Yesterday as I stood in the laundry room, folding warm clothes right out of the dryer, I felt very housewifely and much too responsible, but I did have to give myself a pat on the back. My characteristic move is to fling load on top of load onto the living room floor, let it settle for several days until my favorite TV show comes on, then sit on my butt and get to work, which is pretty efficient in its own way, for a number of reasons. Arguments can be made for either method, so I'm not committing myself to anything here. I'm flexible like that.
But one cringingly boring routine that has me sold is meal-planning. For years I fought it, reasoning that it would cramp my creativity since I frequently get inspired by new recipes in magazines, on the Food Network, on the internet or in a re-read cookbook, and I tend to act on my inspiration immediately because That is My Style. But with three kids, I've decided that sometimes creativity is overrated. Yes, survival mode played a large part of my conversion.
I plan our menu once a week, usually a Sunday night. First I take a quick inventory of what I already have in the freezer and pantry. I also check out the remaining life span of any produce. I grab a cookbook or two that I fancy, my cute little magnetic menu planner and my datebook. I sit down, swallow the nerd-like vibes I give myself, and get to work. Ironically, I find at this time I have the opportunity to introduce creativity into my meals. Planned creativity is actually nice, not restricting like I thought it would be. I get to browse through recipes and choose new and interesting ones that fit our budget and nutritional needs. If I'm really thinking ahead, I can incorporate grocery items that I know will be on sale for the week.
Two nights are always a given. We have pizza on a weekend night, and we have a breakfast meal another evening. That means I only have to scratch my head for five days, or fewer if we'll be having a date night or if something else is on the calendar.
Here I will insert some disclaimers: I cook a lot, but I like to cook. I actually love it. I don't like to do dishes, and I do get sick of the kitchen, but I have a high tolerance for endlessly long ingredient lists and from-scratch recipes. Our budget dictates some of this, and nutritional reasons also play a factor, but so do our taste buds. For instance, we prefer homemade pancakes to a purchased mix. They're much cheaper to make, I control what goes into them, and we like their flavor better. I also cook a lot because we don't eat out much, because we have three young children. I repeat, three little ankle-biters who don't always behave in socially acceptable ways.
I went through a spell where I planned out every meal we ate, including snacks, but that got a little too intense. I discovered I wasn't a great estimator of how many leftovers we would have, I got too irritated if things didn't go according to my plan, and I would get exhausted by all the prep work and then go into shut-down mode. Never mind how long it took to come up with those menus, it was a waste of time! Now I just plan the supper menu, and it feels appropriate. Not too controlling, not too difficult, just plain liberating.
I'm free from the 4:30 what's-for-supper panic!!
Now to that new pile of clean laundry on the floor...