About six months ago some friends and I set out to try a bunch of ideas and see what would make a difference. We are all mothers of young children and needed the ideas to be easy and things we could stick to.
Here are the winners!
1. Set a theme for each day of the week. This helped us focus when we were meal planning and got me away from leafing through every cookbook I own until my head exploded. The theme's were different for each of us depending on our families eating habits. Here are mine:
Tuesday: American (for lack of a better word. ie. egg salad wraps, grilled cheese with tomato soup)
Thursday: New recipe/choice day
Friday: Grill/meat (I'm a vegetarian, my family is not. I cook meat for them about once a week)
Sunday: Community dinner (we have a neighborhood potluck on Sundays)
2. Repeating monthly meal plan. I figured we basically eat the same things over and over again, why menu plan every week. So I made a monthly meal plan to use over and over. Well, I learned we do eat the same things over and over again, but in about a three month rotation. We were very sick of those first months recipes by the end of month three. Now I have three months planned out, this seems to be the right amount for us. I don't stick to the calendar exactly by the day. I just buy all the groceries for those recipes and cook them as they seem to fit in that week. I am now adding lunches as they tend to be on the fly and causing me stress.
3. Dinner exchange. I started a weekly dinner exchange with another mom at my kids school. I knew they ate similarly to us (vegetarian, whole foods). The idea was I would bring her dinner on Tuesday and she would bring us dinner on Thursday. This proved to be too much. So now we alternate weeks. Nothing fancy just double whatever I made the night before for our family and hand off at preschool pick up. Amazing how much I appreciate the night off, when it's our week.
4. Freezer dinner exchange. Once every few months I host a freezer dinner exchange. Four of us meet at my house. We each bring the ingredients for a freezer meal pre-chopped and ready to be assembled for everyone. Ahead of time we email what we will be bringing and what type of dish, etc. you will need to freeze it in. We chat and catch up while we assemble and then leave with four freezer meals. We always talk about doing it once a month, but don't seem to get there. Our first attempt was a disaster. We did not prep/chop ahead of time and it took us all day and we didn't complete all the meals. Learning from our mistakes, we find doing the prep work at home to be easy as we have a deadline and just assembling together manageable.
5. Community Dinner. We call is "Sunday Funday" and it rotates between houses. 5:00 on Sunday, bring something to share. The kids love it and we find it an easy way to wind down the weekend. Sometimes we have theme's, last time was middle eastern. I made falafel, someone brought hummus/pita, someone else salad. Store bought items are ok, it you don't have time. Other times, just bring what is leftover in your fridge.
6. Freezer list. Why did I not do this sooner!!! I now keep a list of what I have stashed away in the freezer. When I use it I cross it off the list. It's so nice on those days that got away from me or we have babysitter to take a quick look at the list and then grab something. Also, having it on the fridge helps me remember to double things and freeze some for later.
These were our keepers, always looking for more ideas. If you have one that is tried and true please send it my way!
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