Several years ago I saw a sign that said “I have a kitchen because it came with the house” in a client’s home. It’s a relief to know there’s at least one other person besides me who doesn’t like to cook. After all, with the huge number of cooking shows on TV, cooking magazines staring at me in the grocery store, and specialty spice shops and olive oil stores popping up all over, I can’t help but think that everyone except me loves to cook (and is good at it as well). I do love to eat, however, so I’ve done all I can to make meal planning as painless as possible. Whether you’re the cook in your home or are lucky enough to be the beneficiary of someone else’s cooking, enjoy these tips to make mealtimes less stressful.

Plan meals for the week. I used to spend stress-filled hours (ok, minutes, but it seemed like hours) staring at the refrigerator and freezer each evening trying to figure out what to make for dinner. I finally took my own advice and now plan dinners for the upcoming week every Sunday. I write them on an erasable whiteboard attached with magnetic clips to my refrigerator. It's amazing how much less stressful my day is just knowing I can answer the question “What's for dinner?”

Create a rotating menu routine. I have 21 index cards, each of which contains one dinner suggestion as well as any special ingredients that I'm not likely to have on hand. Rather than having to put a lot of thought into what to make for dinner, I just grab the seven index cards in the front of the stack and use them as my starting point. I check my calendar to determine which nights might require a quick meal or an early or late dinner based on my husband's and my schedules. I reorder the seven index cards to correspond to each evening, and write those meals in order on my whiteboard. I write the special ingredients from the index cards onto my grocery list and check my freezer and cupboards to make sure all of the non-special ingredients are on hand. I put that group of index cards in the back of the stack and I'm ready for next week's meal planning.

Create a themed menu routine. Another option to make meal planning easy is to have a theme for each day of the week. Themes help narrow down your options, which for me is the biggest challenge of meal planning. For example, Monday is breakfast for dinner; Tuesday is Mexican; Wednesday is pasta; Thursday is soup; Friday is fish; Saturday is pizza – you get the idea. You could also include a night where family members take turns planning (and maybe even cooking!) what's for dinner.

Make the same meal for everyone. When my kids were living at home, I sometimes had to endure their complaints about what was served for dinner. However, I never got into the trap of making a special meal for them. I didn't force them to eat what was served, but if they wanted something else, it was up to them to make it. Our family is fortunate that no one has any food allergies, but if we did, I would lean towards making a single meal that everyone could eat.

Shop once a week. When your meals are planned ahead of time and your grocery list is planned accordingly, you may only have to hit the grocery store once a week. Think of how much time you'll save!

Double up. If your freezer space allows it, make double batches of everything so you can cook once and reap the benefits twice. I freeze meals in rectangular glass food storage containers that stack neatly in my freezer. I keep a list of those frozen meals on my meal planning whiteboard so I don't forget them. If I know I'll have a busy week, I incorporate a frozen meal into my meal planning.

Prepare ahead. I review my meal planning whiteboard each evening so I know what’s planned for dinner the next day. I prepare as much is possible by chopping vegetables, measuring out spices, thawing meat and doing whatever else I can to make the next day’s meal preparation quick and easy.

Get everyone involved. Even if your kids aren't old enough to use a knife or slave over a hot stove, having them help at mealtime is a great way to teach responsibility and help them recognize that you're not their servant. Have them set the table, make the salad, load the dishwasher, or sweep the floor after dinner.

I’d love to hear what helps you manage mealtime mayhem in your home.

Author's Bio: 

Internationally known professional organizer, author, and speaker Sue Becker is the founder and owner of From Piles to Smiles®. She enjoys helping people from around the world live better lives by creating customized systems to overcome their overwhelming paperwork, clutter, and schedules. She specializes in helping people who are chronically disorganized - those for whom disorganization has been a lifelong struggle that negatively impacts every aspect of their life, especially people with AD/HD. Her hands-on help, as well as her presentations, have helped thousands of individuals create substantial change in their lives.

Sue is Illinois’ first Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization. She co-authored the book Conversations on Success, and has appeared as an organizational expert on NBC News and the national TV show, Starting Over. A CPA, Sue has an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management.