Running, decks, babysitting, busy, getting away. Most exciting title ever. You totally want to read this one. No way would I click "mark as read". By the way, what am I supposed to use when Google Reader disappears?
Ten

An update on how much I hate making dinner. (Still hate it, with improvements)

I thought I'd let you know how dinner is going since I wrote that WOE IS ME dinner post a while back. I took a lot of your advice to heart and the biggest thing was: stop caring so much. Making dinner IS hard. Eggs and toast is a perfectly acceptable busy weeknight meal. Some moms are great cooks, some moms are good at crafts, other moms have super clean houses. Everyone has their gifts! Mine is... well, let's think about that, shall we? Maybe we can come up with something by the end of this post. 

Basically I decided my goal was to simplify dinner as much as possible. I still make a weekly menu, but now it ALWAYS includes "Leftovers" and something like "Breakfast" or "Frozen Pizza" or something completely thoughtless and ridiculously easy. The kids like it, Phillip doesn't care, and I don't stress. 

A big part of simplifying dinner (and I am still working on this) is simplifying what I buy. For years now I've had a goal where I try not to spend more than $100 on the weekly grocery trip. I don't do the coupon thing or go to nine different stores, but I buy store brands and hardly anything that's already prepared, like sauces or pre-cut veggies. I plan things out, I look at the store specials, I try to use what's in my cupboards. 

The thing is we ALWAYS go over the grocery budget. ALWAYS. No matter if I do four weeks of $99 trips, a bunch of extra trips get snuck in somewhere, or we have a dinner party, or Phillip wanted stuff for lunches that I didn't know about, or SOMETHING. Also, we're both trying to stick to a low carb diet again, and low carbing it is expensive. It's just the way it is. And right now, even though my children will never have braces or go to college because we bought a deck instead, I am not freaking out about the grocery budget. My old one was unrealistic anyway. (FOR US. Some of you are budget ninjas. This is also not my gift.) 

So now I'm buying things that make it easy for me to make dinner. SCREW YOU, MULTIPLE HEADS OF FRESH BROCCOLI. Hello giant bag of pre-cut Coscto broccoli! I love you! Hello random bags of frozen side dishy things! Hello frozen dinners for those nights when I cannot do one more thing! 

I gave some serious thought to making and freezing meals ahead of time. I decided that wasn't going to work for us for a number of reasons. My freezer can only hold so many of those, for one thing. Then the thought of making a dinner and then putting it in the freezer did not give me any feeling of accomplishment, and I need that feeling. I didn't want to devote a whole weekend afternoon or whatever to MAKING the dinners. I couldn't think of enough low-carb freezer-appropriate dinners. AND thinking about it was giving me what I like to call Breast Milk Storage Syndrome. I would get competitive with myself, when I was doing that. Pump pump pump, stock up the bags, open the freezer nine times a day to gaze at my hard work. AND THEN I HATED USING THEM. Like, each time I had to take a bag out and use it, my pile got smaller, I had to work harder, it just KILLED ME. Is this logical? No! (Being illogical = my gift?) 

ANYWAY. What I decided DOES work is prepping and freezing MEAT. Since I wrote that post I've bought a giant pork loin, a family pack of chicken breasts, and a Costco heap of ground meat. I divided it all up, cut it all up, labeled the bags, froze it, and now when it's time for dinner I just thaw a bag of meat.* I don't know why I don't have Breast Milk Storage Syndrome with this. Maybe because I have SO MUCH and I don't use it that fast? Anyway, knowing that I don't have to thaw and cut up a bunch of meat each night has probably been the most helpful thing. I freeze it so the bags are flat and they thaw super quick. And then I make a stirfry, or tonight I'm making a chicken and [pre-cut!] broccoli casserole - ooh, that's another thing. This recipe required cooking everything ahead of time before baking it all together, but I tried it where I just cooked the chicken and put all the veggies in raw. WE LIKED IT BETTER. 

One thing I want to try that I haven't quite started yet is buying things we aren't necessarily going to eat that week. Which is totally against my previous philosophy on how to stick to our budget. BUT. When I want to give up one night and just make chili (for which I have a package of meat all prepped for me in the freezer) I won't have beans or tomatoes. Because it wasn't on the menu. Stuff like that I'd like to actually stock up on, so that I HAVE it for those nights. The budget wasn't working for us anyway, right? 

