Refresh: Planning the Timeline for Your Meal

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 those topics.

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 so 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 that day.


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, if you need to, counting backwards from your target mealtime. You can even mark the time(s) in your planner, if that helps.


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


For example, you may 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

Make sure the timeline fits into your day, as far as you know. You have less than 30 minutes needed for the meal, but 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.

Is there prep (i.e., cutting up vegetables) that can be done early in the day, especially if your afternoon is tighter than the morning? It may be easier to have meat and vegetables cut up and ready to go when you walk in the kitchen.

You also know that you’ll need to be home 2 hours before the meal, or an important step will be missed. If this doesn’t work,  move to Plan B and save Plan A for another day.

With this planning, you know what you are doing and that your bases are covered. You’re all set!

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