I’m so excited to get started on helping Caroline address some of her greatest challenges in cooking for her family (though, truth be told, I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that this talented woman is challenged in any way whatsoever!).
Today I’m going to tackle the first – meal planning. Caroline wanted to know if it was better to plan meals in advance, or just “wing it”. She was also wondering about striking a balance between lots of variety and rotating her family’s favorites.
If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you can probably guess what my answer to the first query is….
Yes, you should definitely plan your meals in advance – as often as possible! The hour or so spent planning meals for the upcoming week not only saves a ton of time over the course of that week, it all but eliminates most of the stress of cooking dinner:
* you’ll never have to wonder what you’re making for dinner each night (woot!)
* grocery shopping will become more orderly and predictable (did she just say that?)
* cooking dinner will actually be enjoyable.
Yes – enjoyable.
So – how to meal plan?
Look at the week ahead – wherever possible, try to plan meals that mesh with each day’s activities. Home all afternoon? Dinner can be one that needs a bit more fussing. Home in the morning but then out till just before dinner? Maybe a casserole that can be assembled early in the day, and popped into the oven as soon as you get in. One of “those days”? Take-out (It’s okay. Really).
Copy/scan/print – whether you scan from a cookbook or magazine, or cut and paste from a web site, transfer your most-used recipes onto documents to be filed on your computer. This is a game changer people – it makes meal planning a breeze, as you can easily peruse your options and print out the recipes each night as needed. This method is also great for adding notes to each recipe – such as which ingredients should be doubled, advance prep tips, or what side dishes to serve. I’ve been doing this for years, going through my files every few months to delete any “fails” (BBQ chicken pizza anyone? They’ve still not let me live that one down…).
Grocery shopping. Done. – cut and paste the ingredients from each of the week’s recipes to create an organized and complete shopping list. You can group “like” ingredients together and make notes for items to purchase later in the week (such as fish, or delicate produce). Knowing you have all the ingredients you need on-hand makes for less stressful cooking, and gives you the option of doing some advance prep – either the night before or earlier in the day.
Mix it up – I love to cook and try new things. But it can be a challenge to come up with new dishes each week. So I typically strive for one or two “experiments”, mixed with tried and true favorites. This way I can introduce something new to my family, keep things fresh for me, and have at least a few dinners that are “sure things”. Of course there are weeks where I’ve completely lost my mojo and rely more heavily on meals that are easy and predictable.
Like oven-fried chicken - a quick “shake” with your choice of crumbs, and it “bakes”, unattended in the oven. Or pasta with a quick ragu - uber simple to prepare, and most of the ingredients are pantry staples (great when you can’t think of what to cook that night!). And one of my very favorites, chili chicken tacos, which literally consist of tossing all the ingredients into a Dutch oven and baking for 2 hours…
Okay Caroline – get cooking!
Won’t you please join us? Take the mealtime bootcamp “challenge” and let us know what you think! And we’d love to hear YOUR meal planning secrets and strategies – share them here!