I don't think this is The System To Replace All Systems, but these little changes are making life easier for me NOW. And really, when has Going Easier On Oneself + Spending A Little More Money ever made anyone's life NOT easier? 

I would really really really like to try new things and manage to get everything on a set table by a particular time, but at this point, with two picky big kids, a starving baby, a husband who fights traffic, and my less than stellar cooking track record, I'm not going to knock myself out. 

P.S. I made the root beer pulled pork in the slow cooker for the potluck dinner last night and everyone liked it (although they are college kids and not hard to impress food-wise.) But it WORKED and it was ENOUGH and EASY and I was VERY PROUD OF MYSELF. 

(My gift? Did I come up with one? Um, how about... WRITING about my lack of housewifely skills?)

 

*As for all the MEAT... I am married to the sort of man who doesn't feel like he ATE unless he ate MEAT. Do you know the type? Eggplant and tofu are occasional acceptable substitutes, but I could never get away with a week of vegetarian pastas and salads and quinoa and rice dishes. Ever. (Or, and this is much more likely, a week of cereal or cheese pizza.) Where I could easily go weeks and months without missing meat, Phillip might shrivel up and die. So. There you go. Also: low-carb. Sigh. 

Comments

 Dr. Maureen

I absolutely, 100%, hate using stuff that's in the freezer. Or, as it turns out, stuff I canned. Because then it is GONE. And I don't HAVE IT ANYMORE. In case there's an EMERGENCY. In college, when I still lived in the dorm, I once let an entire loaf of bread go moldy because I didn't eat it because then I wouldn't have it anymore. And I felt exactly the same way about frozen breast milk. So I feel you.

Salome Ellen

Start thinking about non-perishable things that you will use regularly -- like beans and tomatoes -- and stock up ONLY when they go on sale. My mom pre-stocked me when I got married, and for years I didn't buy anything of this kind that wasn't on sale. (My grocery budget, including HBA's, was $25 in those days...)

Meghan

This wa me happy. Your gift: writing well and making me laugh on really really hard days. And thank you for that

Meghan

Maureen I do the same thing. Crazy.

Megan

Yay for finding things that work for you! We are working with a 300 dollar a month budget for food. Its soo hard. Ugh. Can you share the broccoli and chicken recipe?? Sounds good amd simple.... I'm always looking for recipes like that :)

el-e-e

Excellent update! I do the meat thing, too, and it helps me feel better. Oh, and yes, my husband requires (ish) that we always have the makings for chili on-hand. ALWAYS. JUST IN CASE. ;) And I like to supplement that with always having HOT DOGS.

Lindsay

This is brilliant and something I should look into. Good luck Maggie, and give us an update sometime.

HereWeGoAJen

Okay, two things. I used to be able to keep out grocery budget under $100 a week too, every time without fail. And then, right around when the price of gas went up, it became impossible. Cannot be done. I'm buying the same type of stuff and it is AT LEAST $125-$150 a week now.

And yes on the meat thing. I told Matt recently that if I wasn't cooking for him too, I'd have meat maybe once a week. He looked all shocked and declared that we'd all be weaklings.

Sara

I totally feel you, though my dilemma is slightly different (I work long days three weeks, I like to cook, I hate to think of what to cook and I don't really want to cook at all on my long days). Three kids, each with slightly different food "preferences", and a husband who can't have gluten, which kills most of my easy nights (eg pasta). I'm trying to do a vague sort of meal planning every week, and I've started 2 google docs: one for main dishes and one for side dishes. In the document, I link to the recipe if it's online. I also have started a second pinterest cooking board, for things I've actually cooked. I loooove going through pinterest and pinning food, but I was rarely going back and making anything on my board. So now, I moved everything I've made to the "Things I've cooked" board, with comments added if appropriate.

Freezing ahead works for me only if I make a double batch of something-I would never cook just to freeze something.

Steph

Zac is the same way. No meat = no meal.

Steph

Zac is the same way. No meat = no meal.

Jennifer

I loved this post! You are such a good writer. And the thing is, it's all about figuring out what works for you. You need to find the satisfaction (which it sounds like you have) for any system to work. Also, Costco has some tasty spinach raviolis that don't even require sauce. My kids snarf them. (No meat, but you could make him some sausage links or something on the side :)

Meghan

Do you ever employ the ziploc bag/microwave method for vegetables? It's genius. Those are literally the directions. Works great for broccoli, asparagus beans etc.

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