BY JENNIFER VANDER KLIPP
What’s for dinner?
Has that become a curse word in your house? In Part 1 we talked about grocery shopping, something that’s a huge part of our schedules as moms of teens. But once you get the food, you have to do something with it. You have to prepare it, cook it, and actually make meals out of it.
Trying to figure out what to have for dinner at four o’clock is a recipe for frustration and fast food. I know for me, when I don’t know what to cook and don’t have the energy or think about it, my default is to order out. If you’re trying to save money (kids are so expensive!) then that can be a budget buster. Thinking ahead about meals and doing some planning will save your sanity and budget. Here are a few ideas that have worked for me.
Plan in advance
Planning and cooking in advance is one of the best solutions. Several places like, Emeals, have prepared menu plans you can purchase. Most are fairly inexpensive, have options for specialized diets and family size, and give you a grocery list. You’ll more than save what you spend on these plans by not running out for fast food because there’s nothing to eat.
When you choose one of these plans, look for sample menus. You’ll want the recipes to be easy to make without a lot of ingredients. They shouldn’t take too much time (generally under 30 minutes). The meals should generally fit into your family members’ tastes. And there should be a good variety so you don’t get bored.
What I like about having a weekly menu with recipes is that I post them on the refrigerator. Everyone knows what’s for dinner. And I can even get my children to start helping prep dinner because they know right where to look for all of the information. This also works if your husband gets home before you (or generally does the cooking) or if you have someone helping out in your house. Everyone can be on the same page.
Cooking in advance
Another one of my favorite cooking survival skills is cooking in advance. Pinterest has tons of recipes. I love the Occasional Cook by Cyndy Salzmann, but there are other resources. This may seem overwhelming at first but the rewards far outweigh the work. There’s something very satisfying about a freezer full of meals that only need to be pulled out and warmed up. It’s also great if you want to deliver a meal to a sick friend or someone with a new baby. You have meals already made and ready to go.
I eased into this. I started by making 7 meals, then 14, and finally 21. 21 meals aren’t that much more work than 7, and it’s so worth the effort.
My game plan usually looks like this. I find a day or two when I can shop and cook. I shop on day one, first looking at what I already have in the freezer, then hitting Costco because the large quantities will work really well in this situation. Finally, I go to my local grocery store. Back at home, I put on whatever needs to cook for a long time: stock, marinara sauce, meat.
The next day I follow the plan to start making the meals. While you’re out shopping, buy something for yourself for lunch. You’re not going to want to make a lunch in the middle of cooking.
Finally, I type up a list of the meals I made, the cooking and prep instructions for each meal, and any side dishes that go with them. I print this out and put it on the freezer or fridge. Then I can cross off each meal as we eat it, and I have a great idea of what I have left
When I do this, I make twenty-one meals in about seven hours. It’s tiring, but satisfying to be able to pull something out of the freezer and not have to cook for a month. Try doing it with a friend to make it more fun.
Use your slow cooker
This seems almost too simple to list, but I know I overlook it a lot. In the winter time it’s great to have something warm and yummy for dinner. But in the summer it can also be great if you don’t want to turn on the oven and heat up the kitchen. Pinterest, of course, has a ton of Crock Pot recipes. Many subscription meal plans include regular slow cooker meals.
Make your own meal plan
Another great option is to pick the top 15 or so meals that your family enjoys and you eat regularly. You can write out a standard shopping list based on those ingredients and then rotate through those meals every few weeks. This works great if you have picky eaters that only like a few things.
Get your kids to help
Sometimes it hardly seems worth the effort when you can just do it faster yourself. Your kids might not want to help. Or they may find that they really like cooking. Either way, you’re teaching your children valuable skills. Being able to make even a simple meal will make their diet—when they are on their own—consist of something beyond cereal, PopTarts, and pizza.
Plus, boys are more likely to talk when they are doing an activity. There’s a good chance you’ll learn more about their lives if you can get them to help in the kitchen. When my stepchildren come over for dinner, I leave the kitchen so they can have time cooking—and talking—with their dad.
We continue with one more part to this series on survival skills with the ultimate survival skill: time for yourself!
Note—I do not receive any compensation from any of the companies listed or linked to here. I’m just a mom sharing with other moms what has worked for me.