Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Household Task

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...


Jen Bontrager said...

You are not alone in your weekly meal-planning, Joyce. I keep two binders- one for main dishes that have been successful and another for everything else. Whenever I find a recipe that we like, or one I want to try, I type it up (or rip it out of the magazine it's in) and slide it into a plastic cover in my binder so that it's ready to go for next time. I've used my typed out recipes to make some "cookbooks" for new brides. I also keep a running list of meals we like in the front of the binder so I can quickly scan it for ideas.
Happy cooking!

Grandma Ruby said...

Good for you, Joyce. Let's swap--you cook, I'll do laundry.

Kris F said...

Good work...I feel like I'm swimming in laundry lately. When I know I'll never get done with a task I tend to put it off longer.

Meal planning...definitely have to plan ahead or everyone goes. I've been really enjoying getting stuff for 7-9 recipes at the beginning of the month and then I just have a list I can look off of to know what I can make with the ingredients I have. I tried planning for every day of the week, but got sick of it and felt like I didn't stick to the plan half the time anyway. We still have to go to the store for milk and eggs and such, but I try to have one huge shopping trip and then just little trips per month.

Cheers to figuring out what works for you and your family!

Sabrina said...

You encourage me. I've done this in the past, but lately have let it slip. I've done what Kris does also and liked it. I have a friend that has kept her recipe plans (I think she does a month at a time -too much for me) and then pulls them out again a year or so later. Our budge plays a large part in our meals. Do you have any budge friendly meals to share? Sadly I often feel like the cheaper I go the less healthy the recipe is.

shaunjoy said...

I keep thinking that I should plan my suppers in advance. The only problem is that I'm not crazy about cooking and so looking at a week's worth of meals (and thinking about all the clean up) is a bit depressing. :) I have been, however, making large batches of food whenever possible; enough for supper, leftovers, and a meal to go in the freezer. I love to eat, so I've gotta cook!

heather said...

On a good week I do this too. It takes so much stress out of 4:30. :) You have a fun way of writing what each of us mamas are thinking about being at home. :)