Meal Timelines

Do you ever get to the end of the afternoon and realize with a shock that dinner will be expected shortly and you have no idea what it will be? Well, it happens to all of us, but if it happens regularly, I’d recommend reading two previous blog posts, Planning Your Day and Meal Planning. This post will build on what we have already started discussing.

Planning ahead involves knowing how your day will go (roughly) and knowing what you plan to make for a meal, but you also need to know how the various steps for your chosen menu will fit into your schedule. When do you need to start preparing? Do you need to figure on 2 hours in the kitchen or 20 minutes?

Many recipes now include prep time and cook time, which is very helpful. But you still need to know what you’ll be doing when.


Note: if you use frozen meat for your meals, remember to add defrosting the meat to your steps or your schedule the day before or early the day of.


As you look at your menu, map out the different steps and when you’ll need to do each of them (i.e., 2 hours ahead, 45 minutes ahead, right before serving, etc.). Some recipes or dishes are simple enough that you only need 5 minutes of prep time 2 hours before dinner. Some have a few more steps. Others are all last minute, just before you eat. Write it down in a timeline, counting backwards from your target mealtime.


Note: if you collect tried-and-true recipes or standard menus for a monthly meal plan, this will be helpful to keep with the recipe. That way you don’t have to think it through each time.


For an example, using the menu outlined in A Simple Meal, you would sketch out a timeline like this:

  • 2 hours prior — prepare meat and put in oven
  • 45 minutes prior — prepare sweet potatoes and put in oven
  • 15 minutes prior — set table and steam vegetables

Now you know that you have less than 30 minutes needed for the meal, but also you don’t need to do anything between the 2 hour mark and the 45 minute mark. You can plan on 75 minutes to devote to other tasks.

Now you also know what you are doing and that your bases are covered. Way to plan!

2 thoughts on “Meal Timelines

  1. This is such a simple tip, but it has helped me so much to think about meal prep this way over the last week. I’ve been writing down meals we like to eat regularly on 3×5 cards. I was planning to write ingredients as a quick reference, and now I’ve added time frames too.

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