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Monday, August 4, 2014

Dinner time Dilema

    If you're like me you run, run, run, non-stop, 24/7, all day...well you get the idea. Women don't know how to slow down. Ok, so maybe we do know how to but never get a chance. Whether a career woman or domestic goddess, we are a super-busy group of ladies.

    Although I've had summer free from my day job (SPED teacher's aide), I am still a mom, wife, church worker, full-time college student, home business owner (I sell both It Works Global products  www.wrapwithDonnaLynn.myitworks.com and Spirit Lockets  www.Spiritlockets/#LynnFoster), and on the janitorial staff at 2 churches. So I wouldn't exactly call my summer free. Anyway, one of the worst parts of my day is when 5 pm rolls around and for whatever reason, I forgot to thaw the roast...or got engrossed in business-building, or taking an algebra test, or just playing with my kids at the pool. And now the younger two kiddos are absolutely famished  *swoon swoon*. My oldest son and husband are about to walk through the door hungry from 12 hour-shifts at the factories where they work. And dinner is NOWHERE near the table....or in the fridge, thawing...or even in the most remote parts of my mind for that matter. And the scramble to the deep freezer or pantry begins. I do not like that feeling. A good mom, I tell myself, is June Cleaver...and the roast is ALWAYS on the perfectly-set table in TV Land.

  I really like cooking and looking at recipes. I really do. But the planning ahead of the meals and trying to change things up a bit is what catches me off guard. So before we get too far back into school this week, I am going back to a tried-and-true method of meal planning I used as a busy homeschool mom many moons ago. It's simple, and easy, although it will take some time to pull it together in the beginning. But it is a HUGE time saver in the end.

  First, grab a cup of coffee, a stack of your favorite recipe books/cards/Pinterest boards...wherever you glean meal ideas from, and a spiral notebook or paper.

  Ok, here we go. Start with one sheet of paper and thumb through those books (or look through those pins) and write down EACH recipe that you've tried and loved, or always wanted to try (just the name of the recipe for now, and where you found it is enough information). Do that to all your tried-and-true books. This will take hours if you have anywhere near the recipe collection I have. You can stop yourself at say, 90 main dish recipes. Include sides and maybe 15-20 dessert ideas as well. Now add to the list things you know your family likes to eat but that you don't need a recipe for...pot roast, mac-n-cheese, chili dogs, etc.

 Now go through the rest of the notebook and make lists of 7 complete meals...this will be good for one week's worth of meals.
Night 1
Night 2
Night 3...and so on. Mix the main dishes and sides. If you want to add salad or rolls, add that in as well. And don't forget to allot yourself one or two free nights by writing in "leftover buffet" or "eat out" or "frozen dinner". This way on your busiest night you have a little extra luxury of an easy dinner and still know that *most* of the week your family is eating healthy and getting a good, home-cooked meal.  My family likes deli meat sub sandwiches and breakfast for supper, so I add those nights in occasionally as well.

  Mark off the recipes as you list them. Add more sides if you run short to compliment your main dishes.
At the end you should have at least a couple of months worth of complete dinner ideas that look something like this:

Week 1:
Sunday night: chicken noodle soup (Taste of Home, Dec. 2006, page 15) and sandwiches
Monday night: roast with potatoes and carrots, apple pie
Tuesday: Grandma's baked spaghetti (church cookbook, page 33) with salad and garlic toast, pears and cottage cheese
Wednesday: frozen dinner plus fresh fruit
Thursday: chili with grilled cheese, chocolate-peanut butter oatmeal no bake cookies
Friday: chili dogs (using last nights chili) and slaw, baked french fries
Saturday: baked fish with wild rice (Pinterest "favorite recipes" board), steamed broccoli

Now that you have a few months of ideas planned out, you can laminate them, punch a hole in them, and string them together with a binder ring.

 And if you feel REALLY productive, go back and grab yourself some index cards and write down the actual recipes and put them in a recipe box, just like in the good old days. No more wasting time thumbing through all your cookbooks or logging into Pinterest to locate the ones you listed. Handy. At your fingertips. You could even divide the box of recipes by week to match your newly-planned menus. WHOA.  I am amazing myself right now. ;)

  The point of all this is no matter what you and your family like to eat, everyone needs a meal plan. It will save you time and sanity. It will help you grocery shop. You can always add new recipes as your family tries them into new weeks of collections. By the time you're done you may have 12 weeks worth (or more-- you little busy bee!) of ideas to use. Ideas that you can shop for in advance by week or even by the month.  No more of the "I'm hungry Mom!" dinner dash that stresses you out after you've already put in a long day. And the real beauty of this is you can hang this little list right on the fridge or a pantry door...then when Hubby or kids are being really, really whiny (hey it happens) and asking for dinner, you can put your tired piggies up and say, "The menu is on the door...go look up tonight's plan and  *gasp...COOK it." (You might have to help them get started on that project with some smelling salts).

  Wishing you the occasional free moment and many happy meals together!