Monday, March 23, 2009

Family Meal Planning & Organizing

Just wanted to offer my experience on how I organize and plan our family meals.

As a busy mom with a 3 year old, a 7 month old, and a husband who works all the time, but takes time out of his day to make it for dinner- every night, a lot of planning goes in to making sure that we have home made meals each night. It was not always this way, we used to be the three night a week takeout/eatout people because of poor planning and hectic lifestyles. But after realizing that a family meal is the most important thing, and after the birth of our daughter, we decided to slow things down a bit and add a bit more planning and organizing to be sure that we are enjoying family meals together. (And not over spending on foods that are unhealthy anyway!)

The first thing I do is plan a weeks worth of meals. I also have 3 or so "fast back up meals" on hand- for those times when I get home late, I forgot to thaw something out, or something hectic/crazy happens and I don't have as much time as I thought to devote to cooking. Having these back up meals helps us avoid the unhealthy (and pricey) take out meals that I mentioned before, and that my three year old probably wouldn't eat anyway! (He is a very healthy eater!)

I grocery shop for my weeks worth of meals and I'm extra careful to be sure that I have all the essentials on hand ahead of time. I wash, dice, chop, and prepare all of my fresh fruits and veggies in advance so on weeknights that is already done for me. I tend to like to do all of this on Friday, Saturday or Sunday afternoon, to prepare for a smooth week. It's actually more fun to do this when you get back from the grocery store as you are cleaning out the fridge from the week before and organizing everything.

I also sometimes label certain items that I have purchased for meals, because my husband and 3 year old are notorious for digging into something that I had set aside or purchased for a specific meal.

I post my menu that I have created on the fridge. In the morning, I look at it as I'm getting the kids breakfast, and set the things out that I will need on the counter, and thaw the meat if necessary. Then, when things are out on the counter already, I don't even have to think about it at the end of a long day, I just grab the things that I need to cook and get to it. I keep a little plastic bin in the front of my fridge for fresh items that I will need that need to stay refrigerated, and I move those items to that bin, so I have my dry goods sitting out on the counter and my cold goods right in the front of the fridge ready to be prepared.

I start cooking, and feed the baby as I go so I can actually sit down and enjoy a meal with my husband and three year old. The baby sits in the high chair in the kitchen as I'm cooking and I give her "drive by bites" since she's such a fussy eater and takes forever to eat. And sure, this will change as she grows, but this is what works right this very moment. I also wash dishes as I use them and use the dishwasher as a drying rack, and then put them all away the next morning. So, all of my dishes are done by the end of the meal except for the plates, cups and forks that we used and the serving dishes, which normally house our leftovers anyway.

By creating a menu, I save time and money and we waste less food. A little planning and organizing goes a long way!!

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