This week in “Momming Monday,” we’re talking food. Now, I could talk all day about food, but I’m specifically talking about answering that age-old and perpetual question of, “What’s for dinner?” The answer to that question best starts with a plan.

Now if you’re like me, those three little words get pretty grating on your nerves after the first fifty times of hearing them. Especially if you don’t have an answer. And if you don’t have an answer right away, the last thing you want to do is have to rub more than two brain cells together to come up with one. Now, I’ll be honest–part of me loves to cook (when things turn out right–the other part of me loves to order take-out and promise to never try that one again), but the rest of me has other things to think about, places to go, people to be, and stories to write. I’m not a chef, and spending too much time on cooking (or just thinking about cooking) cuts into my writing time.

A (Wo)Man With A Plan

Planning meals is not something that comes naturally for me. Dinner menus are what you look at when you’re out at a restaurant. But I recently became a weekly dinner planning convert out of desperation. My grocery bills with two kids were going out of control. My pantry was plentiful, yet cries of, “Moom! There’s nothing to eat!” echoed through my kitchen like accusatory battle cries. And my husband confirmed his opinion that I missed my true calling as a wartime army cook.

Out of desperation as yet another Chicken Surprise Saute went largely unconsumed (except for my own brave efforts) in favor of jelly sandwiches, I turned to the online recipe world. I thought to myself, “If I’m going down in flames, then at least somebody else will have the ultimate blame, and it won’t be for lack of a plan.” At the very least, a planned dinner menu would provide my family with fair warning as to whatever disasters lay in wait, and they could plan accordingly to hopefully surprise Mommy with either take-out or a live-in chef (I’m still hoping on that second one).

The first step I took was to download charts from the lovely and talented organizedhome.com. I had successfully used this site before in creating a household notebook (which no one ever used, but is still in existence as a storage for “Shit we need to save.” I read her articles on meal planning, printed out weekly menu blanks and began searching allrecipes.com for something I could throw into the slow-cooker, a casserole dish, or a soup pot.

My first efforts netted me five recipes (I wasn’t going to go crazy here–I just wanted weeknight dinners to see if the experiment made any difference). I penciled them in on random days and created a grocery list out of the ingredients. I found that I did, in fact, have much of the stuff I needed, but I also had an instant list of stuff I didn’t have. Nevertheless, I knew what to get, and I wrote it down. Gooo, organized me!

My first foray into weekly menu planning was not the success I’d hoped it would be. Visions of myself wearing an adorable vintage apron, presenting my family with an Anne Taintor-inspired casserole all ready before their rumbling bellies even put the message out faded quickly in the face of the fact that I’d scheduled Lasagna night on piano-lessons day, and put meatloaf on school fundraising pizza night.

But on the nights where I did, in fact, make what I planned…my family ate it.

I still can’t be sure it wasn’t the low-voiced “discussion” papa-bear had with the subunits likely along the lines of, “you will eat this or you will wear it,” or the fact that they were finally hungry enough to take whatever they could get. But I, like them, will take what I can get.

Since then, meal planning has still not been easy for me. I have developed a flexibility of meals to meet my family halfway (if they really want hot dogs and mac’n’cheese when I’ve got pork chops planned, that is not the hill I want to die on). I’ve started paying better attention to the schedule of practices, lessons, early days, homework-intensive days, and even weekend days, in order to pick out something suitable for either eat’n’run, cook’n’ignore, or get fancy. But the grocery bills have skimmed some fat, and most importantly, my brain cells are devoting themselves to my character conflicts, and not the kitchen disasters.

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