"What's for dinner?" asks my ravenous swimmer, the moment I pick him up from practice.
"It's a surprise!" I chirp brightly, covering up the fact that I don't have a freaking clue.
A lot of my mom friends stress out over what to make for dinner too. Feeding offspring is THE #1 responsibility of motherhood, right? But with our crazy schedules, it isn't easy to have a hot, nutritious, tasty meal ready to go during the few precious minutes all my family members are actually present.
When I talked with professional organizer Colleen Collins Josellis, I asked her how she handled meal planning for her family.
"I always say I'd be great mom if I didn't have to make dinner," she laughs. But of course she's on top of it. Here are her secrets.
1) Use a limited repertoire of meals.
Unless cooking is your passion, forget experimenting with new recipes. Busy moms should rely on a rotating menu of meals that are easy to prepare, easy to shop for, and that the kids will eat. "90% of the battle is knowing what to make," says Colleen. "I've narrowed it down to about 10-12 meals."
2) Plan dinners for the entire week.
Put the menu on your calendar and post it in your kitchen. Then everyone knows what to expect at mealtime and might even be willing to help cook it! And don't worry about your kids getting bored of eating the same foods. According to Colleen, "Kids don't require as much variety as you might think. They love routine and knowing Tuesday is taco night."
3) Minimize shopping trips.
I'm always running to the Jewel at the last minute - a habit Colleen says is a big time waster. By planning ahead and making a single list, you can be much more efficient when you hit the grocery store. She allocates time for one big grocery shop and one visit to a specialty store (i.e Costco, Trader Joe's, etc) per week.
I'm trying to implement Colleen's system. I asked Nick and Emma to make a list of their favorite dinner entrees, then I edited their list based on ease of preparation. My repertoire now contains seven basic meals (hey, we eat out a couple nights a week) and the menus are all stored in one convenient place - my head!
Here's what I'll be making for dinner over the next month. If your family has some favorites that are simple and delish, please share them and I'll consider them for next month. But keep them under 5-6 ingredients - my memory is limited!
Killeen Rotating Dinner Menu
(serve with veggie of choice )
1. Grilled Flank Steak -marinate 6-8 hours in equal parts olive oil, soy and lemon juice. Add garlic & seasonings. (We like oregano and pepper!)
2. California Turkey Burgers - top with jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion & avacado.
3. Oven Baked Salmon topped one of two ways: 1) mayonnaise and dill (kids like this best), or 2) chopped onion, tomato, lemon and capers.
5. One Pot Pasta Primavera - Cook pasta as directed, then throw in a few cups of cut up veggies (we like broccoli, zucchini, & tomatoes) midway through the boil. Drain, stir in olive oil and cottage cheese. Top with herbs & Parmesan. Only one dish to clean!
4. Barbeque Pulled Pork on buns - put 2 pork tenderloins in a crock pot and cover with a bottle of BBQ sauce and a bottle of chili sauce. Cook on low all day until it falls apart.
6. Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup - my personal favorite, no recipe required.
7. Chicken Pasta Caesar Salad - If you're a slacker like me, buy the prepared salad kit then toss in cooked chicken, rotini and tomatoes. (We're having this tonight.)