Want to beat the 5 o’clock “what to make” panic? Think about dinner as soon as you get up.

We’ve started dedicating Monday mornings to a single tip or simple idea to get your week off to a better start. Enjoy! -Meagan

plan a better week

As recently as a few years ago, I’d often start my day without giving a single thought to dinner.

Sure, I’d have made a meal plan (usually, at least) over the weekend, and had often even shopped for the needed items.But I’d somehow fail to make the connection between the meal scrawled on my calendar and the fact that oh hey I actually need to feed some people today. 

Head down in my work, or in the frenetic afternoon ending-nap-lunch-cleanup-after-school-rush, I’d somehow neglect to consider the dinner hour at all until suddenly – whoops! – it was 5:30 or so and I’d realize dinnertime was almost upon me. 

In my interview with Jenny Rosenstrach of Dinner, a Love Story, we talked about the benefits of thinking about dinner as soon as you get up. Not at 5, not at 4, not even at lunch time. No. First thing in the morning, while you’re also attending to crucial details like changing soggy early-morning diapers, or making sure bigger kids have their folders in their backpacks.

Clock made of spoon and fork, isolated on white background

Thinking about dinner at breakfast time doesn’t mean you have to obsess all day. After I give five minutes or less of thought to dinnertime at 7 AM, I usually don’t think about it again until it’s time to start cooking.

But at some point, I realized that when you give yourself ample time (like, 8+ hours if possible) to get in the dinner mindset, it makes everything easier and nearly eliminates unpleasant and panicky last-minute decisions and wrenches in the works.

You’ll remember to pull the ground beef or salmon out of the freezer or stick that flank steak in the marinade in adequate time, note that you need another stick of butter, or remember that the roast needs to go in the crock pot before you leave for work or in the Dutch oven by 3 PM. 

When I was just getting used to the “thinking about dinner at breakfast time” thing, I’d put a written cue on my to-do list, the same one that I leave next to my laptop or sometimes, right next to my bed to find first thing in the morning (when I’m feeling anxious at bedtime, I like to get all of the “to dos” for the week out of my head and on paper, and usually leave it on my nightstand.)

Giving myself a written reminder to think about dinner helped me avert a lot of 5 PM emergencies, like un-thawed meat or un-purchased milk.

think about dinner sooner.jpg

But the best part is that I soon got in the habit of opening the fridge while my tea brews, doing a visual check of ingredients, and just making sure I have a plan for dinner. It takes all of two minutes most days, and once I know I’m set, I don’t think about dinner again until I start my Kitchen Hour. But that little bit of thought, that little bit of preparation, makes it so much easier to face making the nightly meal.

So if you’re finding yourself with a lot of “Oh crap, it’s 5 PM and we have nothing planned for dinner!” moments, try thinking about dinner at an unexpected time of day: during breakfast.

Give yourself a written reminder or set an alert on your phone, and just take a minute or two to check ingredients, double-check the recipe cook time if needed, and make sure you’re all set.

That way you can set up your day to incorporate food prep and maybe, a trip to the grocery store in the quiet early afternoon, rather than at 5:30 PM when everybody else in town is there.

Why not give it a shot? Let me know if thinking about dinner at breakfast time helps you!

Want more Monday morning inspiration? You can read all Plan a Better Week posts here.

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