I absolutely love to cook. Seriously. But believe it or not even something you love to do can become a tedious chore. Feeding five people three times a day is exactly that. Tedious. Sometimes I can’t help but wonder why they need to eat so often. Didn’t I just feed them? Since I’m sure you can relate, today’s post will tackle the dreaded question…what’s for dinner?
Plan to eat
Yes, I must plan to eat. Seems obvious, but it really isn’t. Most of the time, when my car pulls into the drive-thru, it’s because I failed to plan. This crucial step of planning leads to healthier eating and a fatter wallet. So, if we are going to plan to eat, we need a PLAN. The internet is full of such plans. You can find posted menus for large families, clean eating families and even super busy families. Some plan their menus for an entire month, some for just a week. Happy Housewife and Nourishing Home have a few ideas to get your started.
A simple resource for gluten free meals that are fast and cheap is 31 Days of Gluten Free Meals. I plan weekly and I do it online with a program called Emeals. This website boasts amazing features. Pick a plan, print and shop. It’s really that easy!
Cook for a week
While making my menu plans, I have one goal…as little cooking as possible. I don’t have much time, so I must find ways to decrease the time spent in the kitchen. One way to do this is to cook with a weekly theme. For example, this week is black beans. On Sunday, I will prepare a pot of black beans. One bag of black beans in the crock pot goes a LONG way. The menu for the rest of the week might look like this…
Monday- black beans over rice
Tuesday- southwest soup with black beans
Wednesday- black bean burgers
Thursday- quinoa and black beans
Friday- salad topped with black beans
I realize that this probably seems a bit repetitive to most, but when you have to care for young children by yourself, you are doing well just to get food on the table. No need to fret about the fact that 5 meals in a row contain black beans. In fact, to be honest, it is likely that we would eat the same exact dish several times during that week. No one minds. They would much rather have a mom who has time to play with them than one who made 7 dishes with unique culinary flair. Even if you don’t like the idea of one theme for the week, try cooking ahead. For example, if I brown some ground beef, I am going to brown at least 2 lbs, so I can freeze part of it for a future meal. This concept works well for meat, soups and veggies such as broccoli and zucchini. For veggies, I cook once and then use those veggies throughout the week in various dishes.
Sunday prep night
Probably the best tip I can offer for doing this meal thing alone is my Sunday prep night. I chose Sundays because they work for me. The day of the week doesn’t really matter. Just pick a day that works and set aside an hour or so to prep food. When you get finished, your fridge will look like this…
This is what I have prepared for the upcoming week. Some of this is for dinner. Most of it is for lunch, breakfast, or snacks. The key to making this time effective is help. I’ll say that again—–>the key to making the most of your prep night is involving your children. Just like the chores, it takes some training time. But your children can be very helpful.
At age 4, they can pick grapes off the vine and place them in the bowl. By age 6, the girls were able to peel carrots, cucumbers or anything else with a vegetable peeler. Today we prepped a 10lb bag of carrots from Costco. The carrots are dirt cheap this way. We peel about 20 carrots for the week and cut them into sticks. I really prefer the way the sticks taste over the baby carrots. I also save some to chop and throw in a meal or to roast in the oven as a side dish. We also cut cucumbers. Typically I do 4 a week. If you remove the seeds, they will last the week in the fridge. We use these for snacks, a side dish, or on a salad.
We always pick the grapes off the vine. After washing and drying them, just put them in a bowl. They will keep at least a week. I find this much easier than washing and picking grapes for each meal. The final item you see pictured is zucchini. I sliced this two ways. In small pieces to sauté as a side dish (which will have leftovers to use in omelets) and in rounds that I will roast in the oven. Zucchini also keeps for a week as long as you make sure that you dry it well before slicing. We also boiled 18 eggs for lunches and made baked oatmeal muffins for breakfast. I adapted this recipe from several similar ones. It is gluten free, dairy free, and sugar free. BUT my kids beg for another. They are so tasty. Baked Oatmeal Muffins2 eggs 2 c unsweetened applesauce 5 cups old fashioned rolled oats 3 bananas 2 3/4 cups of coconut milk 1/4 cup flaxseed meal 1/2 c agave or honey 1 T cinnamon 3 tsp baking powder 1 tsp salt desired mixins (such as nuts, raisins, chocolate chips, etc)
Mix together all ingredients. Then add in desired mix-ins. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Once they cool, you can freeze them or store them in the fridge for about a week. Simply warm them up when you serve!
One more thing that you might have noticed in the fridge is our granola bars. This is the end of the batch that we made almost a month ago. These are by far my favorite treat. I found the recipe on Iowa Girl Eats. Super easy to make. You’ll never go back to the box again!
Gift Cards and kids eat free
I realize that most of us are on very tight budgets, making eating out difficult. But sometimes plans don’t go the way we expect, mom gets sick, or there is cause to celebrate. For these occasions, I ask for gift cards. When my family wants to know what I want for my birthday, I tell them gift cards. It’s so nice to have a stock of cards ready for one of “those days”. I try to couple the gift card with a place where kids eat free, if possible. I especially love McAllister’s and Firehouse, as they allow two kids free with one adult meal. Of course, the Wendy’s $1 menu also ranks high on our list. You can check out Kids Eat Free for a list of restaurants near you. Just in case all of that organized food prep is making you feel inadequate, here is what the kitchen looks like when I’m done… Dearest super mom, I know it’s hard, but God has given this task to you for this season. He will give you the strength to do it! I’m praying that you find encouragement today.
Looking for more ideas? Check out my Breakfast Station! Make 60+ self serve breakfasts in a few hours!Introduction Day 1 conquering the piles. Day 2 what’s for dinner Day 3 road trips with kids Day 4 discipline for the hurting child Day 5 10 ways to make memories