We’ve all heard that we should “slow down” and spend “quality time” with our families and loved ones. Mealtime is often cited as a great opportunity for a family to “check-in” and “connect” with each other every day. Ever notice that those same pundits never talk about the importance of WHAT the family is eating, only that they eat it together.
If the family meals have little nutritional value and/or don’t taste good, then I guess the rationale of “misery loves company” has a starring role in this picture of family togetherness.
The “DI” part of DINKS pretty much eliminates the possibility that June Cleaver lives at our house. There is no walking in to be greeted by the apron-clad homemaker who has dutifully prepared a meal for the family. In the world of running, the homemaker is the marathoner – setting a pace that can be sustained over a long period of time while they strive to get to the finish line. Working parents are sprinters – crashing through the front door and pumping arms and legs to get a plate of calories in front of every member of the family quickly. The Tasmanian Devil could probably get dinner on the table with more élan than most of us…
Once upon a time we were able to enjoy home-cooked meals whenever they were ready – 6, 7 or even 8 o’clock at night was a fine time to eat. That fairytale came to an end right after the doctor said “It’s a boy!” Kids have schedules that are different, very different, than adult schedules. They need to eat soon because they are going to bed soon and their little bodies have been burning through the last batch of calories at a really fast rate. If they don’t get fed on time and they bonk, you’re night turns to hell. A few too many nights of this and we had to get our act together.
In the business world we both spend time planning not just the next 30 minutes of our day but days, weeks and sometimes months of activity well in advance. Why then couldn’t we bring this discipline to the kitchen?
After a few attempts, we came up with a system that works for us. One of the side benefits is that our food bills have gone way down as we eat out less often and we know in advance what we need at the store – no more “good intention” purchases that go to waste.
Here’s what to do:
Friday, plan a menu for the following week. Review your pantry for inspiration, find some recipes, and make a shopping list for the things you still need.
Shop on Saturday or Sunday. It doesn’t take away too much time from the weekend since another benefit of a meal plan is that shopping is much quicker – no more wandering the aisles waiting for culinary inspiration to strike!
Sunday is the day to pre-prep as much as possible. Try to chop and measure the ingredients for most meals. You’re all over-achieving multi-taskers….so cook two meals on Sunday so the second meal just needs reheating during the week. Especially helpful for nights that are particularly jammed with activity: can you say “Little League”?
Some notes based upon our experience:
- If cooking is a shared duty, then the menu maker needs to list the full menu, not just the entrée or you’ll get either a) part of Wednesday’s dinner as a side dish on Monday, or b) just the entree.
- Recycle your leftovers! No one likes eating the same meal three nights running, so have those leftovers for lunch, or use them in another dish for dinner later in the week…quesadillas, quiche, and meatloaf come to mind!
- If your on-hand food items don’t quickly bring a recipe to mind go to Epicurious where you can type in one or two ingredients and up pop recipes that use them!
- If possible, put the weekly menu on a calendar, paper or electronic, so that as time goes by you can review past meal plans and either mix-and-match recipes from different weeks or, if pressed for time, just use a whole week’s meal plan again.
- Use a recipe binder like this one (or make your own) to keep all of your recipes at your fingertips: CR Gibson Bon Appetit Deluxe Kitchen Binder
OK….All of the above is great, but we’re not saints! There are nights that we simply wouldn’t eat if we had to cook an entire meal. Those are the nights that, rather than eat out or take out, we use pre-prepared meals. There’s a great company in our town where we can buy meals (using organic, and local ingredients when possible, of course!) that are ready to sauté and serve or can be put in the crock pot in the morning for dinner that evening. (TIP: buy their “large” meals so you can have leftovers for lunches. Saves beaucoup $$$) The Organic Dish.
If you dream of eating dinner sitting down (at a table…not in your car), and spending quality time with your family, give our plan a try. If you’ve got variations that work for you we’d love to hear about them.
Here’s a sample menu from our calendar:
Roasted Chicken in a claypot
Spinach sautéed with garlic
Brown Rice Risotto
Crock-Pot Pot Roast with Veggies
(Onions, carrots, green beans)
Whole Wheat Biscuits
The Organic Dish
DATE NIGHT (a DINK’s best friend)
leftovers for the kids and sitter
- Leftover chix & spinach
- Roasted red pepper
Fresh tomato and guacamole
Sausage, onion, red pepper, mushroom, cheese, garlic, sauce
HINT: buy a crust from your local Take-N-Bake pizza shop, or buy a whole grain flatbread from the grocery.
QUICHE: Leftover veggies from Friday, eggs, cottage cheese in a store bought whole-wheat crust