Book Excerpt: The Five-Minute Mom’s Club: 105 Tips to Make a Mom’s Life Easier
Meal Planning Made Easy
By Stephanie Vozza, founder and president of The Organized Parent and Author of The Five-Minute Mom’s Club: 105 Tips to Make a Mom’s Life Easier (Franklin Green Publishing, October 2010, $12.95)
I used to daydream that I was married to Jerry Seinfeld. Not because he’s funny, or even because he’s famous. No, it was because Jerry seems to embrace cereal as a culinary dining option.
Oh, I could just imagine it:
Me: Here is your dinner, honey, a delicious bowl of Grape Nuts!
Jerry: What is the deal with Grape Nuts? You open the box—
Me: I know, dear, “no grapes, no nuts.” So do you want skim or 1 percent?
Alas, I didn’t marry Jerry. I married a nice Italian boy whose nice Italian mom can cook up a storm. And meal planning isn’t my thing. So, every day around 6:00 p.m., I used to have a little bit of a panic attack.
And I wasn’t alone: 37 percent of families admit that they don’t know what they’re having for dinner until they start cooking. This is like loading your family in the car for an outing and having no idea where you’re going until you start driving. Do you know how to get there? Do you have enough gas? Will everyone enjoy the destination? This situation can cause stress and frustration.
If deciding what to have for dinner is a task that causes you stress too, consider creating a weekly meal plan. It can be as involved or as simple as you want. The Five-Minute Mom’s Club approach to any task that causes you stress is to look at it through 3-D glasses, asking yourself these three questions: What would happen if I don’t do it? Can I delegate this task? How can I do this task in the shortest possible amount of time?
Here are some options. We invite you to share “it worked for me” stories at FiveMinuteMomsClub.com.
Don’t: If You’re a Creative Cook, Skip the Meal Plan and Play Pantry Roulette
“There is one thing I have never taught my body how to do and that is to figure out at 6 a.m. what it wants to eat at 6 p.m.” —Erma Bombeck.
Perhaps you feel this same way. Staring into a pantry can be a fun challenge for some people. Use sites like recipematcher.com, supercook.com, myrecipes.com, or recipepuppy.com, at which you can enter ingredients and get suggested recipes.
Delegate: Use a Meal-Planning Service
Sometimes it’s not the cooking that makes mealtime difficult; it’s deciding what to cook. If this is the case for you, consider signing up for a meal-planning service in which a menu plan, corresponding recipes, and grocery list are delivered to your email inbox each week.
There are several fee-based meal-planning services available, and each has its strengths. You can access sample menus at each website, so be sure to try before you buy.
The Six O’Clock Scramble (www.thescramble.com) offers family-friendly healthy meals with corresponding grocery lists. Founder Aviva Goldfarb has written two cookbooks, and her specialty is creating meals that contain whole grains, seasonal items, less-processed ingredients, and lower fat. Each meal contains a full nutritional analysis.
E-mealz.com is a customized meal-planning service. Members can choose from several plans, including low-carb, points systems, vegetarian, and plans that match the menu to what’s on sale at your favorite grocery store. The plan includes recipes as well as a corresponding grocery list.
Dinewithoutwhine.com and Dinnerplanner.com are two meal-planning services that cater to families with small children.
Free meal plans are available at Monthlymenuplanner.com. You can also visit Organizing Junkie’s website at Orgjunkie.com, where she posts her Menu Plan Monday. You can peruse other families’ meal plans. Or grab a copy of Woman’s Day magazine and take advantage of the month of meals they plan for you. You can find the menus at Womansday.com under the Recipes tab. Click on Month of Menus, which brings up the menus with printable grocery lists that correspond with the week’s meals.
Delegate: Engage the Family in Meal Planning
Since everyone eats, ask everyone in your home to make a list of your family’s favorite meals, including entrées as well as side dishes such as soups, salads, potatoes, pasta, and vegetables. Put each dish on an index card and select a meal for each night of the week.
Or have your tech-savvy child or partner computerize menus with Plantoeat.com, a fee-based website that creates a spreadsheet for you. It allows you to enter recipes or import them from websites or blogs. Then you drag recipes from your virtual recipe box to your week. It coordinates your grocery list, too. You can sign up for a free 30-day trial membership.
