Well, the obvious answer is take-out! HA!
Okay, back to the real world with budgets and all that stuff.
Getting dinner together on a nightly basis is a realistic goal, but only if you plan first. If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you have heard me extol the virtues of systems. Yes, I know I sound like a broken record, but systems are the easiest way to get stuff done, especially unpleasant stuff, with the minimum amount of effort and mental energy. So what does a meal planning system look like and how does it get implemented?
The FIRST step is to figure out what you like to eat. That sounds stupid, but a lot of times I talk to folks and they go to the store without any real idea of what to buy for dinner, and find themselves walking aimlessly through the aisles waiting for dinner to jump into the cart and make itself. Don’t get me wrong, when I haven’t planned ahead, I can be found wandering the aisles in an exhausted haze….and my choices are generally pretty awful and usually regretful. So Step One is to make a list of ALL the dinners you feel competent making and like to eat. Spaghetti, Sloppy Joes, Hambugers, Nachos, Tacos, Fried Chicken, whatever! Ask your other family members what they want to eat! Don’t quit until you have at least TEN dinners on the list. If you can’t come up with ten, then have a look through the recipes on this site, browse the internet, linger in the cookbook section of a bookstore, check out the used books at Goodwill and garage sales, or ask family members for old favorites. (They will be flattered!) Don’t quit until you have at least TEN dinners on your Master List. This Master List needs to be accessible and in a safe place, like the front of the fridge or taped inside a cupboard door. If you don’t have the recipes memorized, find the recipe, and keep them all together.
Step Two: Looking at the week ahead, figure out five dinners you would be willing to make. Write those five dinners down. Back when my kids were all living at home, I used a huge desk calendar that was on my fridge door and also functioned as a sort of “Central Command Center.” Looking at the five recipes, scour your cupboards, fridge and freezer to see what you already have, and what you lack to pull off the Fantastic Five for the week. Whatever is missing goes onto the grocery shopping list for the week, along with all the other day-to-day items like breakfast foods, items for lunches, toothpaste, laundry detergent, and the like.
After you have made your weekly trip to the grocery, you are all set to have five successful dinners. Well, kind of.
Step Three: This is critical! The night BEFORE, pull any ingredients out of the freezer and put them in the fridge to thaw. If it’s something huge, like a whole chicken, you may have to pull it out of the freezer a couple days before you want to cook it. That’s okay though, because you have four other dinners ready to roll! When you get home from work, you don’t have to think because you have already done the thinking. I don’t know about you, but my brain is FRIED after work and if I don’t plan ahead, we’re eating Cheese Whiz on Ritz crackers for dinner. Gah! If I have planned ahead, then dinner sort of makes itself because I just go on automatic pilot.
Step Four: Clean the kitchen after dinner. Do NOT leave dishes in the sink. Why? Because if you have to clean before you cook the following night, how likely are you going to cook? Really? Yeah, me neither.
Step Four: Before you go to bed, figure out what you are making for the following night and get whatever you need out of the freezer or pulled out of the cupboards. Begin the cycle again.
A couple of things about meal planning….be flexible. So let’s say you get home and you just aren’t in the mood for grilled cheese and tomato soup? No worries. Fix breakfast for dinner or order out for Chinese food. This is YOUR system and you make it work for YOU.
Notice that I only said to plan for five dinners. Between an occasional dinner out, leftovers, being too tired to eat, or an unexpected change in plans, you won’t need to make dinner every night. Maybe five dinners is too much for your lifestyle. Maybe you will only need to plan for four? The point is to make the system work for you.
In subsequent posts I will help you compile a realistic dinner list, or things everyone ought to be able to master to adequately and deliciously feed themselves. Until then, be nice to yourself. Donuts for dinner has potential!