I don't consider myself the world's most organized person or the kind of mom that "has it all together" but since this is a blog about food and since I get asked this now and then, I thought I'd share a little bit about how I get meals on the table and keep my kitchen a somewhat sane place on a regular basis.
My major goals are to cook dinner at least 5 nights a week (other nights might be eating out, going to a friend's house, cold cereal etc.), not to overspend on groceries or waste food, and have time to spend with my daughter in the evenings. Here are the things I find help me to meet these goals:
1. Planning a menu at the beginning of the week and choosing dishes that use up food that might go to waste
2. Not going grocery shopping more than twice a week
3. Avoiding processed foods and packaged meals.
4. Prepping dinner in the afternoon
5. Cleaning the kitchen every night
On a typical week, I make a menu on Saturday or Sunday for the week to come. Then, on Sunday or Monday, I shop for groceries for the meals we will eat for the next 4 days. On Wednesday or Thursday, I grocery shop one more time for the end of the week and weekend.
This weekend, I made a menu on Saturday for Sunday through Wednesday nights and went to farmer's market to get produce. Then, on Sunday, I went to the grocery store for the non-produce. The following menu is for this week. Typically, I try to have at least one vegetarian entree, beef once (or less), and not have chicken 2 nights in a row. When I make the menu, I also take into consideration what I have on hand and what I need to use up before it goes bad and goes to waste.
Sunday - Curry grilled chicken, lemon green bean pasta salad (recipe coming soon!), fruit
Monday - Pan seared lamb chops, cous cous
Tuesday - dinner meeting for church at someone's house (taking a dessert)
Wednesday - Pasta with buttternut squash, chard, and sausage, salad
After my grocery shopping, at the beginning of the week, I make a batch of granola or muesli and make sure we have healthful snacks (I make my own trail mix, clean and chop up raw veggies, stock fresh fruit).
On a daily basis, a big part of my strategy is to not make the whole dinner at 6:00. My toughest part of the day is between my daughter's nap and supper time. I'm tired and not as patient, my daughter usually wakes up grumpy, the house isn't as neat as I'd like it to be, and I have a meal to put on the table. To make this better, I try to prep part of the dinner in the afternoon and do whatever dishes and cleaning up that I can do while my daughter is napping.
Some days, this means putting dinner in the crock pot or making a meal that I'll bake at dinner time (lasagna, enchiladas, casseroles). I don't like to cook and reheat (no microwave, takes twice as long) but I like things that can be assembled ahead of time. I also will do things like wash and chop up vegetables, or measure out ingredients. After that, I fill the dishwasher with any of the prep dishes and pick up around the kitchen or set the table. Then, in that hour or so before dinner, I can get things started (put something in the oven, put a salad together, start something on the stove) and play with my daughter in her room or outside. For example, today I marinated the chicken, made the pasta salad, and chopped up the fruit in the afternoon. At supper time, my husband grilled, I put the finishing touches on the pasta, and dinner was ready.
It doesn't always work this way but the nights where it takes me more than a half hour (of hands on time to make the meal at supper time), I seem to end up stressed by the time my husband gets home from work. I work 2 days a week and I save easy meals (or Dream Dinners or leftover nights) for those days when I know I'll be tired.
After dinner, I always clear the table and rinse all the dishes. If my daughter is occupied and happy, I go ahead and fill the dishwasher, clean the counters, empty the trash and wash the big pots and pans. If she needs my attention, I wait until her bathtime or right after she goes to bed and do that part. Going to bed with a clean kitchen makes my mornings less stressful - I don't like waking up to a big mess. Usually the dishwasher is full and I run it while we're in bed at night and unload it in the morning while I have my coffee (or OJ these days).
Okay, I know that's only dinners. I make hot breakfast 2-3 times a week and the other mornings we have yogurt & granola, cold cereal, toast and fruit, etc. My husband rarely eats lunch at home but my daughter and I eat leftovers, canned soup, sandwiches, or other easy stuff like that most days.
None of this is earth-shattering or very creative but it's what works for me now. I do well with routine. I don't like to eat the same food every week but if I keep this sort of pattern in my schedule, it helps our weeks go much smoother. I know it'll probably all change when we add another little girl to our household in August. What are the things that work for you or your best tips for the planning & cleaning parts of cooking?