Friday, April 29, 2011

The Legacy of Meal Planning

Over the years, I have realized one eternal truth—motherhood is 24/7.  If you want or need a break, you have to decide to take one.  However, these have to be timed just right or they will not be as beneficial as you need them to be.  If you know that most afternoons are going to be spent from 3pm to 7 - 8pm taking children to a 40 minute orthodontist appointment, and/or 90 minutes of piano lessons, and/or a 2 hours of cheer practice, and/or 2 ½-3 hour cross country meets, not to mention as-long-as-you-can-stand-it fund raisers, and the 15 minute church activity that took you 30 minutes to get to, etc., then you don’t need to add any additional errands to this list.

Errands need to be done while the children are at school and as early as possible.  You need to get your work done quickly and efficiently so that you have time to work on personal projects, (like painting the bathroom…) and still have time to get plenty of rest before you pick up the children.  That requires a healthy lifestyle so that you have the energy it takes to do all this.  Getting a 30 minute walk or workout, taking a vitamin, and eating nutritious meals are vital to having the stamina to be a mom.  But do not forget the necessary down time that we should take each day before we head out at 3pm.  We need to understand our limits and allow ourselves the opportunity to recharge, such as reading a book for fun, taking a hot bath, doing some yoga stretches, reading the scriptures.  It is also good to encourage your husband to do something to recharge each day as well.

Meal planning should be an important part of each day.  When it comes to planning meals, we must ask ourselves, what are the wisest uses of our time and money?  With children at home, three-hour meals just don’t make sense.  “There are so many options, so much to do, so many demands on women.  There is no point in taking one hour to do a ten-minute task, nor should we slap together an hour-worthy project in ten minutes.” (Elaine Cannon)  As a mother, taking time to plan is essential.

Planning can help us actually enjoy the meal we have prepared instead of being too tired to eat.  Planning the week helps us know what days mealtime needs to be simplified due to appointments or having to eat in shifts.  Planning meals allows us to invite company for dinner or go on a picnic.  Meal planning helps us change things up by trying out new recipes (put winners in a file to record in cookbooks).

Planning our meals involves keeping a running grocery list that everyone can contribute to so there is no back and forth to the grocery store because we forgot something.  I like to prepare meals that I call “one-dish meals” because they do not really require sides since the meat and veggies are all together, (like chicken-pot-pie).  I also like to find the “perfect recipe” for recipes such as pancakes, mac-and-cheese, biscuits, etc.

The best way to become a proficient meal planner is to work out a basic schedule of seven to twenty-eight menus that you can become proficient at.  These are the meals we eat most regularly.  Just start a list that includes each meal you make at home until you have come up with twenty-eight.  It is a known fact that most folks generally eat the same things each week and each month.  These recipes can be organized into a notebook, and eventually a master grocery list prepared so that the basic ingredients are collected in your pantry.

Being prepared in this way helps you to have the opportunity to get really good at cooking one thing such as bread, cookies, or even a freezer meal—and then make two to give one away.  When you are prepared, it can be very gratifying to give service in this way.  Also, before going  to bed, I like to figure out what I will need to do for tomorrow’s dinner, such as does something need thawing or marinating, etc.?

Meal preparation helps me buy most of the groceries for the week at one time from the cheapest, nearest store and then forbid myself from going back—even if we have to drink powdered milk to get through the end of the week!  If I run out of something like cereal, then it takes no time at all to make homemade oatmeal.  Meal planning also helps me choose recipes with fewer ingredients, making the dish cheaper and less work.

Be flexible because schedules will change.  Children will begin to eat more, or we may have to switch menus around on the calendar at the last minute because something was accidentally eaten!  Learn to cook from scratch.  Then you will know how to make homemade biscuits when a recipe calls for canned biscuits, or homemade chili or tacos when you don’t have the seasoning packet, or homemade mac-and-cheese from leftovers in the fridge and pantry.  Basically, if you know what’s in a dish, then you can figure out at a glance what you have on hand and what you can make with it.  If you only have eggs and some leftover meat or veggies, you can make amazing omelets or quiche!

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