Answering the question “What’s for dinner?”March 27, 2013
We’ll read the internet front to back, debate on Facebook, bicker in blog comments and fill our Kindles to find answers to our many questions about food and nutrition. We want to know if we should be eating meat or not, whether saturated fat is healthy or scary, and to figure out a solution to GMOs. And should I juice or blend?
Yet the most basic question often goes unanswered:
“What’s for dinner?”
At the end of the day, practical matters matter most.
(And, oh yes, I’m completely guilty of the last-minute dinner scramble! You’d think I would have my menu all planned out and grocery shopping meticulously done but, um, no. That doesn’t always happen.)
So, the past 2 months were an experiment for myself as well as a group of about 150 women. I thought – let’s drop the diet dogma and just eat some good food. How ‘bout that? We focused on answering the very real, important question of what to put on the dinner table – and how to get it there, stress-free.
I’ll tell you something – it feels magical when it happens! A whole family, eating real food? Spending less money at the grocery store? Keeping cooking time to a minimum? Feeling in control? Read on to learn 7 steps we used, and how to making it happen for you:
1. Simmer down over there
It’s easy to get overambitious and choose 7 Julia Child entrees for your meal plan, with assorted side dishes and desserts. “Oh, and let’s bake bread!!!” you’ll squeal.
Simmer down, baby. To make this doable, I suggest choosing no more than 3 recipes. None should take longer than an hour to cook – preferably 30 minutes. Double or triple amounts so you can eat leftovers instead of cooking every night. And plan to eat out at least 1 night during the week because, let’s be honest, you probably will.
2. Accept small miracles
Cook every day? My goodness, who has that kind of time? Doubling or tripling recipes really is key. Choose recipes that you can easily scale – for instance it’s hard to bake 3 lasagnas at once, unless you have a really big oven. But it’s easy to make gigantic batches of soup or chili. Simply put, leftovers are a godsend.
3. Put pen to paper
Nothing fancy. Write down your recipes and note which nights they will feed your family. You don’t need a Pinterest-inspired menu board, just a scribbled note tacked to your refrigerator is fine. It helps me remember what day it is, not to mention what I’m having for dinner.
4. Go pre-shopping
If a recipe calls for pine nuts, maybe you can substitute the walnuts you already have on hand. Check if you have paprika before buying a 3rd jar. This sort of pre-shopping in your pantry can save you lots of money.
5. Consolidate your efforts
I see women running to the grocery store 4 times a week, starting the process from scratch every night. Instead, take care of a week’s worth of tasks at once. One big shopping list = 1 trip. Designate 1-2 hours at the start of your week to chop all your vegetables (store them in airtight containers in the refrigerator). You can even make things like rice, quinoa, dressings and sauces ahead of time. Remember – by doing it all together you prepare yourself for the week and only have to seriously clean the kitchen once.
6. Get your reheat on
We grew up using the microwave for everything! But did you know it’s really not that hard to reheat leftovers on the stove? Most meals can be reheated in a pan with a little bit of water to create steam. Cover and simmer. Things like entire casseroles can be reheated in the oven – 30 minutes at 250F usually does the trick.
7. Remix your refrigerator
Mix and match leftovers for other meals throughout the week. Steak from Thursday works well with eggs on Sunday morning. Salad greens from Tuesday can be piled onto a turkey sandwich for lunch. Use what you have and you’ll waste less money and time.
Eating real food is A) doable and B) vitally important. So let’s make it as easy as possible. Have any tips to add to this list? Leave them in the comments so we can all benefit.