Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A matter of convenience

It's all work and no play, right? Well how the heck does that leave any time for planning and packing healthy meals and snacks? The fast food industry didn't get rich just because. It's just so hard to plan ahead accurately and it feels like there's barely enough time in each day to get all of the "must-do" list done, let alone plan and prepare food for the next day.

One of my favorite Sunday activities is planning meals and grocery shopping for the rest of the week - I know, call me crazy. However, no matter how carefully I plan it's the execution that I always screw up. I'm too tired one night to pack lunch for the next day and I run out of the house, lunch money in hand. I forget that I've got a late event at work that doesn't allow me to get home until after 8pm. I mean, who wants to start cooking and then clean up the kitchen after 8pm? A last-minute invitation to do something out with friends derails our at-home dinner plans. The deck is not stacked in our favor.

So what do we do? I'm certainly no expert but I've got a few strategies that I've employed in the last couple of weeks and they seem to be working for now. Take a look and see what you can try and add things that work for your and your family as well!

1. Only plan dinners for 3 nights. I know that sounds ridiculous. That doesn't mean that we only eat at home 3 out of 7 nights each week.We typically eat out twice a week. Planning for 3 nights allows for at least one night of leftovers and another night to raid the pantry and/or fridge and create an "unplanned" dinner of stuff that needs to be used up. This has drastically reduced the amount of food waste we create (i.e. food that has gone bad because planned meals have gone uncooked and uneaten) and has freed up space in our refrigerator.

2. Pull out the crockpot on Sunday. My husband makes fun of my slow-cooker obsession but I just can't get over how easy it is to make a huge meal in the crockpot with barely much thought or work. It means that we always have a tasty hot meal at home on Sunday night and then the leftoevers can be a part of the week's meal plan or can be packed for lunches. Bonus: you can freeze meals for much-later convenience.

3. "Baked" potatoes/sweet potatoes. I distinctly remember a conversation with my husband after a couple of weeks of me creating new and exciting meals from a number of different recipes, cookbooks, food network shows, etc. It was simple. He made the statement, "you know, we could just eat a piece of chicken and a potato every once and awhile." At first, I was offended. Then I realized how right he was. Why was I trying to be inventive every night? It was stressful and time consuming...and oftentimes expensive. Now, at least half of our meals contain a protein, salad, and a potato. It's usually a sweet potato for the added nutritional bonus (which you can...and more about in the Reader's Digest article here.). It's so stinking easy. I take a sweet potato, wrap it up tightly in plastic wrap, and stick it in the microwave for about 7 minutes. BAM, done. In the meantime, I am fixing whatever else our dinner encompasses and dinner's done in 10 minutes.
Side note: Same prep idea can be used with really any vegetable. I have a very picky spouse who is basically allergic to anything green. I prefer not to make multiple options with dinner so I go with a compromise and that's usually a sweet potato and salad.

4. Bake multiple pieces of chicken, pork, beef, etc. Our favorite is taking a pack of chicken, putting all of the meat in a baking dish, covering with a jar of salsa, and baking in the oven on 350 for up to an hour depending on your oven. We eat two meals (one can be lunch) off of one pack of chicken and it's delicious. You can use the same strategy with pork, beef, fish, tofu...whatever floats your boat.

5. Rice. When in doubt, put it over some brown rice. That's what I do with many of our leftovers. Chicken and broccoli with a potato on Monday night? How about chicken and broccoli with soy sauce (or any other ideas for "saucing" it up) over brown rice on Wednesday night?

How do you plan ahead without going crazy? I'd love to hear your solutions and ideas!

Until next time..

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