Friday, January 01, 2010

A New Year

It's New Year's, and it seems like it's time to make a resolution or reflect or something. I really like the idea of resolutions, and I'm typically excited to make self-improvement goals, but right now I just feel too tired. Brian's been mentioning this week that we need to start eating better, and he's right. But I feel like I'm using all of my energy to get through the days, and I just don't know what to do to make changes.

Which brings me to the one thing which I would love to be able to improve this year: dinner. It's no surprise, I've talked about it a ton. It's the area of being a wife and mom where I receive the biggest FAIL. It seems so simple: just put a healthy and tasty meal on the table each evening. But nothing seems more insurmountable to me. I wasn't very good at it four years ago when we got married, and I'm worse now. Two kids and another pregnancy have only made it more difficult.

The biggest challenge to me about dinner is just deciding what to make. I just don't have a catalogue of recipes in my head, and every single day at some point I think with dread: oh gosh, WHAT are we going to eat tonight? I'm taking it one day at a time, which just isn't working.

So maybe what I need to do is menu plan. But the only thing that sounds more challenging than deciding what's for dinner tonight? Deciding what's for the dinner every night this week. And then I have to get out all the recipes and check our stock and make a grocery list accordingly? I know this is what many people do, but doesn't it take hours? Ugh, I just don't know how you do it.

I guess what I'm saying is that I'd really like to get better at this, but I just don't know how. And I lack the energy. Also, Brian is happy to do meal prep, but I'm still doing the shopping, so I would have to do the planning and that's really the biggest hurdle. Plus if we wait until he gets home from work to start the prep, we're eating later.

If you have any helpful advice, I'd love to hear it. Strategies, suggestions, how and when did you become competent at this task? (I'm assuming you are because I feel as though I don't know anyone else who struggles with this as much as I do. That sounds dramatic, so maybe it's an exaggeration)


Weed said...

Oh, I am certainly not competent, but before this pregnancy, I did an okay job at planning meals. I'm slowly working my way back up to competancy. I've found that I definitely do better when I plan a week in advance, but here's my trick: When I'm making my grocery list, I also make a list of 5 or 6 meals based on what we already have and what I'm buying at the store, but I don't plan what day we're going to eat what. I never stick with it when I do because what I planned for that night ever seems to sound good. If I just have a list in front of me of possibilities, based on what I have available, then it makes it lots easier to choose what to have that night when I think, "What are we going to eat tonight?" I also sat down once and made a big list of meals I make, divided up by category (chicken dishes, beef dishes, meatless dishes, and so forth). When I get really desperate and can't think of anything for my weekly list of meals, I go back to that list and it helps me think of things I know how to make, but maybe haven't made for awhile. I also get ideas as I'm looking at the grocery ads. If I'm looking for another meal for the week and see that pork loin is on sale I'll think to myself, "What can I make with pork loin?" and if I can't think of anything, I'll go back to my big list and see what I've made in the past with it and that helps. Also, a few times I've kept a calendar for a month or two at a time and written everything we ate for dinner that month (after the fact...not before--every couple of days I'd go back and fill in what we ate). Sometimes I'll go back and look at that calendar for ideas, too. I hope those ideas help. Like I said, I'm not a meal planning genius, but it's what works for me (when I'm not pregnant and not too tired to cook or having weird cravings--but it's getting better in this pregnancy, too!). Oh, also, I try to get as much done ahead of time as I can, usually at the beginning of nap time. I do the prep work and then relax, and then it's easier to pop things in the oven or start cooking when it's time. Good luck! But be easy on yourself, too. It will come, but you're in a difficult season right now. Any efforts you take in this direction should be applauded, even if you only get two meals planned ahead of time per week--it's still progress!

Charity said...

I started to type something for you last night, but I gave up because I was exhausted...
Thankfully, Weed said most of the things I was working on!
What I would like to add to this is that I have been very proactive in my search for recipe "keepers" that I keep in the rotation of meals. I've been working on compiling a couple of master lists that I can just look though and see what I have that matches the menu plan for the week in my cupboards and by accordingly.
I also have been trying to take a day a week and prepare all I can ahead of time for the whole week because I have a hard time shifting from home-schooling-brain to dinner-brain.
For instance, today I have slow cooking pork in the oven, Beef Au Jus in the crock pot, a whole chicken making broth on the stove top (which I will use for tortilla soup later this week), I'll go ahead and chop my veggies for the soup now...
However, none of that will even be done by dinner, so I'm planning on just doing burgers tonight since it's so easy and now the rest of the week, we can just heat up whatever we need, no stress! Sometimes I even try to cook double and freeze half for a couple of weeks from now. This is of course big family meal planning and also with home schooling in mind, but there's no reason you couldn't tackle it the same way and make your dinner time stress free.
I figure if I'm already working on one thing, why not just throw a couple more things together and then it's done and I have to only clean up the kitchen once!

