Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Back to School: Meal Planning

As I prepare to get (finally) all 3 kids back to school next week, I'm taking a hard look at household organization. I definitely have some weak areas.....like the overflowing dresser drawers in the twins' room... but one thing I've got down pat is meal planning. Maybe it's because my kids are a nightmare during the circus that is after-school/soccer practice/homework time or maybe because I really like to eat, but over the last 7 years here's what I've come up with.

On Thursdays I review grocery store circulars and identify loss leaders. I then survey the fridge and freezer contents, pantry items, and make a list of needed items and note what meal basics I already have. I then make a meal plan, adding to the list the missing ingredients based on what I have on hand.

Friday is my half workday, so I hit the grocery store, bring home and put groceries away, prep meat (if it needs to be divided and marinated) and prep half of the produce. Every night after cleaning up dinner dishes, I pack lunches for all 5 of us and make sure the produce container (aka "crudite tray") is stocked with prepped/washed/chopped fruits and veggies, and -here's the key- prep the next night's dinner. It might be as simple as pulling out frozen meat or prepared dish or I might chop veggies and herbs, even measure out ingredients, so that it's easy to throw together during the witching hours. I supplement this process with monthly runs to Trader Joes and weekly trips for in season produce to the Farmer Market.

  • Crudite tray: I use a vented takeout container, but I've seen fancy $15 versions by Rubbermaid at Wal-Mart. If it's ready to go, you'll snack on the good stuff and not chips. Put this out while you're making lunch or dinner and the kids will munch on this while they're starving, keeping them out of your hair and ensuring they get what they need. I keep white bean dip (puree a can of cannelloni beans with olive oil and a bit of salt and/or rosemary), hummus and ranch dressing in my container.
  • Post the meal plan in the kitchen. If you're working late, sick, etc the sitter or husband or older child can help get things going.
  • Keep your recipe rotation fresh! See resources below, but scan magazines like Real Simple or Rachel Ray for new recipes that keep you out of your rut. And plan away, but leave room for options that pop up at the Farmers Market or in the ethnic section of the grocery store.
  • Meat: Divide and marinate! As soon as you get home from the store, use kitchen scissors to divide a salmon fillet, divide up portions of ground meat and economy sized portions of poultry. Pour marinade right in the gallon zipper bag and freeze. The night before, put in the fridge to thaw and at dinner time simply saute or grill a pre-prepped meal!

www.Rachaelray.com Yes she's hokey, but the recipes are easy and they do in fact take 30 mins, the whole premise is that it's faster to cook your own food at home than order Dominos
Realsimple.com has every recipe the magazine has ever run (for free) with convenient search terms and even meal plans and demonstration videos
youvegotsupper.com a free website and weekly email with family-friendly meal plans
leftoverchef.com Can't figure out what to do with 1/2 lb ground turkey and 1000 island dressing? Check here!

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