This post made me smile, because I can totally identify with Eleanor Bertin’s struggle to find a routine in cooking for a family. I’ve tried various methods of meal planning myself and, while I like the results, I haven’t kept up anything. I love Eleanor’s easy tips to begin meal planning and hope they are helpful to you!
It’s a tyranny all right. Supper. Every night.
I was ill prepared for the brutal reality when I got married 34 years ago. If it had been up to me, I’d have had peanut butter toast and a few raw veggies night in and night out. But it wasn’t.
Oh, I had lovely romantic plans for individual chicken pot pies, or cheese souffles for lunches, but I didn’t marry a farmer who came home at noon. Somehow in college I missed the course on getting a nutritionally-balanced, hot meal on the table in a timely manner on a regular basis.
In the earliest years of our marriage, I often capitulated and asked if we could eat out. But once we had a baby and were down to only one income, it was cook a meal or starve. I’m embarrassed to say that weariness and disorganization meant there were a lot of meals of mac ‘n cheese, bacon ‘n eggs, or fish sticks and fries.
Recently, a new mom sent out a Facebook plea for dinner recipes. It occurred to me she might not be asking for individual recipe ideas as much as she needed a plan to conquer the nightly tyranny.
That’s what I learned over the years of cooking on an often-tight budget, for a family that eventually grew to seven children—there is no substitute for A PLAN!!
At first, I thought the once-a-month cooking method would be my salvation. But with the size of our family, grocery shopping took one day, followed by two full days of cooking. It was exhausting! (One recipe should have rung warning bells; it called for 8 cups of chopped green peppers. Yup, we were eating that casserole for a real long time.) Yet it was so nice to have dinner planned and in the freezer.
To avoid the huge workload but still get ahead on meal prep, I adapted some of that method.
1) Make the Plan
I listed our family’s favourite meals and divided them into three months’ worth.
I assigned a meal “genre” for each day of the week; e.g.,
- Monday – pork or fish
- Tuesday – chicken
- Wednesday – beef
- Thursday – beans
- Friday – always pizza
I wrote a meal for every day on the calendar. The three months’ worth meant I could rotate plans without much repetition. Except pizza. Every Friday.
2) Shop for the Plan
Inevitably, I used to find that when I finally dreamed up something I could make for supper, I’d discover half-way through that I lacked some vital ingredient. I learned to keep a supply of basics on hand at all times (I put the item on my grocery list as soon as I saw quantities getting low.) Then I put the unusual things like canned green chilies or sliced water chestnuts on the list. Just before grocery shopping, I’d take a quick look at the meal plan and add to my list any fresh ingredients needed that week.
3) Bulk Cooking
I learned that certain tasks, in particular the messy ones, were the biggest culprits in causing that sinking it’s-almost-5-and-I-have-nothing-for-supper feeling.
Buy a large pack of ground beef, scramble-fry it all, drain and freeze on the (washed) Styrofoam tray it came in. It’s easy to break off whatever size chunk you need for a recipe.
From another large pack of ground beef, mix up and bake meatballs (325F, 20 minutes on a cookie sheet). When cooled, freeze in a plastic bag for a variety of recipes. Make meatloaf (to freeze baked or raw) and/or hamburger patties, separated by pieces of parchment paper for ease of individual use.
Cook up a large chicken (or a large quantity of chicken pieces). Many recipes call for chicken already cooked. Freeze in meal-sized portions in zippered bags.
It takes practice to develop habits like these. But it kept us out of restaurants, kept us nourished by healthy, nutritious food, and saved us a lot of money. Best of all, the peace of mind when you have A PLAN is entirely worth it!
Do you use a meal plan? What tips would you share with other moms for dealing with the supper-every-night-tyranny?
In a fit of optimism at age eleven, Eleanor Bertin began her first novel by numbering a stack of 100 pages. Two of them got filled. Lifelines, her first completed novel, was shortlisted in the 2015 Word Alive Free Publishing Contest. She holds a college diploma in Communications and worked in agriculture journalism until the birth of her first child. The family eventually grew to include one daughter and six sons (the youngest with Down syndrome) whom she home-educated for 25 years. Eleanor and her husband live amidst the ongoing renovation of a century home in central Alberta where she blogs about a sometimes elusive contentment.