"Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch." ~Orson Welles
In the past, I’ve been very bad about planning meals. (I say it this way because I hope I’m changing.) When I was working outside the home, my husband would call me every day on my way home from work to ask “What do you have in mind for dinner?” Even though I knew this call came every day, I was never prepared for it. And now, as a stay-at-home Mom, I still find myself casting about at dinner time for something resembling a well-balanced meal.
The other day when I was struggling with the “what’s for dinner” question, instead of just cooking something, I did what any normal 30-something would do and googled “meal planning help”. (I like to think of myself as normal. Please don’t burst my bubble if that’s not actually the case.) I read advice from several websites, sent my husband to pick up take-out (I promised myself it would be the last time for this month) and created a plan. Admittedly, I would almost always rather plan something that actually do it. And my plans tend to quickly become overly complicated and cumbersome. But here’s what I did and, so far (I’m on day 2 of the plan), it seems to be working:
- I made a list of the main dishes I fix for dinner. I made separate lists of the side dishes and veggies that I fix.
- I categorized the main dishes. These are the categories I used:
- Meals that are good for left-overs
- Meals that I only fix when we have certain, special ingredients – like steaks or ribs when they’re on sale
- Meals that require little or no pre-prep time and don’t require anything be unthawed from the freezer
- Meals that take 2 or more hours to cook
- I figured out what days of the week work well for what categories of meals. For instance, my husband works Monday through Thursday so I tried to focus meals that are good for left-overs around those days so he can use the left-overs for his lunches.
- I came up with 7 themes for meals. These are the themes:
- Chinese Food
- Italian Food
- Mexican Food
- Long Cooking Time Meals
- I created a calendar and started writing in meals. I assigned 1 meal from each theme to each day of the week, keeping in mind the meal categories so that the meals I picked fit with our schedule.
- I picked side dishes and veggies to go with each main dish and wrote them on the calendar as well.
- I figured out how long each meal would take to prepare and cook and wrote down the time I had to start cooking for that meal to be ready at 6:00.
- At the bottom of the calendar, I listed alternate meals. These are meals that require no defrosting and that I can make at any time from items I always have in my pantry. This is my contingency in case our schedule goes crazy or I forget to take something out of the freezer in time to thaw.
- I made a grocery list of the main items I need for the meals for the rest of the month. I may have to make more than 1 trip to the grocery to get fresh veggies and other perishables but I should be able to do most of the shopping for July in one trip (a miracle it seems to someone who is used to going 2-3 times per week).