the number of trips to the grocery store, avoid last-minute fast food dinners, and totally win at every mealtime. My son eats better since we’ve meal-planned. He knows that’s what we’re having, and likes being able to have a say as well. Kids are far more likely to eat a meal they’ve had a say in. So when i sit down to plan, I ask kids for their options, and throw in their suggestions to the mix.

  11. Nola Goodwin

    I always made enough of meal to last 2 nights and for my partner to take to work for his lunch.

  12. joe

    Organisation is the key,
    Something that comes for free,
    Easy meals I cook on week days,
    While those that require more time on weekends,
    With my meals planned week in advance,
    Gives me more time to play with the kids,
    That time I enjoy to bits.

  13. rochelle

    My favourite trick?
    Do a weekly shop and spend the afternoon chopping & cutting fruit and veg. These can be individually portion packed into glad bags and frozen or left in the fridge. When meal times come, pull out a bag and all of your prep work is done! Means less dishes overall and its really useful for keeping control of portionn size and spend! :)

  14. Maria P

    My family loves pasta so I make up huge batches of different sauces and freeze. Then all I have to do is boil pasta for a quick meal.

  15. Kathy Mason

    Always be organised and have everything out you need and clean up as you go.

  16. Margaret Hollis

    always take a shopping list, and pen to tick off what you buy. this saves you wasting money, and buying unnecessary items/ingredients

  17. Deb M

    Make double freeze half and then you have easy meals for those busy nights ferrying kids to sports etc!

  18. Debbie Willis

    I go to the butcher once a week and buy the meet for the whole week. Make the decisions then and there whats on special. It saves money and time and no decisions need to be made at home.

  19. Narelle Rock

    I like to always double up the recipe so that it lasts at least 2 nights if not 3, that way I am only having to cook for half the amount of time! I save money on ingredients buying them in bulk and also on gas and electricity by not cooking every night.

  20. Melissa

    I am a huge list person, sometimes i even have lists listing the lists i need to make. lol. I have a spreadsheet that I have printed off, with a list of everything on it that we eat or use to create healthy family meals & snacks. I have intolerances and allergies so make almost everything we eat from scratch. At the beginning of the fortnight, I sit down and let the kids all pick 1-2 meals each, these then get spread out over the 14 days, I then fill in the blanks with a range of meals to ensure we are getting a variety of meats, veggies, salads, rice, GF pasta and usually one treat night which might be a make your own pizza or something. I then go through all the recipes and on my spreadsheet highlight the required ingredients (each shop has a different coloured highlighter -( aldi, woollies, fruit market, butcher, Asian grocers for flours). This makes it so easy to know what I am getting where, saving time, money and also the hassle of trying to think what I am putting in lunch boxes and making for dinner each night, as we go off the menu.

  21. Monique

    I have all my meal plans saved on my Ipad so I always have it with me! It allows me to prepare ahead, and make adjustments really easily. I don’t have any fancy app – just a normal spreadsheet which I update as required. Saves my life!!