Monday, October 10, 2011

Eating well in the age of busy

I've had comments and questions from people, both online and IRL about how I manage to cook every night and how we manage to have sit down meals with me working outside the home and children involved in activities after school and evenings.
Let me tell you, it used to be crazy and we ended up eating not very well, especially a few years ago when V was working outside the house.  Then, I got smart and realized that I needed to be more organized if we were going to eat well.  There is nothing worse than coming home after a long day at work, knowing that you need to be somewhere in an hour and a half, and trying to figure out what to have for dinner.  So, I started meal planning.  With a bit of planning ahead, I can maintain my sanity and we can still eat well.
I started with a dry erase board on the fridge.  All these years later, we still have the same board.
I usually take a few minutes on Sunday afternoon to come up with the meal plans for the week.  At that point I've got a good idea of after school/evening activities and also an idea of what the weather will be like.  The dry erase board also has a section for 'other notes' so I can write reminders if I need to do things like soak beans or do some make ahead preps.
Here's the plan for the week, with explanations:
Monday- the plan for dinner tonight is grilled turkey tenderloins, pasta with pesto and salad.  I try to do meatless Mondays but I'm taking advantage of the last day of forecast lovely weather and we're going to grill.  I've also got the day off today so I can do some make ahead prep for the rest of the week.  This evening, J17 has orchestra rehearsal.  She leaves at 5:15 and gets home around 7pm.  I usually plan to be ready to put the meal on the table when she gets home.
Tuesday- we're having pulled pork sandwiches, coleslaw and probably french fries.  J17 has a violin lesson at 7:15 so she has to leave shortly after 7 to get there.  I get home from work at 5 so that leaves me less than 2 hours to do chores and get everyone fed. Here is where the planning ahead comes in.  I'm cooking a pork loin roast in the crockpot today (Monday) while I'm off and will pull it and add BBQ sauce.  It will make a meal for Tuesday and one for the freezer for later.  All I have to do is heat it up.
Wednesday- K11 has band rehearsal after school so we all get home a little after 5 but amazingly enough, no one has to go anywhere else that evening.  So, we'll have our meatless meal today. I'm planning to make quiche.  I managed to harvest some broccoli from the garden today that will go into the quiche along with some cheese and our own eggs.  Wednesdays is also the day I do my grocery shopping.  The sale ads come out on Wednesday.  V picks me up from work after he drops K11 off at rehearsal and we've got an hour before rehearsal is over so it's conducive to grocery shopping.  I get the ad emailed to me so I can spend time over lunch doing some planning.
Thursday will be spaghetti and salads. In another planning ahead for the week, I'll also be making up some marinara sauce today while I'm home and puttering around the kitchen. I can use some fresh tomatoes from the garden.  By cooking it ahead it will be ready on Thursday evening and will just need heated up.  I may or may not add in some italian sausage- we'll see how I feel on Thursday.  And again- no one has anywhere to go!
Friday- The meal plan calls for beef and veggies. I'll take a beef roast out of the freezer on Thursday evening and put it the big cast iron dutch oven in the oven (it's one of those enameled ones- NOT a Le Creuset on my budget!).  I'll let it cook for a while while I do other chores and then add in some root veggies and cook for a while longer.  It's one of those easy meals that I can throw together while doing other things and I don't really have to think about it much.  I'll probably mix up some beer bread to bake alongside it in the oven and it's a complete meal.  This week we don't have plans but often on Fridays I14 has to play in the band at football games.  Again, we usually eat late as he's home between 7:30 and 8.  But that's ok because on a Friday night, we don't have to get to bed early to get up early.
Saturday and Sunday we plan as we go but they're not usually as busy.  That also allows us some flexibility.
I'll try to remember to do another Meal Plan Monday posts in the coming weeks.

UPDATE!!  This menu plan isn't set in stone.  There is already a modification in the works. Wednesday night's meal will now be jambalaya.  We've got quite a bit of left over turkey from this evening and a couple bits of other stuff (a left over grilled brat from Sunday night, etc).  Jambalaya is my 'catch all' meal for left over bits of meat.  Whatever is lying around goes in- otherwise it tends to not get used.  So.... quiche is out.   But, since I still want to have my meatless meal this week, we'll have cheese tortellini with marinara sauce on Thursday instead of spaghetti with meat sauce.  See, it all works out.  I'll just have to plan something else to use eggs!!  We're getting an average of 6 per day! Hmmm, maybe we could have quiche on Friday...... I'll have to think about that.


  1. That is a great system. It can work even for a single person with no children, but a full time job!

  2. This is great! I say as I'm running out the door to swimming practice LOL! I went back in and marked it as "unread" so I can really read it as soon as I get back in, thanks!!

  3. That's great--very much similar to what we do, so I'm glad to see it works for bigger families too. I think it's so important for people to see that real cooking is do-able, even with work and kid activities.

  4. Susan- absolutely! I shudder to think of some of the things we used to eat because we were busy.
    Erin- It really can work. I am so much more relaxed about meals now. And, of course, the plan isn't set in stone. In fact, I'll update to include a modification already planned.
    s- I always did a fair amount of cooking but being organized makes it so much easier. I'm forever shaking my head at a coworker who frequently feeds her children cereal for dinner because she doesn't have time to cook... really???

  5. We had a dry erase board on the refrig for years. It didn't go away until both kids were in college - then I had a terrible time cooking because I didn't know how to cook for I'm a Pro!! lol ...debbie

  6. You need to attend some estate auctions. I bought my first Le Creuset pan as a gift for my wife after passing her medical exams. It was new and as you know, expensive. Since then, we've picked up several more at estate auctions and I think the most I have paid for one of those was $20 and it was like new. Now we own an entire set (amazingly all the burnt orange color) and I just love those things.

  7. This is timely for me because even though we don't work off the farm, getting a good meal is harder because we are so busy with rehabbing our house and tending the garden that we actually do forget to eat sometimes. I was just thinking how ironic it was that we had all of this wonderful food growing and are not taking full advantage. So meal plan it is!


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