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“I want to bring families back to the dinner table.”
This is how Jill O’Leary, founder and chef with Plan-It Dinner, describes her motivation to create the meal planning website I’ve had the good fortune to try. With more and more research touting the social, emotional, and physical benefits of eating home-prepared meals together, Plan-It Dinner offers a practical (and yummy) solution to making mealtime a reality for busy families.
How it works
Friday afternoon I received an email with the menu for the week ahead. There’s a picture and quick description for each meal, tips on how to make prep easier and a link to the website.
Once logged in, I learned that this is a flexible tool. I chose to customize my menu and substituted one recipe with another from the collection. The weekly menu had a nice variety of proteins, whole grains, and vegetables. There is one slow-cooker recipe per week, which I quickly made my “Tuesday – get home late from work” dinner.
Next step, I printed the week’s grocery list and hit the store. It was amazing to have that list in my hand. (The second week I used it to order from Instacart – even easier.)
My first recipe was chicken taco soup. It was easy to follow and low intensity: perfect for a weeknight with two kids underfoot. I was curious how my daughters would enjoy it. They’re pretty good eaters, but new recipes can be a challenge. Well, they devoured it. My five-year- old exclaimed, “Oh wow. Mom made great soup! Are these zucchini? I thought I didn’t like zucchini.”
Later that week, we had friends coming over, so I was thrilled to find that I could auto-update the number of servings (updates the grocery list, too). I was a little nervous about this one: tortellini with meat sauce. I come from a big New York Italian family and I have strong feelings about Bolognese. Strong feelings. Well, it was wonderful. Plus, we had enough sauce to put over ziti that weekend.
Added bonus, I found this awesome tip about what to do with the inevitable leftover tomato paste!
The menus were delicious and yet not-too- challenging or complex for a weeknight. The balsamic steak tips with mushrooms and blue cheese tomato salad was the easiest “fancy” dinner ever. Took me 15 minutes! (Average meal prep time 30-40 minutes.)
- Fully customizable weekly menu (which you can save and reuse)
- Auto-generated shopping list
- Serving size updates to ingredient and shopping lists (no math required )
- Easy gluten-free modifications
- Tips on what to prepare ahead (and how to store it properly)
- Capability to mark favorites
It’s always healthier and more environmentally friendly to cook rather than order in. Plan-It Dinner makes cooking more convenient and adds a little variety to your life.
I’ll admit I probably don’t have the stamina to cook five to six brand new recipes every week. But the meal planning features are so helpful that it would still be worth it to remove a recipe. I foresee some new recipes quickly becoming old standbys and the website helps keep them in rotation.
There are lovely vegetarian meal options (like quinoa stuffed portabellas) for families looking to eat healthfully (and gluten-free), but the meal planning is not for totally vegetarian households.
After feeling like I was cooking with Jill for two weeks, I wanted to know a little bit more about her. Here’s a quick interview:
What inspired you to start Plan-It Dinner?
I started meal planning for my own family in the mid-1980s. It was so nice to walk in my house after a long day at work and know that dinner was planned and everything I needed was in the refrigerator or pantry. Many families tell me that they’re in a cooking “rut”…eating the same thing week after week, but that they don’t have time to search for recipes and compose a shopping list. I want to make it easier for families to have a relaxed, drool-worthy dinner at home.
Do you have advice for new cooks or anyone trying to streamline kitchen time?
Make sure you’re organized before you begin cooking. Check my Thinking in the Kitchen blog post – inspired by my time at the London Le Cordon Bleu. Anything that can be done ahead saves time during the week. If you have extra minutes: chop onions, make vinaigrette, slice veggies, etc. And clean while you cook!
What are your favorite dishes and ingredients for fall?
I love stir-fries! They’re great meals for busy weeknights and a fabulous way to get kids eating veggies. I plan my menus around what’s in season. In the weeks ahead, you’ll see butternut squash, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, apples…and more!
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