You should feel good about making your home nicer for your family and your friends. You should feel great about cooking a good dinner and making a dress for a granddaughter, creating a beautiful birthday party. It’s all part of life.
Hello there, Madame Woo here and this week I want to make you feel good about cooking dinner for your family. Welcome to Faithfully Madame. This is a subject that any parent is dying to implement as seamlessly as possible. If you know me, then you know that I am all for the simplicity of things. Simple is always the way to go, I keep things simple because overdoing anything just turns into another job or chore for me. Meal Planning is quite easy once you get a system down that works for you. We all meal plan in some way or another. Fundamentally meal planning is simply selecting recipes and shopping for the ingredients. You are probably thinking well I totally do this so why do I need to meal plan. Yes, you do this but everything works better with a little bit of organization. Meal planning is asking that everyday question of “What’s for dinner?”, taking the guesswork out of the answer. You know what it is that you need.
Eating ready-made meals is about being very passive, and actively cooking is something that nothing compares to.
Get Started, Get Organized
Cooking has always been a challenge for me. It is not just the effort it takes to get it done, but also the planning and cleaning up afterward. In the beginning, the entire dinner process of planning, prepping, cooking, eating, and cleaning alone would take 1 to 2 hours, sometimes 3, out of my day if I was not in the mood, an entire evening. The thought exhausted me, so much so that I would just give up and cook something frozen, like lasagna or, a favorite in our house, chicken nuggets, and french fries. Dreading those days when you work so hard to cook something new and the children refuse to eat or even taste it. Young children love consistency, they like to know what to expect. Eating the same things over and over again, maybe every once in awhile adding in something new, is good for you and them. The more you practice a recipe the more comfortable you become and the less time it takes you to execute it. However, it takes time to get there.
Meal planning is not difficult, time-consuming, or strict. Becoming a beginner meal planner is not hard but it does take a little effort to get started. These efforts help with keeping track of your grocery budget, saving time, and mental peace of mind. You will be happy when dinner rolls around, instead of feeling like it has encroached upon your day. You don’t have to worry about what to cook or take multiple trips a week to the grocery store because you, my love, have a plan.
Before beginning your meal planning journey an important step is to establish an essential base for your pantry. These essentials are the ingredients that you will keep stocked in your home that will help you implement your meals. Every cook should have at least one go-to meal. Make sure the items for that go-to meal are always stocked. My go-to meal is chicken or shrimp alfredo which is why I keep fresh Parmesan, lemons, garlic, and heavy cream, always. To help you get some ideas for creating your pantry list, I have included my pantry list for download (my essentials that are necessary for the simple meals that I make). This list should reflect your cooking style. If you do not normally cook Asian food then investing it a ton of Asian spices is a waste. Meal planning is nothing without customization. Finding out what you need to feed your family how you see fit. If you are completely clueless as to what you like and need in your pantry then skip straight to picking recipes. Compare the recipes’ ingredient lists and see if there are any common factors.
Picking Recipes, Building a Repertoire
Now that you have a stocked pantry. Let us figure out your weekly shopping list or if you are like me then every two weeks. Let us start by picking your recipes/meals. Stick with meals where the majority of the items are already stocked in the pantry. This will help you save money as well as help you from picking up one time items that will only be used for that one recipe you found online. Now like I told you I keep fresh Parmesan, lemons, garlic, and heavy cream for my go-to meal of Alfredo. So when choosing recipes I would look for recipes that use one or two of these items. This saves me money because these are things I keep at home anyway. I tend to have a lot of pasta dishes which go great with parm, as well as seafood which goes great with lemon, garlic goes great with everything, in my opinion, and simple desserts or cakes that cause for heavy cream.
