My third objective was to improve the quality of family mealtimes through better planning and organization.
Final grade: A-
Prior to beginning my project, I’d attempt to plan meals but found the process frustrating and daunting. It took way too long to plan for one week. Periodically I’d comb through my many cookbooks and review my Pinterest board, trying to find a week’s worth of meals. So instead I’d plan day by day, often waking up and not knowing what we were going to have for dinner that night. This is of course not the worst tragedy in the world, but we’d often default to dining out, which was bad for our budget and our health. This objective might be the one with the most trial and error throughout the year, but I also feel I’ve made a lot of headway and am much better off than I was when we started. Next to having a less cluttered home, I think the improvement I made in this area is the most significant.
Even before beginning my project, I’d attempted multiple times to meal plan. None of my efforts succeeded. I always tried planning for one week at a time, and I’d have a few successful weeks, then I’d get sidetracked. The process was stressful and overwhelming. There were always so many options, and I always wanted to make things that were healthy. And I took the rest of the family into consideration too much. While it’s not a bad thing to plan around the things everyone likes to eat, trying to make everyone happy every night is a recipe for failure. (See what I did there?)
I had an epiphany that I didn’t like to cook, which was a long time coming. Acknowledging that to myself made a big difference. Growing up, I got to eat a good home-cooked meal most nights. And I felt like I needed to cook-really cook- every night. But I didn’t enjoy it, and when I decided to be ok with not liking to cook led me to find easier solutions. And while Emma is not ‘overscheduled’ I still needed to consider her schedule and how it impacts dinnertime, knowing I won’t really want to do anything elaborate on those days.
When I was about halfway through my year, I decided to try planning out a full month. Even when I was working on the menu, I felt like I was setting myself up to fail. Trying to plan out a week wasn’t working, so thinking about a whole month felt ridiculous. But my efforts had a good result. While I didn’t stick to the menu 100%, and had some definite small setbacks, I found that planning a month at a time has been much, much easier than planning a week at a time. Here are a few more tips:
- Having a ‘theme night’ for each night of the week definitely facilitates the process. Instead of struggling to go from nothing, having a theme gives me some guidance.
- Putting something in the slow cooker, and doubling the amount, makes Sundays and Mondays much easier, especially since Emma has dance on Mondays and we don’t get home until late. Slow cooker meals are easier than cooking, so I can devote my time towards getting ready for the week. On Mondays I just have to reheat the leftovers.
- Looking at ingredients I have on hand is another good way for me to get ideas, and also use things up before they expire.
- Being a little creative has allowed me to put reasonably healthy food on the table every night, but I’m only really cooking bigger meals 2-3 nights a week. I don’t mind fixing salads which have become more of a staple side dish, and we have tacos every Tuesday which are easy to fix but also vary so we don’t get bored.
- Keeping the menus from prior months simplifies the process a lot too. I now have 8 months of menus to refer back to. I’ve kept digital copies on my computer and also print two copies each month, one to hang on the refrigerator so Emma and Bob can see and one to keep in my organization binder.
I’m glad I was able to hit upon an idea that’s worked for me. I still don’t like to grocery shop at all, but that’s something I’m going to have to live with!