Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Meal Planning - The Secret Sauce

I am no June Cleaver. I'm a full-time working mom with 3 kiddos and an 1.5 hr commute. On average, I get see my kids for 2 hours a day. (Before you pity me, you might as well pity 100% of working mothers who have to work outside of the home, I'm one of many).

All this to say - I needed to find a way to make mealtime work for me and my schedule. I love to cook. We sit down for dinner every night. Even if we're ordering in. (However, I try to avoid ordering out  because its just not cost effective for our monthly budget and let's be real - nothing more gratifying than a home-cooked meal :)

Here were my biggest mealtime hurdles: (I'll bullet my solutions below!)

  1. Time. Per my rant above, I don't have much time with my kids, the last thing I want to do is spend an hour in the kitchen preparing dinner.
  2. Brain freeze. When you can't remember what your family eats or what they like. A complete shut down of the brain and thinking of "what to make for dinner" feels like a Jeopardy question.
  3. Too good for leftover meals. I can cook like its Thanksgiving on any given Monday - and there will not be any leftovers enough for everyone. Probably one serving. So I would have cook yet again on Tuesday, and Wednesday, and Thursday... and on the days I make a HUGE abundance of food - it goes, untouched! grrr
  4. Weekend washout. My weekends are never mine. I don't sleep in. I don't go to the salon. I don't visit museums or friends. Weekends are the only two days I have to do all the other things have been neglected for the past 5 days: laundry, groceries, organizing, cleaning, homework. By the time Sunday 9pm rolls around, I'm BEAT. I even hate cooking on the weekends!
  5. Picky eater. My 2nd, Jake is the pickest little eater - for as long as I could remember. It was always a struggle to make one meal the whole family would enjoy. So many times, a new dish for the whole family would require some rice and beans on the side for Jake. 

Sum all that up - I have no choice but to suck it up and cook every night. But the truth is, I'm feeling the burn physically. By 9:30pm I'm DONE. I want nothing more than my pillow and blanket. Lately, It's been so bad that I take Gabby to bed with me and there we stay. I have to wake up in the middle of the night to put her in her crib and call Dad off the couch (terrible I know!)

So what's a mom to do?? Become a meal planner!
I've seen TONS of great resources in the Bloggersphere and Pinterest. A Thrifty Mrs did an excellent post covering some great printables to get you started! If you're not familiar with Meal Planning, here's an excellent "How-To" post to read.

Here are my solutions to all of my hurdles and the secret sauce to change what to make for dinner forever!

1. and 4. My Time-Saving and Weekend Washout solutions: pre-cut, pre-cook, pre-plan.
2. Brain Freeze no more: I keep a running list called the "Hit List" of dishes I've made that my family really enjoyed. To much of my surprise, I have at least 20 unique dishes! That's close to something new and different every day for a month!
3. Too good, not enough - good and bad problem to have right? My solution? Pasta dish on days with no leftovers. Pasta dishes are the easiest and quickest.
4. The Picky Eater: the biggest hurdle of them all. No matter hoe much I prepare, or how much I hope to bring something new to the table, I always get stumped to make dishes ALL of my kids will enjoy. This is when I figured out the secret sauce: Copy a restaurant's kid menu! We have a local hot spot called The Moxie Spot in Brooklyn, which has the most amazing menu for kids. I went online and pulled the menu. Before I knew it, I had tons of ideas for my kids and family. Don't know how to make it? Scout recipes online!

Here are some steps to help get you started:

- Having the right storage materials is essential: You must have glass containers (for anything you may microwave), plastic containers for anything you want cold and fresh in the fridge and finally Ziploc bags in all sizes.

- Take inventory of your fridge. I created a Family Shopping List that I keep on the fridge or at my desk at work and I track the items I need to pick up during my next shopping trip.

- To make this really work, you want to create a list of meals that have been tried and true to make your family happy.

- THEN, build a week's menu. To build my menu, I needed a  Meal Plan printable for my  specific needs. I needed one with the days of the week S- S, a Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner breakout AND a shopping list section. I cross reference my shopping list to make sure I'm buying everything I need for my week's meal.

- I shop alone and after I've eaten. Distractions are a nightmare and worse, when you're hungry. You'll impulse buy! When I come home, I unload the groceries right away.

- I wouldn't begin my pre-cut, pre-plan or pre-cook until Sunday. Saturday's are usually our family day, out and about or my day to clean the house top to bottom. Sunday's are lazy, laid back. I like to go to church and come home and prepare for the week ahead; plan work clothes, iron school uniforms, wash my hair. So what better day to take an hour and wash fruits and veggies: cut, chop or mince and store?

That is all. I know right... so little effort, such big impact.

Share with me your best trips and tricks to juggle work and family!? We can do this all day!

Leave a comment if you want a copy of my Family Shopping List! #SharingIsCaring

High Five!

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