Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ringing in the New: Part 3

Another area of our daily life that we have adjusted this year is meal planning. Although I enjoy cooking as a general rule, I really dislike deciding what's for dinner. (In fact, I once joked with my sister that I'd give her free room and board in exchange for planning dinner every night! She never took me up on it, though.)

Over the years, I have tried different systems for planning ahead, from Once-A-Month Cooking to a more flexible "dinner ideas" list and everything in between. This past year, though, we have been reasonably successful with a basic but detailed weekly plan that looks like this:

Here are a few of the reasons for our success with this system:
  1. Trading off cooking responsibilities. Monday through Saturday, J and I alternate as "head cook" and the three older children take turns as "assistant cooks"; on Sunday, we all help.
  2. Leftover night. One evening a week is always designated for leftovers. This cuts down on wasted food and helps clean out the refrigerator. (The kids love making a leftover chart and taking it around with a clipboard and pen to take everyone's "order".)
  3. Posting the weekly menu. We hang the menu for the week on hooks inside our pantry door. My older two are actually a little obsessed with knowing what we'll be eating and who's in charge of preparing it. Even B, who can't read yet, loves to open the pantry and ask, "What are we having?"
  4. The "Make Ahead" box. I made a place on the chart for special notes about items that take extra time and need to be started in advance. This, for example, keeps us from realizing at 6 p.m. that we were planning to have jello with our dinner at 6:30.
  5. Division of labor. While the head and assistant cooks are busy in the kitchen, the other family members are on clutter clean-up duty in the rest of the house. This way, we are all working at the same time.
Last year, I experimented with planning one, two, and four weeks at a time to see what worked best. What I really found, though, was that I still hate deciding what's for dinner! So, I recently had the idea to sit down and create two months' worth of "default" menus. My family is fine with that level of variety in our meals (although I know not everyone is the same in this regard--I have a friend who plans a different meal every night for an entire year!!!). This has worked WONDERFULLY well for me--instead of having to remember what we eat and when we've last eaten it, I can just follow the default plan, adjusting as necessary for special occasions and unusual circumstances.

This is definitely turning into the right system for us, especially as far as breakfast and dinner are concerned. Unfortunately, however, it wasn't working as planned for lunches. Stay tuned for another post on how we've solved the problem of lunch!

1 comment:

Monica said...

I found your blog from the Tot School posts (I sat this week out myself, but thought I'd look at a few for ideas). Thanks for sharing your meal planning ideas. I also hate deciding what to make.

Also, looks like your little guy had fun in Tot School! I think my older son (I have a 2 year old and a 7 mo old) would be very happy to join in with paper airplanes and water play.