Not my favorite time of the day! It's hectic. There are always twenty other things that need to be done at the same time. We are so often coming from one place and headed to another. Kids who have not been heard from all day can no longer breath without being right next to me....which somehow always leads to water all over the kitchen. And most of all, it takes planning ahead. I am a planner. I thrive on planning ahead. But somehow I just struggle at meal planning. Maybe it's all the steps: plan a menu, make a grocery list, go to the grocery store, unload groceries, prepare the food, cook the food, eat the food, clean up the food. Or maybe it's that I don't care about food that much and would eat the same thing everyday for a month. Or maybe it's that it happens everyday. Whatever!
I've come to the realization that dinner time isn't going away, so I might as well find a way to make it better. After a summer of very little cooking, I'm recharged to start fresh. Jen Hatmaker and her new book For the Love have given me new inspiration as well. She suggests making meal prep enjoyable with nice music, a glass of wine, and only agreeable people welcomed into the kitchen. I like it!
I know I'm not the only one who struggles in this area. While I certainly don't have it figured out, I have found a few tricks to make it better. My biggest and best trick is menu planning for the month. If you go , go big! I sit down before a new month and label a piece of paper Sunday through Saturday four times. I then go through and write in any plans that involve me not having to cook for the month (my favorite part). Next, I start plugging in favorite meals. It helps to have a list of favorite meals. I've catorgorized mine into chicken dishes, beef dishes, soups, etc. so that I can vary our selections. Once my monthly menu is made, I just go to it each week to make my grocery list. I almost have a year of monthly menus. Once I do, I plan to just tweak each months menu for the next year. There's no need to start from scratch again. I have started and stopped this plan a couple of times now. I usually stop because I let a month get started without a menu, and then feel behind already. I have always started back though because this one move saves on our grocery budget big time. It also keeps us eating healthier, and helps me to feel a little more sane most days.
Most of our meals are clean, but I do cheat a little sometimes. That's the part I hope to tweak along the way. You'll also notice that I repeat some things weekly...pizza. I make homemade pizza most weekends, but try to vary the toppings. Another shortcut I take is serving one or two meals that supply leftovers for another night or two. Remember I really don't like to cook! I also do as much meal prep ahead as possible, so all of our chicken recipes use chicken breasts I've cooked in the crockpot in bulk and then frozen. Most of our sides are veggies that I cook ahead and freeze. Those shortcuts keep prep to table time to a minimum, but don't affect the taste.
Here is a copy of our August menu to give you an idea of how simple it really can be:
Week 1 Week 3
S smoked chicken S breakfast
M leftovers M tacos
T spaghetti T taco salad
W leftovers W church meal
Th egg salad sandwich Th homemade chicken nuggets
F enchiladas F pizza
S leftovers S chicken salad
Week 2 Week 4
S grilled hamburgers S meatloaf
M leftovers as hamburger steaks M leftovers
T crockpot bbq chicken T chicken casserole
W use bbq chicken in quessadillas W church
Th ham and apple sandwiches Th chicken casserole
F eat out F pizza
S birthday party S supper club