Dinner used to be a huge source of stress for me. I worried about what I would make, if I had the right ingredients, and if my family would like what I made. After several years of preparing dinner 6 or 7 nights a week (we’ve been eating pizza on Friday nights since our children were born), I feel like dinner is a natural and enjoyable part of my day.
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Here are some tips I use consistently to make meal planning and dinnertime preparation simple.
- I once read somewhere that home cooks have on average 21 meals that make up our repertoire of common family meals. I thought this was very interesting and set about writing down my 21 meals. I actually came up with 23 meals that my family enjoys on a regular basis. By creating this list, my menu planning is a snap. I don’t stress over what’s for dinner tonight because my menu plan is ready to go. This list is for your staple meals. It is not the place to add the meals you want to try out someday. Have a separate list for the recipes you want to try someday.
- Now that you have your 21 Meals, this challenge will be a snap . One of the best strategies when it comes to meal planning is simply to plan ahead. I use a list that I call my Menu Planner to plan a pay period’s worth of meals (for me, that is every two weeks). My Menu Planner allows me to note breakfast and lunch ideas and then I use my 21 Meals list for dinner ideas.
- Make your menu work for you. I try to plan a menu that doesn’t keep me in the kitchen all day. One day, I’ll have roast chicken and vegetables and then next day, I’ll use the cooked chicken to prepare African Curry (a family favorite dish). I roast a big batch of tomatoes for my homemade sauce to put over pasta but then use the leftover sauce for our homemade pizza on Friday. I like to mix up a big batch of bread dough on Monday morning and then I have dough ready to bake each day of the week.
- Think about dinner at breakfast. When I am in the kitchen, helping my children with breakfast and lunch before school, I am already thinking about what is on the menu for dinner that day. I’ve already mentioned that I make bread dough on Monday morning, but I might also cut vegetables or start some vegetables roasting in the oven. Afterschool, there are so many things going on: homework, sports, instrument practice, tired children. Get as much done in the morning for dinner as it is possible to do.
Mealtime with your family is much more enjoyable when you take just a few steps to prepare. What are your tips for making dinner preparation as smooth as possible? Tell us in the comments below.