I love cookbooks. I love collecting recipes and I love trying new foods. At least I thought I loved those things but now I’ve discovered I love something else more: simplicity. All that collecting and trying of new recipes meant that every week in the kitchen involved some new learning curve. Even if a new recipe was simple I couldn’t just make it off the top of my head and if a recipe was complicated but only supposed to take an hour you could bet with 3 kids under foot it would take more than that. Also, there were the inevitable failures. Those nights when we had no choice but to pack everybody up and head out for pizza hoping that charred smell would be gone by the time we got back. Enough was enough. Now dinners are on a four week rotation, lunches on a one week rotation and breakfasts pretty much the same every day. It seemed a little boring to me at first but I am surprised by how much my family (and myself) have come to enjoy the routine. Here’s what it looks like.
This master list I made in Excel because it was easier to see how all the meals worked together on a grid but I have since transferred the plan into my Outlook calendar giving each meal and snack its own “appointment”. Seeing the meals right next to our activities helps me be realistic about what I can accomplish in a day. For example, given how long it takes to prepare, I probably won’t be making Tika Masala and Naan on the day of field trip but I might do some preparation the day before or switch it out for a crockpot dish that month.
Other things might cause changes to the plan as well. Someone might give me a bunch of tomatoes and I’ll adapt to that or we may be expecting company on hotdog day so I might do something a little more special. Also, several blocks on the plan actually allow for choice (ie. pork chops OR chicken, nachos OR quesadillas) but having the skeleton has saved me so much time. For one thing, since I order my groceries online I was able to create a master list of all the ingredients I would need in a given month and when it comes time to place my order each week I rarely go looking for anything. I just skim through my list checking off items I need.
*If I find a meal that works really well then I either type the instructions or where to find them in the notes of that meal “appointment”. I might also leave myself info like “works well with corn” or “1 pinch of cayenne is enough.” That way when the rotation comes back around that recipe (and any alteration) is right there waiting for me. Conversely, if something doesn’t work at all then I make a note of that too.
*Knowing that most meals will swing back around within a month has also allowed me to do more freezing than I was before. For example, Saving Dinner has a great Baked Ziti recipe which the whole family loves the first day but hates by the time we finally get through the leftovers. No problem. I now make half in a foil bake-n-take container to freeze and serve the other half. The following month I set the container down in the fridge to thaw the night before and heat n eat that evening.
On another note, lest you think I feed my family perfectly healthy food all the time, take a look at the lunches. For dinners, I strive for well-balanced; for lunches, when I’m alone with the kids, I strive for survival. Just keepin’ it real, people.