Thursday, September 30, 2010

What's for Dinner?

There are three things that make me hold my head:  play-doh, not feeling 100% and listening to the clock strike four without a clue as to what's for dinner.  Unfortunately, all three things happened today.  I guess you could say it was the perfect trifecta of woe! :)  Gratefully, my day doesn't typically look like this!

In a moment of weakness :) I agreed to play-doh this afternoon.  Aaron & Ashley asked to pull out the colorful, crumbly, creative clay to play with while waiting for Norah to get home from gymnastics.  I actually shook hands with Ashley ... a verbal agreement that there would be hands-on participants in the cleaning-up process.  They really did have fun (isn't that the way with messy, squishing stuff?) and for the most part, the play-doh was contained to the table.  Aaron was vying for the world record in play-doh noodle length.  He made a string of play-doh a whopping 100 inches long!  That is an accomplishment.  Ashley made several meals including purple french fries and red cookies ... yum!  Speaking of "yum", Lydia ate some of Ashley's items.  Just a typical play-doh play-time!  As agreed, the big kids did help with the de-play-dohing quite a bit ... and Daddy got home just in time!

As for me ... I have an appointment to be healed tomorrow. :)  Just one too many days of a headache, a cough and the blahs.  Hopefully I'll be as good as new in just a few days.  I know my family will be glad to have me back and then they can say goodbye to the slumpy, grumpy lady who has been here the past couple of days!

And then there was dinner.  Aaron had requested earlier in the week to have my home-made chicken noodle soup.  While that might have some good healing agents that would benefit me ... I just couldn't get excited about hot soup when it was up to 90-something today.  So ... while I wandered from fridge to pantry to freezer and back to pantry, I was reminded of how glad I am that I make up a weekly dinner list.  Whew!  It is so great to not have to "come up" with something during that infamous hour before dinner.  Dr. Kevin Leman calls the epoch from 4 pm to dinner time the "piranha hour" and he's so very right on!  This is the one time of the day when I am d-o-n-e done and the kids are done and dinner is not done ... and that, my friends, is a recipe for disaster!

So, in an attempt to minimize the challenges of this time of day, I have long been in the habit of making up my dinner menus on Sunday and having the week planned before we even get started on Monday morning.  Sunday is my time to take a look at the calendar for the next seven days and see what nights have conflicts (or in most cases, what one night are we home!) and plan accordingly.  In light of our recent full family schedule, I have been planning lots of meals that can either be made ahead and served "fresh" from the fridge or crock pot dinners that I can plug in and forget about.  (Just so you know ... I'm working on a crock-pot Food For Thought for this weekend .... yummy!)  I also like to plan meals that I can get two dinners out of.  For example, I have a pork roast for tomorrow that will be enjoyed twice:  half for tacos and half for bbq sandwiches.  Any way that I can simplify my life is awesome and I'm more inclined to have this forethought if I actually thought about it before. :)

Here's a basic breakdown of my weekly planning:

I have a little spiral bound notebook that I use for both my list of meals and my shopping list.

No comments regarding my handwriting. :)

On the right side I have the the days of the week and then my meal plans including sides, salads and breads.  I try to be as specific as I can be so that I can shop accordingly and so that I don't have to get creative when I'm ... you got it:  done.  On the left is my shopping list for the week.  I make my list from the ingredients needed for the recipes and then add anything else that we need around the house:  pantry items, baking supplies, breakfast options and anything specific the kids asked for on their lunch check list.  By having my shopping list and menu list attached, I have saved myself the trouble of getting home only to realize that I need two pasta sauces, one for two different nights.  Often times, if I have planned to grill something, I plan the rest of the meal, but wait until I get to the store to decide what meat to buy.  That allows me to shop for something on sale or to check over in the Manager's Mark-down area (there are awesome deals there sometimes!)

As for meal ideas, I like having my little notebook because I can look back over previous weeks and get ideas for things people really liked.  It also works well because I can steer clear of meals that didn't go over too great, as well.  Most of my dinner ideas from just a few places.  I have my grungy recipe box which is bursting with grubby index cards.  :) I have a few cookbooks I like and use often.  One is my mom's family cookbook ... it's almost been used to smithereens!  The other one is  "The Dinner Doctor" by Anne Byrn.  I like it because she uses a lot of "ready-made food" to make really fresh dinners.  I also have subscriptions to two magazines:  FoodNetwork Magazine and Taste of Home Cooking.  I would highly recommend either of those for family meal inspiration.  And they're also good for browsing and day-dreaming about the day when mac-n-cheese won't be the top-rated meal from your kitchen!

I also have a fantastic app on my iPod ... my life-saver in the kitchen trenches.  It is called Epicurious, or Epi for short.  I understand that there is full-scale website you can use, but I like the handiness of this app and the fact that I can take it with me to the store and then back to the kitchen!  (And it's free!)  You really just have to check it out for yourself, but here is a basic description.  At the main menu you have the option to choose from a long list of meal-types (seasonal, holiday, health restrictions, ease of preparation, etc.)  Or ... and this is what I use ... you can type in your ingredients (say:  tomatoes, eggplant and zucchini) and then select if you are looking for a salad, main course, or hot side dish and then hit "search".  In the blink of an eye you have, literally at your finger-tips, 150 recipes that fit your description.  You can narrow it down further by adding additional info or just start browsing.  Each recipe has a source, a list of ingredients, detailed directions and, in many cases, a picture and ratings & reviews by other readers/cooks.  When you find one that might work, you simply add it to your "favorites" and keep browsing.  When you have a few recipes to choose from, you can go back to your "favorites" and compare and revisit your options.  When you find the winner for the night, you can view the shopping list and you are set to go!  It's great and so very easy to use!

So ... that is my meal-making in a nutshell.  I hope that you find it a tad bit helpful and I would highly recommend that you give it a try.  I can almost guarantee that if you did this for a month, you wouldn't go back to the "Hmmmm ... what I can do with a frozen pound of beef and this package of creamed spinach?"-style of dinner planning! :)

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