Monday, November 21, 2011

What’s for dinner in the New Year, Mom?

Most of my friends or close acquaintances think I’m completely nuts for planning a month of meals in advance; I sometimes agree or even feel slightly embarrassed. I’m in no way a Martha Stewart wannabe. I enjoy food. I enjoy cooking. I really enjoy the feeling I get when I make a delicious healthy meal for my family. Now, pleasing all five family members is not easy, but I think 3 out of the 5 is not bad. Especially when one of them is an opinioned four year old who is in the thick of “I don’t want to try it”.
When my stepsons were little I was working and going to school full time. My available time to plan meals was limited, so it wasn’t as detailed or even as varied as it is today, I started small and developed a method that really works for us.  Back then I could muster up the creative juices once a week to tackle the meal plan. Which to be honest became tedious and felt like a chore. I would ask my husband, what do you want for dinner this week? What I got back was the equivalent of a tumble weed blowing down a deserted street in the Wild Wild West. HOW FRUSTRATING!!!  I then decided to plan a whole month at a time so I wouldn’t need to deal with this frustration until next month.
So I decided to type up a list of all the meals I had previously written down on my wall calendars for us all to sit down and figure this out together and plan the month. The boys would give maybe a handful of ideas off our meal list and so would my husband before they would scatter off to either watch T.V or play a video game leaving me to figure out the rest of month.
My method has evolved over the last NINE years.
I now know better what my family likes which is almost EVERYTHING except Cilantro.  I usually make substitutions in a recipe to get around their dislikes, but in the end. What I make for dinner is What’s for Dinner! Like it or leave it, but you can’t have anything else… I’m not running a restaurant here.
My advice to start meal planning is simple.
1) Write a list of your family’s favorite meals so when you sit down to write your meal plan. You have some options right in front of you.
2) Take into consideration your life; you know your schedule and that soccer or dance is every Tuesday. When you sit down to make your menu plan, keep in mind that maybe a crockpot meal would be best on those nights.
3) It’s your meal plan, can change it if you want to, switch your meals around to another day, but don’t waste the ingredients that you purchased. All that waste adds up to a lot of $$$.  
4) Try and experiment with new recipes.  If you like Chicken Parm, why not try Rachael Ray’s Chicken Parm Toss or Chicken Parm Sliders. And remember you are in control of how you make it; change whatever you don’t like in the recipe… It will be delicious, maybe even better than anything Rachael Ray can put together.
5) Get a simple calendar with enough room to write a meal.
6) Chose a day to have chicken, beef, veggie, seafood or pasta meal.
7) Add some variety like a Mexican, Chinese, German, or Italian.  
8) Try and shop your local grocery stores sales on meat, cheese the things you use regularly and stock up when the price is right. There are so many wonderful sites that will help you save money on your groceries, my favorite is Living Rich with Coupons. Cindy at this site has helped me learn the best way to use coupons and maximize my savings.
9) Try to think outside the box and TRY NEW THINGS. The worse that can happen is you won’t like it, so don’t make it again!
10) Remember this is meant to help you feel less stressed, so have fun planning your meals. Take some ideas from your favorite restaurants.
Does the planning process still stress me out sometimes? Sure! But knowing I don’t have to think about what’s for dinner until Christmas is GREAT!!!  (Which will be seafood bisque, filet, mignon, asparagus, and baked potatoes). In case you were wondering.

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