Every mom stresses about planning and fixing meals. Feeding a houseful of little people makes cooking with Gordon Ramsey look like a love-filled episode of Barney. There should be a show called Chopped With Kids. Not only would the contestants have to prepare a meal within 30 minutes with limited, mismatched ingredients, they would have to do it with a bunch of hangry kids screaming about how much they hate what your fixing and at least two toddlers attached to your legs crying for you to pick them up. Now, that’s reality.
Every week I plan my meals, and I ask myself the following questions:
What meal is everyone going to like this week?
Which night(s) will I run late and not have time to cook?
How many leftovers do I need for lunches?
Do I need to plan something to take with us if we’re not going to be home for dinner?
Ack! No wonder fast food drive thru is so popular. I confess to taking the easy way out on too many occasions.
There is something about dinner, in particular, which makes or breaks my day. In order to stick to my grocery budget and schedule, I must have a meal plan. I usually plan five meals per week using MealBoard, an app that stores my recipes and creates my shopping list based on my meal selections. 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-themed.
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. Soup. I also freeze extra meals to pull out.
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. I cook a chicken all day in the crockpot with garlic, onions, salt & pepper, and rosemary. It is very moist and easy to debone. I then save the bones and freeze them. When I have three or four chicken carcasses, I throw them in my big roaster with water, some veggies (celery, carrots, onions) and cook for 24 hours to make broth. It is excellent and almost free.
A crockpot is my best friend in the kitchen. I often have a crockpot meal planned for the days I work. 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 kept recipes in my meal rotation that I didn’t really like only because they were easy or I just was in the habit of making them. It’s hard to get excited about preparing a meal you’re not hungry for.
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.
Now, the Instant Pot has joined my meal arsenal. I have several IP recipes which go together very quickly on busy nights. Speedy and easy prep makes the meal less stressful
I can honestly say that we eat a home-cooked meal at home 90% of the time. It can be done. When I get sidetracked with too many nights out of the house or other interruptions to my schedule, I just stop and make myself pull out an old favorite which refocuses my attention on simple.
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