Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What’s for Dinner? (Looking for advice on really seriously short-cutty meal planning)

a suburban greenmom needs no-brainer dinner ideas…

I’ve been moaning and complaining a lot lately about my new schedule—the one where the whole family now leaves the house at 6:30-7:00 and returns at 5:45 or so, five days a week. Now that the reality is setting in, I’m finding that on-the-fly dinner preparations just aren’t going to cut it this fall. (Or winter. Or spring.) (Don't believe the complaints, I'm actually crazy-happy. Just exhausted and not quite acclimated yet.)

So I’m returning to what I was trying to do last year when my schedule was much less hectic—only more and better. I need meal plans.

And advice.

First of all, I know myself well enough to know that the kind of plan that will work best for us will not be one where I figure out entrĂ©e and sides for the next five days, make out a shopping list, and go buy that stuff. That’s an awesome approach, but it just won’t work for our family, too many weird little side unexpected things come in and one day what’s supposed to happen doesn’t, and then I have these ingredients left that I don’t know what to do with and the rhythm is thrown off. (To be clear: I genuinely believe the above is probably the best way to pull this off, I just know myself well enough that it wouldn’t happen. So check out This Week for Dinner's blog for some great tips in that vein…and I know there are at least two more blogs I follow who also do this, but I can't remember who you are, so if you're a reader of this blog who blogs about meal planning, shout out in the comments!)

Another added variable I’d like to throw in, if I can make it work, is to cook things for dinner with high odds of being things I and hubby can bring for lunches during the next few days. And more than a single one-week schedule, since last year the 7 day rotation got really boring after a while (though it was nice to know on certain days of the week that no one would complain about what we were eating at least, because they knew the pattern).

So here’s what I’m working with so far:

Week One

  • Sunday (time to cook): Big Pot Of Something (soup or stew, to send for lunches and/or freeze) in slow cooker; bread
  • Monday (mom doesn’t come home; Dad cooks): chicken tenders, carrot sticks, and bread; parents probably fend for selves later
  • Tuesday: rotisserie chicken from Whole Foods (sale day)
  • Wednesday (dad leaves early for choir practice) pizzas on naan bread or pita
  • Thursday: Chicken Tacos (leftover chicken)
  • Friday: something leftover from freezer, thawed and heated in slow cooker all day, or pasta if I forget (foccacia if time)
  • Saturday: Something Planned Ahead And Nice, since mom has time to cook

Week Two

  • Sunday (time to cook): Big Pot Of Something (soup or stew, to send for lunches and/or freeze) in slow cooker; bread
  • Monday (mom doesn’t come home; Dad cooks): chicken tenders, carrot sticks, and bread; parents probably fend for selves later
  • Tuesday: Pasta (with real homemade sauce if I’m conscious; jarred if not)
  • Wednesday (dad leaves early for choir practice) pizzas on naan bread or pita
  • Thursday: something leftover from freezer, thawed and heated in slow cooker all day (foccacia if time)
  • Friday: Throwaway day; most likely to order pizza or make hot dogs or whatever. (They like that sometimes, and it’s easy.)
  • Saturday: Something Planned Ahead And Nice, since mom has time to cook

Seems like this might be a workable rotation for us. What the magazines and helpful hints everywhere don’t tell you is that while even though you may have a gajillion recipes whereby you can have dinner on the table in 20 minutes, or 30, what they don’t factor in is the incredible brain fryage many of us experience once we finally make it home. That sense of “oh my god I just can’t vibrate those couple of remaining functioning brain cells into life to process anything mentally at all.” So what I need—especially for early in the week when my schedule is most rough—is something I can make that requires not only very little time but very little thought.

I know this is a topic that comes up fairly regularly, but I don’t think that’s a problem—we’re all learning as we go, and new folks might have new ideas we haven’t heard yet. So…any ardent (or not so ardent) meal planners out there? Anyone have any thoughts to share? How do you make it work?

