Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Kitchen Matters: What's for Supper?

There is no worse feeling than to walk into the kitchen to cook supper, only to open and shut the cabinet or refrigerator door several times and not have any idea as to what to prepare.  Nothing turns my evenings into chaos quicker than to not have a clue what I am fixing for supper.

(manystars.com)


Preparing dinner shouldn't be stressful.  

Over the years I have tried several meal planning websites, menu planning for a month, and the always dangerous "fly by the seat of my pants" methods for getting supper on the table.  Between an enormous amount of food waste to dollars spent in restaurants with no plans, I knew something had to be done!  By no means have I perfected the dinner hour, but I have made progress in solving our own dilemma regarding "What's for Supper?"  It's nothing fancy, and it may not work for everyone, but when you are juggling four kids and their extra-curricular activities and a husband who travels for work 50% of the time, this solution has really helped my issues.

What is it?

Simple enough, I buy groceries one week at a time.  Yep, it's that simple.  For the most part I don't grocery store hop to get all I need, I have a destination and off I go.  Occasionally I do pop into Whole Foods or Fresh Market to grab few few specials or fresh veggies.  This usually works well for us (unless the stupid Beagle decides to eat Friday's dinner plans because I sat down to chill after shopping with my kids instead of putting up groceries.)



Honestly, this plan only works well if you are organized and good at scheduling.  I keep a planner/journal in my purse at all times.  In it is a complete schedule of family activities:  Audley's business trips, extra-curricular activities, youth group activities, field trips, times, and locations of all that is going on in our lives.  I also keep my to-do list in the planner, and this is where my menu for each day is written as well.  You can invest in a good planner for about $20, although I have seen planners go as high as $150!  I try to be organized, but prefer to do it cheaply.  I purchase mine when the kiddos get their planners for school, so the year goes August to August and the entire family is lined up the same.

Mom Agenda from Swoozies.
Before you can menu plan and shop accordingly, do an inventory of your cabinets and refrigerator.  See what you have, write it down and make use of it!  If you garden and can, be sure to count these items as well.  I discovered before we moved that I had enough food stashed away that I didn't have to make a trip to the store for the last two weeks we lived in our home!  And here I thought we were starving every week when I went to the store!

Four days before our move all of the ingredients were stashed away to make this delicious creamy tomato sauce to top  mushroom ravioli.

BBQ chicken (a combo of three nearly empty bottles of sauce) and veggies, just two days before we moved.

After you have completed your inventory, make a list of your family's favorite meals.  Finally, make a list of recipe ideas you have collected from magazines, books or blogs.  This will be those things you have always wanted to try, but not really made the time for, like RuthAnn's Hillbilly Spaghetti Pie, Pioneer Woman's Braised Beef Brisket, or even my favorite Cornbread Salad. You want to hang onto all three of these lists; stick them in your planner for reference.

  Menu planning one week at a time is a 30/45-minute project or less after you get started.  I like to do it on Sunday afternoon or Monday morning after the kiddos have gone to school.  Sales paper in hand, or internet ads pulled up (from multiple destinations), I jot down the items that are on sale that really appeal to my family.  I am by no means an extreme couponer, but I do use them and match adds.

Using those items, I check my lists and see what ingredients I already have, what appeals to the family, and what makes my own heart sing.  If it is something we had recently, I turn to my cookbooks or recent magazines where I might have marked a recipe or two for inspiration.  I keep a little notebook in the kitchen where I write down anything we keep in stock that I have run out of which I add a list of what I need creating my menu and grocery list for a week.  If there are several great sales and you can fit it into your budget, add a little extra to stock up on or plan a meal or two for the following week.

Writing it down in my planner just as if I were writing down an appointment, allows me to see what I have prepared in the past few weeks so that I am not meal repeating.  It also allows me to coordinate meals to fit activities.  For example, if Madeline has a home track meet on Tuesday, it means we may not eat until 8:30.  For that night we will have something that I can make in the crock-pot, it might be a good night for bacon egg and cheese sandwiches, or I might pack a picnic basket for us to enjoy while sitting at the stadium.  By already knowing the plans for the day, I can plan my meal accordingly.



But, plans do change.  You may get stuck in traffic, something may not thaw out properly, or you may have simply run out of hours in your day.  You can still be prepared for this.  Allow for one to two extra meals in your budget a couple of times a month.  This might include ingredients for homemade pizzas, jarlsburg or brie cheese for a totally amazing grilled cheese sandwich, or fresh vegetables for a filling salad.  I also try to keep a few extra's on-hand for the days when we have unexpected company, but I'll get into that more with a stock the pantry list my next post.



If you need inspiration for meals, check out your favorite magazines or the internet for resources.  Pampered Chef offers many quick recipes on their site.  One of my favorite places to find inspiration is the Williams-Sonoma website.  Not only can you find a menu planner here, but ideas for quick and easy recipes.  And seriously, you would be amazed at how inspired you can get reading the latest issue of Southern Living while waiting on track practice to end!  Step out of your box and be creative.  It'll make everyone look forward to mealtime!

Like I mentioned earlier, different things work for different people.  I just find it so much easier and less stressful to shop one week at a time.

What works for you?

2 comments:

  1. Jen, your organization skills are amazing. I wish I had them.

    My aunt recently became very ill because she ate tainted mayonnaise. I checked my bottles yesterday and one had expired by a year and the other by two! Needless to say, I was shocked. I remember buying them and it did not seem that long ago. So I was intrigued by your mention of using up refrigerator items. I am now writing in permanent marker on each bottle in the fridge the last date to use it.

    When I was a younger wife, I used the Woman's Day or Family Circle menus often because they featured meals made from leftovers. It was quite economical as I recall.

    In this economy, there is no room for waste so I am trying to do better. Speaking of which, I have some soup that has got to go to the freezer or be eaten today...

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  2. Thank you Jen for this post. It was inspirational to me as I've been feeling in a bit of a slump and needing a pick me up.

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