Dinnertime. Around here, I call it the witching hour. Both young ‘uns are up from their naps. The older ones are getting their second wind. I’m alternately staring into a refrigerator stocked with unlabeled plastic containers or a freezer stocked with unlabeled plastic bags. And every two minutes someone is coming into the kitchen and asking me “What’s for dinner? I’m starving!” I feel like a bird, looking into her nest and seeing all those wide gaping mouths shooting up at her, screaming in hunger. If only my children would be satisfied with the first thing I could dig out of the ground.
Even families who don’t homeschool struggle with dinner. A quick Google search for meal planning will turn up a ton of mommy bloggers with planners, e-books, online seminars, printables, etc to help rescue you from starvation and your nagging feelings of inadequacy. Personally, I love this stuff. Organizing and planning is a hobby for me. For example, my expertly labeled Trapper, and my beautiful dry erase weekly menu planner on the fridge (last dated some time in February). I get an adrenaline rush from creating a menu for the week and writing out a detailed shopping list based on the sales at my local store. Saving time and money; dang I’ve got my act together! Unfortunately, the previous scenario only occurs about once a month. And when I does, you know the crumbs are a good four inches deep under the high chair and the tub is infested with tadpoles.
It takes time, quiet time, to sit down and plan out everything. And that’s a luxury around here. So I try to stick to some staples that I can whip into a few favorite meals. It usually works. And when it doesn’t, I might have to resort to leftovers. (Cue suspenseful music.) But, leftovers are great you say? They keep food from being wasted and mean two meals from one night of work you insist? I used to think so to. Back when our family was smaller, I’d make a big meal and we’d get a full second meal later in the week. Now, with seven of us, one big meal leaves one and a half servings of leftovers for dinner. My husband will usually take some leftovers to work so by Sunday or Monday, the days I least feel like cooking, I decide to have a leftover night and pull a dozen odd containers and foil wrapped surprises out of the fridge.
If I’m in a good mood, a.k.a. we have fine wine in the house, I make either Quiche or soup with the leftovers. It always makes me smile when people ask for a recipe for either. The secret is either good eggs or good broth (we have chickens so we usually have an ample supply of both.) Fresh eggs and broth will hide, I mean, enhance a multitude of flavors. In Quiche I use a basic crust, six eggs, some milk, whatever cheese and then lots of leftovers. I’ve added everything from alfredo sauce and chicken nuggets to pepperoni and taco meat. Wrapped in a rich crust, it always goes over big. (Unless the oldest is in a disagreeable mood, in which case, she gets it cold for breakfast. Score 1 for Mama!) I have similar luck with soup unless I try to slip in beans.
If there’s no chance of me eeking out a meal (What happened to my box of wine?) than we have a smorgasbord dinner and it’s every man, woman and child for him/herself. Up for grabs; one small slice of pizza that all the kids want. Three tiny containers of different vegetables, from last week, that no one wants. Four servings of the huge casserole I made that everyone is sick of. Two hotdogs, but we’re out of buns, etc, etc. I wind up heating up individual plates for everyone, each containing exactly two bites of pizza, before making up my own which I promptly forget about in order to heat seconds for everyone. (No, for the last time, there’s no more pizza! You loved this casserole. Put some hotdog on it! Please! If the baby sees you eat it, then he might eat his.)
I’m left with a huge sink full of empty containers and a trash bag that needs to get emptied ASAP thanks to all those unidentifiable meals we found in the way back of the fridge that no one wanted two leftover dinners ago. The chickens get a huge container of scraps and once again, I’m left with a clean fridge. Which is usually scarier than a full one because now it’s time to sit down and plan some meals for the week.
I really love the idea of bulk or freezer cooking. You know, where you spend one day cooking and have meals for the week. However, I’d like to get seven days worth of meals from one hour of cooking and unfortunately, I haven’t figured out a way to do that yet, at least in a way that doesn’t involve a lot of beans.
There’s also the crock pot movement. The slow cooker is very popular right now. I know because every five minutes that woman who made something different in her crock pot for 365 days keeps showing up in my Pintrest feed. I mean really, is she giving away crock pots or something because I can’t imagine that many people are really in love with the idea of eating mushy veggies, condensed soup and meat for a year. Now admittedly, I do have a few favorite crock pot meals of my own , but because these meals require me to plan for dinner at breakfast time, I need to be in ‘A’ game form right out of the starting gate in the morning or it’s a no go. That crock pot lady must be a morning person, like to eat her dinners late or have some special meal planner I haven’t downloaded yet.
One of these days, I’m sure I’ll hit on system that works for the long-term. It will combine my love of writing lists and saving money with not having to put a lot of thought into either. And it must be summed up with a nice printable. Until then, I’m sure we’ll manage on leftovers and casserole. What are your meal planning secrets? (I reserve the right to take all useful comments, compile into an online meal planning course and FREE downloadable e-book.)