Kate said...

Dave and I are doing the next round of Once a Month cooking next weekend. I would be more than happy to do the shopping and basic prep for you. You could join Dave and I on Saturday aka Cooking Day that way you wouldn't feel overwhelmed by putting it all together. It is super easy. My mom got me the family edition of the OAM cookbook, so the recipes are a bit more kid friendly.

Allecia said...

"Weed" taught me almost everything I know, so I can't add much. I would encourage you to give it a try though. It took me awhile to get comfortable with, but now it's a ton less stressful and a HUGE money saver. We also have a master list of things our family likes to eat (or at least most of us), so that's what I draw from when I'm menu planning. Kaden also likes it when I let him choose what's for dinner one night (it's usually waffles and sausage, which is nice and easy for me!). Oh, and I TOTALLY agree with what Charity said, if you can make a double recipe of something (or divide a large recipe in two) and put one in the freezer it's SOOO worth it. Good Luck! Keep us posted!

Jen said...

We shop every two weeks (when Nathan gets paid) and make a smaller trip 1/2 way through to restock on milk, juice, & produce. I have a master grocery list that I made on the computer. It lists all of the items (grocery/toiletries/etc.) that we commonly buy. When it's time to head to the grocery, I circle what we need and cross off what is already in the pantry/cabinets.

I always make a 2-week menu plan that has events listed on the side that we are committed to (home group, date night, work mtgs., etc.) On nights with no obligations, I plan a meal that takes longer to prepare. On other nights when we need to be somewhere, I pick something that will be quicker to make. I also try to coordinate meals with what is on sale at the grocery. Once you have a menu, it makes shopping so much easier. I would highly recommend $5 Dinner Moms new cookbook. It is filled with lots of great recipes for families that are trying to live frugally and still eat healthy.

Each time you write a post like this, it makes me think back to when you called me when we were in jr. high wanting to know how to make a grilled cheese sandwich for your dad. =) You've come a long way since then and it will get easier the more you do it. Can't wait to read about how you're doing!

Oma Froehle said...

Having always been a working mom, I had a list of family standards that you will probably remember, Emily. There was:

tuna casserole
fish sticks & mac and cheese
crock pot roast with potatoes & carrots
beans & cornbread (crock pot)
lemon chicken breasts over spaghetti
roast chicken (crock pot) with mashed potatoes & veggies
spaghetti & meat sauce & salad
hamburgers & oven french fries
pork chops & baked potatoes

Etc. . . . Most of these were either done in the crock pot or able to be prepared in 30-45 minutes. Even plain food feels good with warm bread, so I made a lot of Bisquick biscuits or brown & serve rolls.

Whenever I come across a good, easy recipe like "Chicken Corn Salsa," I add it to the rotation. I like to cook more now because I am not on such a time schedule. There are a lot of good ideas in the comments above! Sometimes I was organized enough to plan like that; and the rest of the time . . . no. You ate a lot of Kraft Mac & Cheese, too. :-)


bluedaisy said...

I don't meal plan like the pros above do--got lots of great ideas though so thank you :)
I do try to think of what I want to have for the upcoming week and make sure we have all the ingredients. I also try to keep stock on at least 2 easy meals so that if I get stuck, I have a go-to meal that isn't a pain to make.
I am getting better now that I am not pregnant--that was the worst, we wasted money on take-out for no reason other than my lack of motivation. For the time being, I am keeping in simple so our meals might not be very creative but they are reasonably healthy and they work well for the time being.
Good luck & keep us posted on what ideas you use and how they worked!

Dutcher said...

EM! First of all, that spontaneous chicken over salad I had at your house was LOVELY! I think pretty much everyone has covered it. On Sundays, I make a meal plan that doesn't have days assigned to it, shop in the morning, prep in the afternoon. Will usually enjoys helping prep b/c there's often a food processor involved. I'll freeze most of the meals, so I just have to heat up each night.

If making the plan is the biggest hurdle, I think Real Simple makes meal plans that build on each other. Also, there's a blog called

After you do it a couple of times, it's really no big deal. Plus, there's no need to make a whole new meal plan each week! We have standards that we eat ALL the time. If you feel the need to change it up, just change one meal.