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Monday, January 3, 2011

Happy New Year! Resolve To Cook Dinner.

I enjoy Googling phrases like, "cat in chef hat".

The Holidays are OVAH. Done done done. I love holidays, I love presents, I love the big deal of it all. I do not love how stressful it becomes for us to do business between October and January. I also do not love not having time to cook.

....but now I do have time! ...and I have been cooking! It is exciting - for me, to not be chained to the office and for the family, who is tired of pizza. Think about what I just said; My KIDS are tired of PIZZA. I know, right? This is the second week since I have gone back to planning our meals ahead of time and shopping with an actual shopping list.

As it is a new year, and some of us like to make resolutions and get re-organized and start fresh, I am going to reiterate my advice to you busy people out there; planning ahead is invaluable. I sit down on Sunday with a cup of coffee, my laptop, and maybe a cookbook or magazine if something has caught my eye. Since we have a share in a local meat CSA, I have a base to start with. For example, this week I knew I wanted to use a whole chicken, pork ribs, and ground lamb. I look at our family calendar and figure out which evenings I have time to prepare, and which evenings it would be best to come home to dinner already made in the crockpot. I try to work in at least one Tex-Mex dish (everyone's favorite) and one pasta (budget-friendly and versatile). As I choose recipes, I make a grocery list.

We have a whiteboard in our kitchen, on which I've drawn out a weekly calendar. On Sundays I update the calendar with everyone's appointments and activities for the week. Each day also has a space on which I write the dinner menu for that day. This serves a few purposes. It's a reminder for me of what we're having on which night, it keeps the kids from asking, "What's for dinner?" every day, and it makes me feel obligated to cook........because some nights I am sorely tempted to let them eat Trader Joe-Joes* from the can while I knit and watch Lie To Me.

Why yes, that is a cat with Miley Cyrus' face.

This system also saves me money. With proper meal planning and a grocery list, I spend an average of $150 per week on groceries (including the meat share). This is for a family of four, three meals a day (brown bag lunch for Eliza, Cammy likes to buy lunch at school, Jeffrey and I eat leftovers). We always have snacks in the house, and we usually have ice cream, and we drink nice organic coffee. I am no spendthrift when it comes to food, I just plan ahead and shop smart.

Here's our menu for this week, as example:

Monday: Crockpot Split Pea Soup, crusty bread

Tuesday: Turkey Burgers, Fries, Caesar Salad

Wednesday: Lamb Stroganoff on Whole Wheat Noodles, Sautee'd Green Beans

Thursday: (crockpot) Orange-Chipotle Pork Ribs, Mashed Potatoes, Soycutash (edamame, corn and pepper blend from Trader Joe's)

Friday: Butternut Squash Soup, Foccacia

Saturday: Black Bean & Sweet Potato Enchiladas, Fruit Salad

Sunday: Roast Chicken, Pasta w/ Olives, Lemon & Thyme, Spinach & Strawberry Salad

With the exception of roasting the chicken and the crockpot recipes, which are throw-it-in-the-pan-walk-away, none of these meals will take more than an hour to prepare. I looked in my chest freezer and my cabinets and took stock of what I had, then kept that in mind. The lamb stroganoff is because I had nearly all the ingredients already. The burgers are because the kids demand "kid food" one night a week, and Tuesdays are tough because E gets home from school at 5, but C leaves the house at 6, and Jeffrey is usually at the office until late. We have an hour together, so some kind of grilled cheese or burger or quick pasta is usually the best bet.

At least half of the week, I will make enough for leftovers. If it can be frozen (i.e. the soups, the enchiladas, the stroganoff), then I break it down into single servings with my Seal-A-Meal and pop them in the freezer. Single servings work best, because there is not usually enough left over for an entire second meal for four people......but I can grab a piece of frozen lasagna, take it to the office, and nuke it for lunch.

As for the salads, it's easier to just make what you need for the meal - but sometimes I will make lunch salads as I go so that it makes the next morning a little easier.

I'll be posting recipes this week, I promise! Now I am off to the kitchen, bag of split peas in hand. Have an excellent Monday!

*Trader Joe-Joes are the Trader Joe version of Spaghetti-o's. E eats them cold, from the can, for breakfast, like a hobo. Since they don't contain any HFCS or funky ingredients, they are better than actual Spaghetti-o's - or at least that's what I tell myself.

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