Planning Meals

Another way to keep sane when you work part time is to do as much planning ahead for meals as possible.  There is something about dinner, in particular, which makes or breaks my day.  In order to stick to my grocery budget, I usually plan five meals per week.  I make my grocery list off ingredients needed for those dishes.  I know there are seven days in a week, but we only seem to need five real dinners.  One night usually ends up being leftover night to clean out the fridge, and another night might be “fend for yourself” or breakfast.  We love breakfast for supper.  But, in fairness to my family, we need real meals the other five nights of the week.

For the nights where even my best laid plans are wrecked, I keep ingredients on hand for simple meals that everyone likes.  Tacos.  Macaroni and cheese.  Spaghetti.  Soup.  I also freeze extra meals to pull out.  I know people who cook in bulk, and I have tried that.  It doesn’t work well for me, and I rarely have a whole day a month to devote to just cooking.  I do, however, cook an extra portion or two of a meal every few weeks and freeze it for another harried night.  I try not to get too far ahead of myself with freezer meals because I forget I have them.  It doesn’t do us much good if we never eat them.

I think I have mentioned that we cook mostly from scratch.  That’s not to say I never buy a frozen pizza, but I know our health is more important than everyday convenience.  I buy whole chickens to cook and debone for chicken dishes.  My newest trick is to cook a chicken all day n the crockpot with garlic, onions, salt & pepper, and rosemary.  It  is very moist and easy to debone.  I started doing this because I don’t save the broth when I boil a chicken.  My experience is that the broth from most store bought chickens turns out very fatty.  I’ve tried the organic, free range chickens, and the broth is excellent.  But since we eat chicken almost every week, that becomes quite costly. 

A crockpot is my best friend in the kitchen.  I almost always have a crockpot meal planned for the days I work and sometimes even on dance day.  My 9yod’s dance class is from 5-6 p.m., so it helps to have dinner ready when we get home.  In fact, I have collected crockpot recipes for a while.  So many that I have not even tried them all.  So, the last month or two I’ve been making all my saved recipes.  A crockpot meal, or any everyday meal for that matter, must meet two criteria to stay in my recipe file.  It must be relatively easy to make, and it must be good.  There is a bit of a duh factor there, but I know I have had recipes I made that I didn’t really like.  They were easy or I just was in the habit of making them.  I don’t mind putting extra effort into a meal, but for most weeknights it needs to be something that I can make in the middle of chaos and expect to turn out in spite of repeated interruptions.

I can honestly say that we eat a home cooked meal at home 90% of the time.  It can be done.  I confess that I can get sidetracked with too many nights out of the house or other interruptions to my schedule.  We end up eating out too much or picking up something on the way home.  But when that happens I just stop and make myself pull out an old favorite which will refocus our attention on home.

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