--Jenn the Greenmom

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I find that eggs are a quick, workable weeknight solution. Frittata or crustless quiche uses up leftovers or farmers' market veggies that are heading south. My favorite quick recipe, however, is to poach the eggs in tomato sauce. It can be canned or homemade sauce - serve with a little bread and a salad!

Dea-chan said...

We have a rotating schedule of basics. For example, since we have band practice on Tuesday nights, Tuesday is pasta night. It's so simple to boil pasta and throw a jar of sauce from the fridge on it.

Monday: vegetarian (this is grocery night)
Tuesday: pasta
Wednesday: breakfast for dinner (my guy cooks)
Thursday: crockpot
Friday: casserole or roast chicken
Saturday: no plan
Sunday: soup/stew in a big pot

This works for us because Fridays I am home for quite a while and a roast chicken will last us for a long time.

Good luck finding what works for you!

robbie @ going green mama said...

You also forgot to mention that the 20-30 min. meal books often mean that's the active cooking time - no leaving it simmering on the stove to stop an fight among siblings!

I wrote about a few ideas Monday night on my blog, but I think you're on the right track. Homemade spaghetti sauce is great to pull out, and you can't go wrong on the really nutty nights by "treating" the kids to "breakfast."

Jenn the Greenmom said...

Robbie--TOTALLY! (re the breaking up fights)... and yes, breakfast for dinner is a good idea, and while my husband is offended by the Propriety Of Eating Breakfast Foods For Dinner (nerd), he'd do fine with the frittata idea, I hadn't thought of that!

Dea-chan, it sounds like you and I are operating on similar plans...except that I cheat and let Whole Foods roast my chicken for me. :-) Pasta is a life-saver, especially cappellini or gnocchi that cook in about 3 minutes...

Thanks, guys!

Jessi said...

I have a group of friends that get together about 4 times/year for a frozen meal exchange. We all bring a set number of freezable meals -- usually 6-8 of the exact same thing (such as six lasagnas.). We coordinate so that we don't all make the same thing. Each meal has the recipe and thaw/cook directions on it. Then we do an exchange, so we each go home with an entire set of freezer to table meals (if you brought 6, you go home with 6). We set some "ground rules" before hand, including "try to use healthy options" or "no mushrooms" or "each meal must be at least 4 servings." At the exchange, the moms get together over a glass of wine and do a meal swap, and the dads happily watch the kids, because they know good food is on the way.

Jenn the Greenmom said...

Jessi, what a great idea!

Anonymous said...

One simple no cook way to make sure your family is eating a healthy diet when you have ZERO time, is to do it the old fashioned way.

Have a fruit course at every meal. This is raw fruit served up, in our case, after every meal.

Sometimes, instead of a meal.

I buy TONS of fruit on the weekend (whatever is in season at the farmers market), wash it all and stick it in the fridge. Then, one kid cuts up 2 apples, a peach, maybe some melon, whatever I have, and plates it, throws some berries in a bowl, and serves it. We usually add a bowl of pecans/pistachios/almonds...all raw and bought in bulk.

You would be surprised how delicious and filling this is. And if your picky eater doesn't like the entree, they eat something healthy at this course. If you eat some cheese and bread beforehand as your first course, you have served a lovely, healthy meal with NO COOKING and in record time.

If you serve the fruit as a first course, you have time to prepare a simple 'main' dish and your kids aren't whining and hungry while you cook....

We eat this every day and my kids (now 17 and 19) are the healthiest kids my doctor knows....

And I can still get into my college clothes at fifty!!!

Although fruit seems expensive, we eat less meat and no prepared foods this way so it works out the same as before we adopted this way of eating. This is the way Greek people eat and the way I grew up. I feel so much better since we returned to this style of eating....

Tory

Jenn the Greenmom said...

I love the raw fruit idea too--we do that too sometimes but we don't embrace it the same way it sounds like you do. I think somehow growing up I was led to believe that vegetables are what's "good" for you and fruits are sort of cheating, which I know isn't accurate at all.

We're going apple picking tomorrow...I can't wait...

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