As a military mom spouse with one foot firmly planted in la casa and the other attempting to hold tight as a part-time telecommuter, I can tell you one thing for sure: Dinner is Hell. Okay, so I might be exaggerating, but it feels that way when you don’t have a plan. There is nothing worse than standing in front of your pantry, toddler wrapped firmly around your leg, five year old lodging an interrogation akin to the Spanish Inquisition (What’s for dinner? Can I have a snack?), dog staring lovingly into your eyes reminding you it’s his chow time, and you looking at the clock wondering what time your other half will waltz through the door. It’s enough to drive this woman beyond loca.
I remember staring at my pantry hoping that ingredients to a fabulous dinner would leap into my arms a la Beauty and The Beast and invite me to be their guest. As you can imagine, that never quite happened. In our house, we call the hours between dinner prep and bedtime the witching hours. The sheer thought of approaching those hours without a firm plan for dinner would hang over me like a guillotine. Eventually, I decided to lay down my tendency towards masochism and finally put a plan to an end to the dinner dilemma.
1. Build a Weekly Menu
Each week, on Sunday, I sit down and plan out the coming week’s menu (Check this neat-o one out at Organized Home). If I’m feeling particularly magnanimous, I’ll even ask the peanut gallery for input. I plan the menu from Monday through Saturday for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Now, I’m no short order cook, so breakfast Monday-Friday is cereal or yogurt and fruit for all. Lunch breaks down three ways: Me & Hubby, La Grande (5 year old), y La Rubia Peligrosa (my toddler). Hubby and I will typically have a soup and salad combination of sorts. La Grande can pick two sandwich combinations for her lunch, fruits for the week, and some sort of healthful snack. La Rubia Peligrosa eats finger foods, or what we call Lunch a la Romana: Cheese cubes, whole wheat bread, and a fruit option. Dinner is the next meal to plan. I plan for two or three meals that will yield leftovers that will either be reheated later in the week or that can transform into something else. I am not particularly a fan of eating the same dinner back to back, so I plan to reheat leftovers at least two days after serving the original meal.
Click here to see a sample week. We’re foodies, so it might look a little fru-fru, but rest assured when hubby is working late nights, TDY, or Deployed, it looks so much simpler. Yeah, you know what I mean.
2. Shop Your Pantry
I don’t know about you, but I keep a relatively well-stocked pantry. I keep a constant supply of the following items: boxed broths and stocks, canned tomatoes (diced and whole), beans (garbanzo, habichuelas rosada or pintos, gandules, navy beans, great northern beans, and black beans), tomato sauce, tomato paste, salt, pepper, heads of garlic, onions, pastas (linguine is my favorito), short grain rice, basmati rice, jasmine rice, couscous…the list is endless. I am actually forcing myself to stop listing more things. You get the idea. You know what you use regularly and it is good to keep it on hand at all times. Oh yes, don’t forget the extra virgin olive oil…a must. Oh, and one more…I always, ALWAYS have frozen cubes of sofrito on hand. If you’re a Rican, you know how essential this is. Here’s a great little recipe to make ahead and freeze your own sofrito. Okay, I’m done.
Before I hit the grocery store or start writing a grocery list, I always check my pantry so that I am not overbuying anything I always have stocked and I’m not shocked to find out that I’m missing an item I typically have on hand and actually don’t.
If you’re looking to start your pantry, I really like Rachael Ray’s Master Shopping List. You can tweak it to meet your needs
3. Write Out Your Grocery List
Rather than make a huge uncategorized list, make headers for your shopping list. Here’s a good start: fruit/veg, meats, deli, dairy, canned, grains, spices, cleaning products, beauty products, paper products, frozen foods, and snacks/drinks. If you prefer a techie solution, I like the Out of Milk app or a good ole fashioned printable list.
Go through your menu and write the ingredients you need in the appropriate category. By doing this, when you go to the Commissary or grocery store (you will save dinero at the commissary…mark my words), you won’t find yourself zigzagging through the store or aimlessly wandering the aisles. I find that when I wander, I spend money on things that were definitely not on the shopping list (read: baklava from the bakery). Also, if you have kids in tow, a categorized list makes it much easier to get in and out of the store as quick as possible. Nothing is worse than trying to recall your list by memory while your munchkins are competing for your attention.
When you create your grocery list from your menu you cut down on the likelihood of buying food, particularly produce and meats, that have limited shelf lives. Also, going to the store with a shopping list helps you minimize your unplanned spending and keeps you away from aisles that tempt your munchies. Speaking of munchies, don’t forget to grab a bite to eat before you head out on la compra (shopping trip).
I guarantee that the weekly menu approach to meal planning will make your life so much easier! Do you have techniques and tips you use to solve the dinner dilemma in your house? Feel free to share them in the comments section!
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