I have kids and, as everyone knows, in order for kids to grow into healthy functional adults that don't open meth labs in the back of the trailer in order to earn enough to feed their seven bastard children all named Jayden you have to provide them with a rich buffet of activities and experiences. This school year brings guitar lessons, voice lessons, fencing practice, tutoring, two different dance classes, and carpooling from Eliza's school which is two towns away. Plus, I work.
This could all easily result in the consumption of Burger King four times a week with frozen pizza bagels on the off days. It's easy to get overwhelmed by a schedule, and it seems that a lot of families just eliminate mealtimes all together - they throw any quick food into their kids as they run out the door because hey you have to eat and hurry up and grab your cleats we're late as it is. My daughter brought home a flyer from school for Eat Dinner With Your Kids Day, and I felt profoundly sad. I make a point, even with our schedule, to eat dinner as a family. We're averaging about five nights out of seven, as weekends are more casual and once in a while we eat in front of the TV. The rules are; no phones, no laptops, no TV (you can see it from our dining room table), and no answering "I don't know" and "Nothing" to questions about your day. Even if dinner lasts 15 minutes before we run back out the door, it still counts.
"How DO you do it Holly you are amazing," you say. Oh, you.
The key is planning. I sit down on Sunday and come up with at least six dinners.* I try to get the kids to suggest stuff, it's nice to have them involved in the process. Then I make my shopping list and hit the stores. I've also come to terms with shortcuts. I used to be militant about everything being from scratch, but you learn to make concessions (Rotisserie chicken is now a kitchen staple, makes my life a little easier).
For example, here's our menu for the week;
Monday - Stuffed Shells with Panzanella
Tuesday - Burrito Night
Wednesday - Teriyaki Chicken & Pineapple Kabobs with Sushi Rice Balls
Thursday - Caribbean Quinoa & Peas with Tropical Fruit
Friday - Tomato Gorgonzola Soup with Popovers and Salad
Saturday - Pizza Night
Sunday - Crockpot Smoked Brisket, Polenta, Roasted Broccoli
Sounds fancy and complicated, but none of these will take me more than a half hour prep time. I always have pizza dough in my freezer and I usually budget for take-out pizza just in case we have a Day. I use my crockpot at least once a week, more in the winter.
I feed a family of four for an average of $150 a week - that's three meals a day, because the kids like to bring lunch to school. I do belong to a CSA, which is pretty great for the budget. I throw away a lot less un-used, funky food now.
I realize that every family is different. I understand working 3rd shift and sleeping during the day, and I understand being broke, and I understand Circumstances more than you know. This is what works for me, in my life, with my family, and maybe it will work out for you too.
Hey you know what? Here's a recipe for Panzanella!
Panzanella (Bread Salad)
8 oz Ciliegine (those little balls of fresh mozzarella), drained
16 oz cherry or grape tomatoes
1 c chopped basil (I like a nice chiffonade)
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 head green or red leaf lettuce, rough chopped
1 tsp - 1 T finely chopped garlic (to taste)
1/2 c olive oil
1/4 c balsamic vinegar
s/p to taste
about 6 cups of cubed bread. I recommend a nice dense loaf. I usually use a whole grain peasant boule', which sounds fancy but I can get it at Stop & Shop. Day old bread works best. If you have time to plan ahead, cube the bread in the morning, leave it out on a cookie sheet or your cutting board or what-have-you, and let it dry out. This dish was born out of a need to use up day old bread so think untoasted crouton.
How I did it:
It's a salad, so it's not real hard to figure this one out. I like to toss everything but the bread and lettuce together and let it sit and marinate a little while I cook the rest of the meal. (This can, however, be a nice meal on it's own - especially in the summer when it's too hot & gross to cook.) Then you can toss in the bread cubes about 5 minutes before serving. It is a style choice of whether or not you toss in the lettuce. I like to, but it also looks real pretty sitting in a bed of greens.
*Most often used for inspiration & recipes: Food Network, Real Simple, The Crockpot Lady
I only read Real Simple for the recipes, I swear.
I do read other magazines, visit other blogs, and have a f-ton of cookbooks...but if I just want to hurry up and figure it out and be done with it, those are my favorite three.