Here is a tip, when picking your recipes and I say this a lot but do not play yourself. Do not go picking meals that are out of your wheelhouse. Your recipes should be doable and in your skillset. Stay in your comfort zone, there is no need for you to go jumping so far out of the box. If you are feeling adventurous then, by all means, pick 1 day out of your week where you have time to learn something new. I know you have recipes under your belt at the moment but if you are not satisfied with them then now is the time to go through picking out what you want to keep and what you want to toss. Remember it takes time to build a thoughtful and intentional collection. Currently, I have about 10 recipes but meat and vegetable combinations are quite endless. I rotate and mix it up. I will not lie to you it took me time to build this repertoire, I have picky eaters. When doing anything be realistic, if your kids are not going to eat it, then do not waste your time. I say if you feed it to them 3 times and they are not receptive then move on. Children need a few tries before they catch the wave.
Now that you have your basics stocked at home in the pantry and your recipes for the week or two picked out. Now you are ready to create your grocery list which will consist of your meat, dairy, and produce. I try to stay away from the middle isles when doing my weekly shopping. If it is on the middle isle it is usually a pantry item or basic necessity. I shop for the pantry once a month. You now need to know when you will cook these fabulous meals you have planned. You will need a meal routine.
Cooking involves a deadline and hungry people and ingredients that expire in a week. It’s stressful. Cooking happens on the stove and on the clock.
Creating a Meal Routine
A meal routine is helpful especially if you are a busy guy or gal. I would say first determine how many times a week you are willing to cook. I cook 5 nights a week with one weekday off day and one weekend off day. Save room for that pizza night. If you are looking for some Healthy No Cook Weeknight Meals, I have a few options. Keep it simple, kids like simple, take a break. Take it a step further and create a schedule. Assigning them to a certain day is very helpful. If you have your week scheduled which you should, then choose the easy prep meals for days when you are busy and the more laborious meals for evenings when you have more time.
I have mentioned previously in A Parenting Challenge: Scarcity of Time that I use Todoist as my organization and task management app. This is how I plan my week. My project is ‘Meal Planning’, my goal section is the week dated. The tasks are my ‘Meals 1-7’. Even though I do not cook 7 days a week I still plan for those off days, people still have to eat you know. When organizing my recipes I make sure all my recipes have a similar vibe. By this I mean if Sunday’s meal is baked chicken, pasta salad, baked beans, and deviled eggs. Then it would make sense that Monday’s meal would be hot dogs, baked beans, pasta salad, and corn. Mondays are hectic and busy being the first day of the workweek. So making use of leftovers and an easy dish like hot dogs. Balances everything out. As you can see in the photos I cooked a few extra pieces of bacon from the Carbonara dinner the night before and used that in my Turkey Bacon Ranch Wraps the next day for lunch.
Make freezing leftovers or doubled up recipes a part of your meal routine. You may have something in your recipes that you can easily freeze and even re-purpose for later. For example, if Monday I am cooking spaghetti & meatballs, I know I can double up on the recipe or take the leftovers and freeze it. Instead of just having spaghetti & meatballs again next week, I can use the meatballs and sauce to make meatball subs. Instead of forcing my kids to eat leftovers which they hate. This way I have turned one cook day into two meals and I have a lifeline for next week. I freeze food because it takes no extra work to freeze leftovers or double up on a meal. I do not do this excessively, my freezer is not stocked with frozen meals. I am just not the type. You just never know when you might need a lifeline one day when things do not go as planned or you had a bad day. My motto is you use it, you put it back.
Usually, one’s cooking is better than one thinks it is.
Cooking is an essential chore. Unless you can afford a private chef or can eat takeout every day, which is costly, then I suggest becoming a meal planner. Once you get it down then it is very easy to do. I sit down on Friday and make my plan I shop on Saturdays and my week starts on Sunday and goes to Saturday. Even if I decide not to shop on Saturdays for whatever reason and put it off. I always have my go-to meal as back up. And if you are having trouble cooking then let me give you some advice. It is not about what you cook but how you cook it. It is all about technique so build that up. Take your time. Peace is love, Madame Woo.
I am still amazed every time I notice how even the minutest of variation in technique can make a spectacular difference.