Do: The No-Brainer Meal Plan
In my home, we adopted a super-easy, five-minute meal plan: we eat the same dishes on the same nights of the week. Before you roll your eyes and chant BORING!, humor me. Here’s why it works for us: I don’t enjoy cooking, and my family is more meat and potatoes than gourmet cuisine—they prefer the predictable.
Our week goes like this: On Mondays we have Mexican, Tuesday it’s chicken in the crock pot, Wednesdays we have soup and sandwiches (soup and salad in the summer), Thursdays we have pasta, Fridays we have pizza, Saturdays we grill, and on Sundays we have Sunday dinner.
The key to making the same dishes on the same nights is to have a standard entrée and a few entrees in your arsenal that you create when you feel like it. For example, Sunday’s standard dish is spaghetti and meatballs (it was a tradition that my Nana started). But every so often I make a turkey or a roast. Monday’s no-brainer dish is beef tacos. But every so often, I make quesadillas or fajitas. On Tuesdays, we have chicken in the crock-pot over rice. But every so often, I make chicken and dumplings. You get the idea. The key is that standard meals create a standard grocery list and a standard item to take out of the freezer each night, which makes meal planning almost a no-brainer.
Do: Meal Planning with Friends
Make meal planning fun by combining the mundane chore with a girl’s night out. You can simply bring recipes and your calendar and swap meal ideas, penciling them in together. Consider creating a Facebook Group, blog, or other online community for your recipe friends where you can post feedback.
Or make it more of an adventure by visiting a meal preparation kitchen such as Dream Dinners or Super Suppers. You’ll leave with a week’s worth of meals ready to go into your freezer. It’s not necessarily budget-friendly, but with a group of friends, it’s definitely fun.
Alternatively, you can easily try this same concept at someone’s home. Gather four of your friends and have each person bring the ingredients for their favorite dinner recipe, enough to serve each friend’s family. Then have a large cook/assemble party. Each person will leave with enough meals for a week. Be sure to package the meals so they can be frozen. And check out Hotby6.com, a cool new fee-based website that offers meal plans for pre-assemble freezable meals.
You can also organize an ongoing meal swap coop. Gather four friends (for a total of five including you) and ask each to cook a meal, making enough for five families. Swap meals and you’ve got your meals planned for a week.
Do: Have a Go-To Meal
Always have a go-to dinner in the freezer for nights that just don’t go as planned or when you just don’t feel like cooking. For me, it’s Trader Joe’s Fried Rice, to which I add my own chicken. This cooks up quick, and my family loves it. I stock up and always have a few extra bags in my freezer.
Is there a brand of frozen lasagna that you family loves? What about jarred spaghetti sauce? Stock up on these items so that you can turn them into your go-to meal.
Join the Club
Like these tips? The Five-Minute Mom’s Club is filled with ideas on how you can use our Don’t/Delegate/Do philosophy for other tasks such as assigning chores, managing your time, running errands and grocery shopping. It’s available wherever books are sold.
Win The Book! – Buttoned Up will be giving away a copy of the book – check back here on Wednesdayt to enter!
About the Author
Stephanie Vozza is an expert in time-saving organization and nationally recognized as the “Time-Saving Mom.” As author of The Five-Minute Mom’s Club: 105 Tips That Make a Mom’s Life Easier (Franklin Green Publishing; October 2010), she offers quick solutions for the tasks that cause moms stress.
As founder and president of The Organized Parent, a company with a mission to make a mom’s life easier, Stephanie offers more than 200 products to busy moms looking to organize their life. In May 2009, she formed a partnership with FranklinCovey, global leader in time management, to be the company’s provider of family organizing tools. She was named FranklinCovey’s Busy Mom Guru and regularly blogs for the company’s Get Organized Community. In January 2010, Stephanie was named Kids/Organization Expert for Sears’ Manage My Life website, and the Organizing Guru for giggle.com. In addition, The Organized Parent has been featured in Woman’s World, Cooking with Paula Deen, Family Circle, Working Mother, Parents, Parenting, Pregnancy and Nick Jr. magazines, as well as on the Today Show.
Stephanie spends her time (wisely) in Rochester Hills, Michigan with her husband, David, and their two sons, Christopher and Nicholas.