I get a ton of questions about how I get home cooked meals on the table every night. It’s not magic, and I don’t do it EVERY night, it just takes some planning and prioritization. Oh, and a little extra work.
Let’s be honest here. Getting ourselves and family fed during the week is not an easy task, no matter who you are. For one, time is really tight for most of us – forcing us to cram meals into not-so-fun timeframes (breakfast in the car, anyone?). And thinking on the fly can be more effort than it’s worth. I’m not an over-planner, which might shock some of you, but I’ve tried to be more diligent with it when it comes to food. Otherwise dinner wouldn’t be on the table until 10pm. Here are a few of my tips and habits, for making it a bit more predictable. Which we know is a welcome thing when you have kids!
PLAN TO SHOP
Plan on a Friday, shop over the weekend (or something like that, depending on your ‘work week’). Pull any recipes out, take a look at what you’ve already got, and…make. that. list. This works for a couple reasons.
- If you do planning for this in stages, it feels like less of a burden and gives more flexibility. you can squeeze it in wherever you can fit it into your day. This past weekend I planned on Saturday night while watching a movie with Chris. Apparently I wasn’t thrilled with the movie…I also went to bed before it was over.
- Personally, I think going to the market early in the day on Sunday is the best time to go if you’re not a mid-week shopper. Not many people, and I get it out of the way. By doing your list the night before, you’re ready to rock whenever you can head there.
- A good tool I’ve recently started using is Gathered Table. They send you weekly menus & recipes, based on your preferences, and you can build a shopping list right on their site. Personally, I don’t use the full week, just a couple recipes each week, or even just take a look for ideas. But it’s a really nice system they’ve got there.
Compose your meals so you’re not doing heavy lifting each night and have options for whatever the week may bring you. If it takes extra long to get home one night, grab one of the quick dinners. Do you work from home one day a week? Use that evening for one of your new recipes. Even when planned, you can still have flexibility. Below is how it’s currently working for me.
- One or two new recipes or something you haven’t had in a while (this usually takes more effort, so I limit to once or twice a week – depending on how ambitious I’m feeling)
- Something super simple like pasta and veggies
- Something you can throw in the slow-cooker
- Leftovers night – if you’re lucky enough to have them! We rarely do because I usually send them to school for lunch.
- Soup. An organic box of soup, with a grilled cheese or veggies can be an amazing well-rounded meal. OR roast a bunch of veggies & garlic you’ve had in the fridge for a bit, throw them in the blender with some chicken stock – delicious way to use up the random ingredients you have left.
KEEP THAT MENU IN SIGHT
One of the most helpful things I did this past year was put my menu up on the kitchen wall so I could see it with a glance of an eye. Seems simple right? It couldn’t be easier to remind yourself that you actually do have ingredients for meals! A list in a drawer can be forgotten, at least with my memory. Then you just stand there, staring in the fridge, wondering what you should make. Don’t be that chef. Here are a few ideas for a big menu for your kitchen:
- Use a chalkboard, like I do
- A whiteboard is also really helpful
- Have a corkboard already? Just write up a list on a piece of paper and pin it up – but write big enough to see from across the room!
- You can even use a frame with glass – and a dry erase marker!
If you can, prep the night before. Some meals just need some prep work, and you’ll be SO happy you did it the following day when you finally get home to make dinner. I drag myself into the kitchen after putting the boys to bed, just to chop some onion, peppers, garlic, whatever. And it really does make a difference. Plus, it goes much faster since I don’t have a toddler hanging on me! This doesn’t happen every night, just once or twice a week when I know the prep for meal the next day is on the heavy side.
DON’T FORGET THE SCHOOL LUNCHES
Don’t forget to plan school lunches. This saves me in the morning. It’s not a science, because sometimes we don’t have leftovers when I thought we would, or I’ve run out of x, y or z…but again, it’s a guide.
- plan to use leftovers from dinner the night before – but take into account if things will actually be good as leftovers. I know some things just won’t lunch-box very well.
- Once a week I do pasta in a thermos, and a couple sides. Breaks up the cold lunch blues.
- Go snacky! My kids love to have a lunch box full of snack-type food. cheese & crackers, rolled up turkey, pita and hummus, fruit, popcorn, peppers – think bite sized and those kids will LOVE it!
- Breakfast for lunch is always a hit for me. mini pancakes (just make sure they’re good cold or room temp) with jam for dipping, fruit, yogurt,
LET THE FOOD COME TO YOU
Use a meal delivery service. No, it’s not like celebrities get, all cooked and ready to go so you don’t have to count calories or think about anything. It’s a very popular concept that I am in love with. There are a few companies out there that will deliver the ingredients for two or three dinners a week (I use Blue Apron, but have friends using others and all rave reviews!). All of the ingredients are pre-portioned for each recipe, and you just need to prep and cook it, following a very well described recipe (pictures too!). There’s still labor involved, but less thinking and it can really help with meal planning too – when we do this it’s 2 dinners of our week! And often some leftovers too. And last but not least, this is the absolute best way I’ve found to try new recipes. Things I wouldn’t necessarily search for recipes on end up being a huge hit. My kids love shrimp with Chinese five spice, and probably wouldn’t have tried it with them had it not been in my weekly box.