What’s for dinner?

I made these lemon, cream cheese, raspberry muffins on the weekend. They're neither frugal nor healthy food, but they sure are a nice treat!

If you want to make me crazy, ask me what’s for dinner? I’m not sure why I hate this question, but I think I hate it for a hundred different reasons.

In my very early days as a mom and wife, I’m sure I hated it because I didn’t do much cooking, at least not with real food. Back then, I prepared a lot of food that was processed, put together and frozen in a foil pan. My only task was to heat the oven and set a timer for 45 minutes. In my twenties and early thirties, I ate a lot of prepared foods. I also tipped the scales at about 210 lbs eventually. Not a good lifestyle, not good for anybody’s health, and certainly the most expensive way to eat.

In the later days when I’ve been with a husband or partner, and working full time with kids at home, the “what’s for dinner” question just made me feel like a domestic slave. Why do I have to make a decision about what’s for dinner? Why not just make something instead of standing there asking me? Better yet, why not say “let’s have X for dinner, I have the ingredients here, you want to help by doing Y?”

Normally, the question was probably intended to ask “did you have anything planned for dinner that I could get started on” or “what can I do to get dinner started?”, but it always came out as “what’s for dinner?” For me this indicated that everybody looked to me for a decision, as well as action. I may have worked all day too, or been up half the night with a sick kid, or shuttling kids around to appointments etc, but I was still the big cheese when it came to making dinner plans. There have been periods in my life when I’ve absolutely hated this.

At times, it’s felt like the last thing in the day, when my energy is low, that I’m expected to do. If there’s another adult in the house, I expect them to play a role – any role. I actually love cooking and baking and experimenting now. The qualification for that is when I have the time. Like any house, this normally means that weekend meals may be a bit fancier than week day meals. Or, I may do a lot of cooking ahead on a Sunday to prep for meals later in the week.

About 18 months ago, we started meal planning three weeks at a time.  We were pretty good at doing this consistently. Then, perhaps about 9 or 10 months ago, we totally stopped. That was also about the time that my ex-partner moved out, my eldest moved in and things were still getting settled. The meal planning was one of my routines that I let slip…until this weekend.

I’ve created a new meal plan again for the first three weeks in July. I’ve been feeling a bit challenged to get to the end of the month before we get to the end of the grocery money. I’m hopeful getting my meal planning mojo back may help.

There are lots of folks who do prepare meal plans a week at a time. I find that it takes me only a bit more time to get three times the result. I don’t actually like the task of sitting down to create the meal plan, but I do like the feeling once I’ve completed it.

In order to stock up the freezer and the fridge for the plan, the youngest and I did a big grocery shop on the weekend. While I still have that feeling we’ll get to the end of the month before we get to the end of the grocery money, I’ll be keen to see how long I feel this way with the plan on the fridge door and most of the ingredients in the freezer or fridge.

The girls are actually getting quite good at preparing meals and doing some planning. The eldest, who used to tell anybody who would listen that she couldn’t boil water, is getting involved more. She has a boyfriend too and seems more keen to try out some recipes on him when they’re together. The youngest has always enjoyed being in the kitchen, and is pretty fearless in that regard. She doesn’t get frustrated if something doesn’t turn out, she just takes her lesson from it and moves on.

Last night when I was out of the house for a business function, I knew what the girls would prepare for dinner, and had the confidence that everything they needed was in the fridge. Tonight I know what we’re having too. When you have what I call a “rich and full life”, it’s one less decision to make in the day.

What are your strategies to make your grocery dollar holler? Are you the big cheese in your kitchen, or do you have help?

If you have tips on places for frugal, but still healthy and balanced recipes, I’d love to hear your suggestions!

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3 responses to this post.

  1. My oldest is fairly clueless in the kitchen but the youngest loves to cook. Although we made “chili chips” (leftover chili on tortilla chips) last week and he put pork gravy on the chips?!? I know it sounds weird, but it didn’t actually taste too bad. The only problem with him is that he’s very precise and it takes MUCH longer to cook with him than my usual slam it together methods.

    For some reason your comment on my food post didn’t post, yet I got it in my email – weird… I have a couple of fix ahead cookbooks that have been helpful over the years that are more low cost – one is “Make a Mix” and also “Frugal Assets” is okay. I get the http://www.30daygourmet.com email once a month – their food is pretty standard, definitely not gourmet, but their recipes are good overall. I love my crockpot recipe book “Fix it and Forget it.” Make a Mix has recipes for common things like cream of chicken soup or granola bars, quite a wide range of things. I modify things even beyond the books though to suit our family’s taste and whatever I have on hand.

    I used to make quite a few dishes ahead of time and throw them in the freezer so they’d cook in the hour I was out walking the dog after I got home. It kind of saves your sanity. Sundays are my big cooking day and I’ll often spend 3-4 hours once every couple of months, but I enjoy it.

    I don’t seem to do well with formal meal planning more than a day or two ahead myself so I can’t really comment there. What I do often is use my crockpot on a regular basis during the week so that I have supper ready when I get home. That’s a huge help. On cooking beans and stuff, I often boil them for a few minutes, then cook them in my crockpot and freeze them for future use in chilis, minestrone, etc. The freezing breaks down the cellulose – as does cooking them with anything with a tomato (acid) base and makes the beans a little more mushy. I find having a number of more frugal recipes that you can get down to $.50/serving or less (like minestrone or chili with bulk beans) that you repeat about once 2 weeks or so drops the budget by quite a bit overall with absolutely no pain. And it’s just better for you overall – mentally too. I figured out my minestrone recipe was about $.30/serving. When I switch to WordPress and get my redesigned site up later this month, I’m reserving a section for food because I just love it and have been cooking on my own since I was 5 y.o. – hopefully you’ll find something you like there!

    Jacq

    Reply

  2. […] this sudden sense of calm? I give all the credit to the meal plan I prepared near the beginning of July. This is a habit I fell out of, and picked it up again this […]

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