Q : For some reason I never get suppers made on time and I end up spending the time before and after carpool anxiously trying to pull it all together, sometimes I can wing it, sometimes I am missing one or two ingredients and sometimes I just give up and get take out that we can’t really afford right now. I am a decent cook, but just need a little help planning it all.
A : Thank you for your honest and insightful question. Most women want improve streamlining their suppers. As Erma Bombeck so wisely quipped “I spent the first part of my life wondering who I was going to marry and the second part wondering what I was going to make for supper”.
Here’s the kicker : Supper has very little about cooking. That’s the easy part.
First we have to jump through three seemingly trivial steps, that aren’t trivial at all. First we have to choose what we are going to make and secondly we have to buy the ingredients, and finally we have to prep the food…… then comes the actual cooking. No wonder we get overwhelmed trying to do it all last minute!
These first 3 steps can be overwhelming. Some women have bookshelves of cookbooks, plus a bulging folder of recipes family and friends have sent them. Picking out a weeks worth of menus can be tedious when you’ve got over 100,000 gourmet recipes to choose from. It’s tough to get the motivation to go shopping when that’s your only nugget of quiet that day and besides, there is so much else to do around the house.
Add to the equation your own families likes and dislikes, the pro’s and con’s of beef (protein vs growth hormones ? ) and salmon (omega 3 vs mercury ? ) and any latent lactose intolerance, what’s a good parent to do ?
Step 1 : The magic number is 5. We have to plan 5 meals. There will be enough leftovers or life events to work with 5.
Step 2 : Go simple. Step away from the cookbooks and Aunty Sue’s perfect Pavlova recipe and close your eyes. You have cooked some good suppers in your life time ! Name 5 nutritious suppers your family enjoyed that you have prepared. Consider a soup, salad or green vegetable , protein and a carbohydrate. Write them down. Now play with the results. Make sure there is some semblance of variety and add all the spinach , alfalfa and foliate you want. Feel free to create a mixture of oven ready and home cooked suppers such as fish sticks, rice, green beans and minestrone soup. If you are concerned about it not being balanced enough show it to your Dr or show it to a nutritionist the next time you go. Just stay with the system until then.
Step 3 :Now write down next to each dish any soups and salads your family, or most of the family eats. Remember, stay simple. The goal isn’t to restrict your creativity, it is to empower you by getting you ahead. You can substitute every item on the list on the day if you have the desire, the time and the energy. If one Wednesday you are inspired to make a gourmet fish soup, and you have the time and energy , go for it and ditch the split pea soup.
Step 4 : Now write or type the key ingredients next to the supper choice. This will maximize your food shopping time.
Step 5 : Look at your family’s schedule and match the suppers to the day. If you and going to a wedding next Tuesday with your husband , you might skip the roast chicken your husband loves on that night and save time instead and make chicken fingers, French fries and green beans for your children.
Step 6: Write up the weekly menu plan and post it where you can see it. If you have the time ask the children for their input. Now make an entry in your calendar or an alarm on your phone with a time when you will prepare the ingredients. Are you an early bird, a night owl or something in between ? Commit to a time, the night before or in the morning you can always change it around. Keep consulting your menu plan, some food will need to defrost, other items will need to marinate. You know you’ve cracked the code when you know what is for supper as you are eating breakfast.
Step 7 : This is the trick to sanity. Buy your ingredients once or twice a week only. All that last minute dashing to stores to buy fresh produce is wasting precious energy. Better for your family that your carrots are not super crunchy but their parent is 100% fresh.
Step 8 : Repeat, alter, repeat. After your first week, write some notes on the side as you’ll be using the first week’s menus as a blueprint for the week 3. Such as ‘ Make vegetable soup with double carrots for Shimmy’. Now, create another 5 suppers for week 2. Follow the style of week 1, just alter enough to prevent boredom. Roast chicken from week 1 can become barbequed chicken on week 2. Mushroom salmon on week 1 can morph into breaded salmon on week 2.
Step 9 : Customize : Now you have a basic 2 week menu plan. If you want to create a new menu plan for each week, that is your choice but you have the outline now for a tried and true pain free menu plan. I would prefer you tweak it and learn new ways to cut corners or double cook on week 1 for week 3. Do what works for you. Using your crock pot more often will greatly simplify your life, as will bulk cooking we’ll discuss those in future blogs
Step 10 : Enjoy any small and big changes you make, you will make mistakes, because you are human. Learn from them, dust yourself off and carry on, when you’re having a rough day pizza might very well not be a failure be a sane decision you can trust.