We are having, and have had for quite some time now, a bit of a problem when it comes to planning meals in our home. More specifically, we don’t. Instead, every evening at about 5 o’clock I look in the refrigerator and hope that ingredients will magically appear and inspire me to create a culinary masterpiece. When that doesn’t happen, I usually grab the kids, throw them in the car and let our sustenance needs, be the Olive Garden’s problem.
Lately, however, my kids are starting to revolt against the idea of eating out and the thing that used to make them jump up and down in excitement is now evoking “I wanna eat at home” meltdowns. It was after the third day of tears that I realized that I had to make a change or risk having my own kids call CPS on me. Naturally, I called my mother, who as I remember, never allowed us to eat out unless we were celebrating a birthday, or someone had died, which consequently, made it really hard to know how to feel about The Little Beaver Restaurant.
Regardless, she was, and still is, an excellent cook who despite the fact that she was a working mother of three, managed to make home cooked meals every night of the week and never once served anything in the shape of a nugget or with the word “helper” on the box. Her advice to me was as such:
1. Every Sunday night, make a plan. Write down on your calendar or on your computer what you are going to serve each day. Make a list of what items you need to shop for and get them in the pantry or refrigerator that day so you don’t have to think about it again. Remember, you are most likely going to have the most energy and excitement for cooking on Monday and hopefully Tuesday, so plan the bigger more intricate meals on those days of the week and save the fun meals like barbecued hamburgers or make your own pizzas for the end of the week.
2. If you don’t have a slow cooker…get one. It is quite easily the best way to create comfort food with little to no maintenance. One of our favorites is to put a few boneless, skinless chicken breasts into the crock pot, cover with medium salsa and cook on high until the chicken is easily shredded with a fork which is usually about 4-6 hours. This makes a great filling for hard or soft tacos, or our favorite, lettuce wraps. You can make soups, stews and chili and are all great because tonight’s dinner is easily tomorrow’s lunch.
3. Clean and cut fruits and veggies as soon as you get them home. This is a great way to minimize the prep time required during the week, where pre-prepped broccoli can be the difference between a home cooked meal and In-N-Out Burger.
4. Remember that the best part of a family meal is actually being around a table with your family. Avoid at all costs eating in front of the t.v. or scarfing it down standing up in the kitchen. Research suggests that having dinner together as a family at least four times a week has positive effects on child development. Or so my mother claims.
5. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Be honest with yourself about what types of meals you can pull off. If you’ve never made a roast chicken before, perhaps today isn’t the day to start. Stick with what your know and do best and once you get a few weeks of consistent home cooking under your belt then branch out to some more difficult dishes. You don’t want to get discouraged so early in the game and fall back on fast food.
So with that very helpful advice in mind, I have made my plan and I have faith that I can follow through. I may not be the best chef in the world but thankfully, my kids have very low standards, as illustrated by their fierce love of microwaved hot dogs and “Easy Mac”. I am certain that I can resist the urge to partake in the Olive Garden’s endless bowl of pasta and pray that my meal plan will not suffer the same fate as my obviously dead workout plan did.
Wish me luck!