Ahhhh… Dinner. It’s not just about eating.
A shared meal is a place to reconnect with each other after a busy day of buzzing around in opposite directions (a key ingredient for better health and happiness for everyone).
Yet, even though we want to make the “ideal dinner” happen regularly and We know how many good things can come from enjoying a meal with our family. We cannot deny that dinner can quickly become a source of stress. Not always the good kind that energizes you, but the kind that leaves you saying “Screw it, I don’t care. Pass the cereal.”
I’m recalling last night, for example, dining on leftover lukewarm calzone while my youngest frolicked in the tub, covered in what appeared to be a mixture of yogurt, tuna fish, and snot (she’s getting over a cold, it was a state of emergency to get her to the tub). And there I was, trying not to get my dinner wet.
Nevertheless, there is help.
I discovered Jenny’s awesome books after her blog (and mine) were both recognized by Janet Helm of Nutrition Unplugged as part of the “good” (not bad or ugly) of bloggers.
Below are some of Jenny’s tips I found the most helpful and sensible for stressing less about dinner. I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas below.
Where do I Start?
Start with a calendar, a strategy and a well-considered batch of recipes, and most importantly a commitment to making dinner happen. Acknowledge that there is never going to be a perfect time when you have a week without work, recitals or melt-downs. Even if such a week did exist, what would you be learning after all? The idea is to get into a rhythm where dinner no longer becomes a source of stress or dread, rather a time to reconnect and unwind.
Share the Load
Avoid making dinner just on you, that’s when it becomes a burden. Dinner is for the whole family, therefore everyone can pitch in. Anyone can learn how to cook–start with simple easy-to-follow recipes like Quesadillas or Omelets. Kids can browse through cook books and share their preferences or simply answer the question “what do you want for dinner?” Enlist helpers in the making dinner happen tasks such as setting/clearing the table, unloading the dishwasher, placing the condiments on the table.
Build Meals Around Familiar Ingredients
When you know everyone’s palates and taste preferences you are able to select recipes that will not be offensive. Build on foods everyone loves. An example is pasta, use it as the base and add to it with new ingredients like roasted tomatoes and mushrooms. If they don’t like the new add-ins at least they’ll have a positive outlook that it is ‘pasta’ when they sit down for dinner. This can be a helpful strategy when introducing new recipes that involve new flavors.
Gather Your Recipes (the fun part!)
Dig out that pile of the “someday we’ll make this” recipes and add to it with new recipes. To start, you’ll probably want to pick 15 “go-to” recipes. From there, weave in recipes that involve new flavors, colors, and textures. Remember, the end goal is to put an edible dinner on the table not impress the Queen of England.
Make a Meal Plan
Find a time to round up the family before the week get started. (Ideally Saturday and on Sunday you will do your shopping). It’s helpful to have everyone bring their calendars if you are juggling multiple kids/schedules.
Suggested Formulas for Meal Planning
- Use monikers like “Meatless Mondays” or “Taco Tuesdays”.
- “Fish” or any seafood dish, make it happen on Sunday or Monday so it is still fresh from your weekly shop (done on Sunday).
- “Halfway There” recipes that has a make-ahead component, ie, pasta sauce or or something that has been marinating all day. This can also be based on repurposing leftovers (steak into steak salad).
- “Use It or Lose It” this is the last dinner of the week that takes advantage of the odds and ends in the crisper drawer, ie Baked Potato or Taco Bar and also helps you feel less guilty about going out to dinner on the weekend.
- “Double Up” by making a double batch of spicy mayo to use on asparagus with a fish dish at the beginning of the week and then Chicken BLTs later in the week. Or make an extra batch of rice to use for a tofu bowl one night, then add to an omelet later in the week.
Shop on Sundays
To keep is reasonable on yourself do the bulk of your shopping at one store (ideally same place you can buy toilet paper and parmesan cheese). Make Sunday your day to do your big shop. Take your kids with you, have them help make the grocery list/clip coupons. This will also help them learn practical life skills, like sticking to a budget, selecting the best produce and bagging groceries.
Build up your pantry with flavorful staples like canned chipoltes in adobo sauce, anchovies, rice wine vinegar and dijon mustard. Overtime you’ll have a nice collection of these ingredients that add flavor to dishes and you’ll be more willing to try new recipes.
Is there anything you can do before you leave the house for the day that you haven’t already done on the weekend? This can simply be setting a pot of water on the stove so it’s ready for boil when you walk in the door. Or washing and chopping the veggies for the recipe the night before. You will appreciate this small task at the end of the day.
After you’ve finished your meal take a few moments to reflect on it. What grade would you give it? What did they kids think about it? Did it require too much prep? Was the clean up brutal? Most important, is it a keeper? Taking these few extra minutes before you go to bed with will help make future meal planning a breeze.
Let’s Hear it From You
What are your meal planning secrets to serving up nutritious meals and keeping everyone happy? I’d love to hear your tips! Feel free to share by leaving a comment below.