This quote popped up on my Facebook newsfeed today:
IF YOU WAIT LONG ENOUGH TO MAKE DINNER, EVERYONE WILL JUST EAT CEREAL.
At my house you can substitute “cinnamon toast” or “a bagel with cream cheese” for “cereal” and BAM! you have dinner.
Have you ever noticed the disproportionate number of blog posts devoted to simplifying meal preparation? There’s a reason for that. Feeding your family every night is an exhausting and often thankless chore. I enjoy cooking, but cooking and fixing dinner are not the same. “Cooking” conjures an image of me leisurely trying new recipes while listening to music, a glass of wine in hand. Fixing dinner can better be described as a survival skill.
If you scroll through the Orlando Moms Blog archives, you will find some great suggestions on how to tackle the dinner dash:
I have a friend who does an amazing job meal planning on the weekend. She makes a list of meals for each night of the upcoming week, shops, and prepares what she can in advance. I really admire this approach, but it doesn’t work for me. I occasionally work late, my kids are at an age where their after school activity schedules are fluid, and my husband’s work schedule is erratic. When I tried this method of meal planning, I wound up tossing a lot of fresh food that I either had no time to cook, or that sounded like a good dinner selection on the weekend but did not seem appealing on Thursday.
I’ve also tried using the crockpot. That works best for me when I remember to prepare the crockpot meal at night so I can just plug it in the next morning before I leave for work. The downside for me is that my kids won’t eat most crockpot recipes.
I’m happy to report that I’ve recently found a hybrid of all these dinner planning strategies that works for me. It incorporates the pre-prepared convenience of freezer meals, the ease and readiness of crockpot meals, and the theory of weekly meal planning, but with a flexible twist. I call it Shopping at Trader Joe’s.
Trader Joe’s carries many healthy, delicious, reasonably priced read-to-cook or pre-cooked items that help me get dinner on the table in record speed. I discover new products every shopping trip.
Here’s my routine. I purchase a variety of berries and pre-cut fruits, bagged veggies ready to prepare, pre-cooked main dishes, and frozen sides that can all be “mixed and matched” to make dinner. This gives me great flexibility and dramatically cuts down on wasted food. If I am feeling particularly organized, I’ll make a list of the main dishes so I can glance at on the way out the door in the morning – meal planning! When I have time, I’ll roast the bagged veggies so they are ready to eat, heat, or add to a stir fry.
Here are some of my current Trader Joe’s favorites:
Precooked chicken breasts – $5.49 per package. I prefer the balsamic and the lemon. I usually take one package to work on Monday to use in salads. One package chopped and added to a stir fry makes a quick, delicious dinner for our family.
Chicken marsala and mashed potatoes – $5.99 per package. This is one of our current favorites. You can pop it in the oven or the microwave, add a vegetable side, and voila – dinner!
Meatloaf – $6.99 per package. My husband and one of my daughters like Trader Joe’s meatloaf better than mine. It’s delicious and makes for great left overs.
Shaved Brussels sprouts – $2.79 per bag. It’s a little embarrassing how excited I get when I see these in the produce section. I roast them with a little olive oil, or sauté them in a stir fry pan. Add onions and bacon if you are feeling creative.
Cubed butternut squash – $1.99 per bag. If you like butternut squash but don’t fix it often because it’s such a pain to cut up, this is for you! Great roasted, sautéed, or blended for soups.
Rice – $ varied. Check the freezer section for boxes containing three pouches of rice. Jasmine and brown rice are our favorites, but you can also find red rice, quinoa, and a rice medley. Three minutes in the microwave! I add rice to a quick and healthy stir fry.
Dorot Frozen Crushed Garlic cubes – $1.99. No freezer should be without this staple. Toss a cube or three into whatever you are cooking without the aggravation of chopping garlic.
I’m sure you can find similar products at other grocery and speciality stores. Trader Joe’s is just my personal favorite.
*quote attributed to Sarcastic [email protected]