Saturday, July 19, 2008
It's 4 p.m. Dinner time is fast approaching. The kids are hungry promptly at 5:30. You are tired and have lost your creative edge for the day. In fact, your own blood sugar is starting to dip and you know what that means---the witching hour has begun. Mrs. Crankenstein is inhabiting your body sucking all ability to cope much less come up with something for dinner.
You stare into the freezer wishing you'd defrosted that chicken earlier. The refrigerator isn't much more help...some mustard, a couple of tortillas, some limp carrots. You've been asked to help the family save some money, so you can't suggest going out.
Why, oh why, didn't you just make a MENU so everything would be thought out beforehand and the right ingredients would be right in front of you???
If you are drowning every afternoon in this reality, then keep reading!
If your family has eaten toast and eggs for dinner more than three times last week, then keep reading!
If you are actually sick of take out pizza because you've ordered it so much lately, then keep reading!
1. Pen and paper (or Excel spreadsheet, if you prefer)
Make yourself a nice little calendar grid with enough spaces to get you from one pay day to the next. Go ahead and cross out any nights when you are sure you'll be out. Put a star on the nights that you know will be crazy (lots of errands, or soccer practice, or church night, etc.) Those are the nights you definitely want to be prepared with something simple.
Leave a space at the bottom of the menu or use another piece of paper to make your shopping list.
Everyone has a cookbook or two lying around. When was the last time you actually opened it? Or looked past the one recipe you've used from it? Your homework is to spend a little time getting familiar with your cookbooks or food magazines. Now, we all have that urge to make some fantastic gourmet feast from a fancy cookbook, but resist the urge--especially if you have yet to master the basics of cooking!
Choose one or two new recipes and pencil them in on days when you'll have time to think in the kitchen. As you begin to fill in the days of your menu, record all the ingredients that you need to buy as you go. Also, write in the initials of the cookbook title and also the page number of the recipe on the menu for easy reference. If you have a photocopier, make a quick copy of the recipe and use a magnet to hold it to your stove hood.
Make a list of your family's favorite meals. Begin to assemble a cookbook of your favorite recipes. These are your quick "go-to" meals for your menu. Is Tuesday night always frantic because soccer practice goes until 5:30? Then make that night recurring spaghetti night. Keep a couple of bags of meatballs (I like Trader Joe's Turkey Meatballs) in your freezer and buy pasta sauce in bulk for your pantry.
It can be hard to come up with two weeks worth of meals. So leave a few days blank. For example, I usually leave at least one weekend day open to allow for some wiggle room---a night for leftovers, to go out, or to let your spouse take a turn (that usually means fried rice for us!).
3. Menu and Shopping List
I suggested before that you make your list simultaneously with your menu. If an ingredient comes up more than once, you can decide how much you really need--do you really need two bunches of parsley, or will one take care of two different meals? If a meal calls for 2 Tablespoons of tomato paste, you can always freeze the rest in an ice cube tray (lined with plastic wrap) for another meal.
I usually shop a couple of times for my two week menu because, frankly, those green onions are not going to make it for your Asian dinner planned for day 14! After your whole list is made, separate it into those things that will keep for 2 weeks and those things which you need to buy later in your meal cycle (produce, fresh bread, certain cheeses).
Put your menu on your fridge with a magnet and reference it daily! If you need defrosting reminders, write yourself a note on a day or two previous to the night which you will need it. (E.G. DEFROST FLANK STEAK)
4. Shopping List Extras
I have often made the mistake of only buying food meant for the dinners I planned. Don't forget that your family eats Breakfast and Lunch, too. Add to your shopping list the other things you need--cereal, peanut butter, snacks, veggies, etc.
There is great relief in your heart when you glance at the clock an hour before dinner time and think:
OOOOoooo, I can't wait to have Tilapia with sweet and sour sauce, blanched julienned veggies, and sweet jasmine rice!