Dinner – Drama or Delight? Part 1

It happens to every one of us.  It’s been a hectic day, maybe even one like those Laughing Cow commercials, you arrive home exhausted only to find that you have nothing for dinner.  The solution?  Typically, you order out, Right?  I grew up in a home where this did not happen.  My mother stayed home and had dinners on the strict schedule.  In fact, we ate at 530.  Every.  Single.  Night.  I was never the sole organizer of the dinner plans until I went to college where the cafeteria took care of things for me.  As long as I was there during the open hours, I was ok.  Even if I didn’t like what was on the main menu, I could make a salad or an ice cream sundae.  Fast forward a few years and I was a new bride.  I realized that not only did I not actually know how to cook, I was clueless about grocery shopping, menu planning and there were buckets of tears to be had when my darling new husband didn’t get why we had to eat at 530.  

By this time, however, my mother had had a stroke and was unable to teach me how to do this simple task.  My whole life, I had these dreams of someday being a cute little wife who greets her husband with a tastefully ruffled apron and a 3 course meal on the table when he gets home from work.  My mother planted this dream in my head and it stuck.  It was a very idyllic version of what actually happened.  I worked 8-10 hours everyday, plus a commute.  Most nights, I was far too tired to make much more than a frozen pizza.  My parents are instinctual cooks and most of the meals that were on the weekly menu were ones that no recipes with quantitative measurements were to be had.  My husband made it clear that tofu was not an option, so I went in search of cookbooks.  I had a few, but over the following months, I set aside money from each paycheck to purchase a new book.  By the time, the summer rolled around, I had amassed a collection and some experience.  Now, if I could only not waste so much time and money in the grocery.

At that time, I had quit my job with the commute and was now in town.  For the first time ever, I could go to the farmer’s markets, pick up produce and take it straight home.  It was then I discovered coupons and comparison shopping.  These days, I pretty much have the prices memorized at my bi-weekly haunts.  I know if using that coupon is worth it or if I’d be better off just buying the store brand.  This is a muti-part series on menu planning, grocery shopping and kitchen organization.  I wish someone had be able to share this with me, so I am hoping to help another new housekeeper and maybe give some new tips to an experienced one.

Grocery day is set up around my pay days.  I start the menu planning on Wednesday or Thursday and shop Friday mornings.  The main reason why I do it this way is because that’s how my parents did it.  The only difference is that we don’t come home to a weekly meal of tofu cottage cheese and yam chips (although I would very much like to).  I live in my Blackberry.  My calendar, recipes I’d like to try, notes and grocery list are all in there.  But I do keep a calendar on the fridge so that the hubs knows what’s going on.  Menu planning for me isn’t so much about a rotational list or a specific diet, it’s about my schedule and what I want to try.  I have an ongoing pile of recipe clippings in my recipe binder to try and I do try to use at least one new one every 2 weeks.  Also in my binder is a copy of the Ohio produce availability.  This way I am ready for when the crops start rolling in and I don’t miss something; like fresh asparagus.  On Tuesdays and Thursdays I work until 7 at night.  Therefore, I have either a crockpot meal ready when I get home or a freezer meal thawing.  Monday, Wednesday and Friday I only plan for dinner because we either have leftovers or sandwiches for lunches.  The weekend menus revolve around what we are doing and usually include a dinner out.  I do try to be realistic in my planning because now that I have a little guy motoring around the house, I can’t get too involved in my meal prep in case he needs something.

Once the meals are chosen and allocated to their days, I make out a grocery list.  I go through every recipe and make sure I have the ingredients (because nothing is worse than trying to make Carbonara only to discover you don’t have any heavy cream).  Then, I make a quick trip through the pantry shelves and my freezers to see what I already have.  I have a running list in my BB of items that we need as I notice it and I add my grocery items to that list.  Finally, I go through my coupons and mark the items where one is applicable with an uppercase “C”.  I don’t often check the store fliers since we only shop at Kroger for items that I can’t get at Wayne’s or the meat market.  If I am going to a bulk foods store, I have a separate list for those purchases so that I don’t get confused.  

Thus ends the tale of my menu planning.  Up next, grocery shopping!  Grocery shopping is my all-time favorite kind of shopping, so I can’t wait to share with you these tips!

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