How to Conquer the Weekday Dinner Scramble
Updated: Sep 26, 2019
Back-to-school brings new beginnings and routine. Gone are the easy breezy summer days and evenings; now we're back to the routine at school, work, and afternoon sports practices, play rehearsals, and school meetings.
How is there time to feed hungry families in between all of this? And when we are rushing, how do feed them healthy, balanced meals?
It's all quite stressful.
Managing the stress requires some planning and a bit of outsourcing. I've learned that I can save 2-3 hours each week by simply planning my meals and ordering my groceries online. This is somewhat of a challenge for me because I'm picky about meat. Even as a kid, I would examine my turkey sandwich and give every bite of my perfectly cut chicken a once-over. Luckily, I recently discovered ButcherBox, a service that curates your meat—or allows you to pick from different cuts and varieties—and delivers grass-fed and grass-finished beef, free-range organic chicken, and heritage-breed pork to your doorstep. The thing that I like is that all of the meat is humanely raised and never given antibiotics and hormones.
In finding hacks to save time and feed my family healthy meals, I've tried many different solutions, such as meal box services and in-home meal prep parties. Adding another level of difficulty to the challenge has been one small child in my home. Do you have that one person in your house that does not like anything? Or liked something on Friday and on Monday hates it? I have that one cute little person in my house. And when it happens, it totally messes me up.
So, this year I've opted to order proteins and the groceries separately and set my menu week by week. I'm finding that I'm throwing away less food, and creating happier and fuller little people.
While I highly recommend ordering groceries, and preplanning meals, it does require a little bit of organization. It's not a lot, and all of it is worth it. I can honestly say that it saves me hours of time each week—which is incredibly valuable during a busy school and sports week. By organizing my pantry and fridge, I have noticed that I'm saving about 25 percent per week in my grocery bill.
Do you like to save time and money, and perhaps your sanity too? If so, then here's how you can win at the weekly dinner game:
1. Clean out and organize your pantry and fridge
Before placing an order for a single food item, clean out your pantry and fridge. Dispose of any expired items or things that you absolutely know your family won't eat.
I know it may seem like a waste, but that opened box of blueberry pancakes lingering in the back of your freezer is just taking up room.
Assign spots for your snacks, spreads, condiments, produce, and meat in your refrigerator. For instance, I always put my meat on the bottom shelf because, in the case of a spill, it will contaminate less of the food in the refrigerator. In your freezer, you can designate spots for ice cream and frozen novelties, breakfast foods, heat up items, and frozen meat.
I like to use clear fridge and freezer bins to corral similar items. Bins are labeled clearly so it's easy to stock and find those particular items—this system is also helpful if you've got a babysitter or another family member helping you out as well!
2. Get your family's input and plan your meals
Given my picky little person, I typically get a rough gauge of what the entire family will eat. Fortunately, the other two members of my family are easy going!
I try to offer variety, both in the ingredients and how the meal is prepared (Instant Pot vs stovetop vs grill). My requirements as the head chef are that the meals are fairly quick to prepare and balanced. Given our busy and fluctuating weekly fall schedule, I recommend only planning out one week at a time. This allows avoiding excess stockpile in your fridge and, ultimately, waste.
For instance, my most recent weekly menu was:
Monday: Chicken Pad Thai in Instant Pot
Tuesday: Taco Tuesday
Friday: Steak Tips on the grill
This plan was a crowd-pleaser all around, and we even had some leftovers for a "night off" meal, a few next-day packed lunches, and even a ready-made breakfast—after our breakfast for dinner night!
3. Order based on your weekly menu
Shopping directly from my weekly menu eliminates rogue buying, which leads to excess and wasted food and money. I typically place one order with ButcherBox, and then buy my groceries online or whenever I can I will buy my produce from my local farm. We're fortunate enough to have a family-owned grocer, Idylwilde Farm, close by. This allows me to stock up on produce, which I prefer to feed to my family whenever I can.
4. Prep ahead
For the next day's dinner, I typically prep the night before. And if I can, I even prep on Sundays.
Fall Sundays are often a great day to turn on some football and chop and dice. I use this time to prep school lunch—things like cut up veggies and fruit—and also dice my ingredients for my weekly meals. I'll review the recipes and then measure and store the chopped ingredients in plastic bags. Labelling the bags as to the ingredient and dish for which it's being used then makes cooking a snap.
5. Don't be afraid to swap
We have enough pressure in our lives; meal planning is not supposed to be one of them! In fact, it's supposed to alleviate stress.
So, if you're feeling stressed about a meal, or just not feeling it, don't be afraid to swap your meal for something different—either something you have planned later in the week or a totally different meal. I've found that the nice thing about the ButcherBox meats is that they are all neatly vacuumed sealed (I love neat!) and are labeled with dates (love labels too!) so you can freeze them for future use. And if you have those clear freezer bins, you'll be able to easily find them when you're ready—as opposed to finding a chicken breast two years after expiration in the depths of your freezer....we all know this happens!
Ok, I'm off to soccer practice! In the meantime, you've got this!