Adding more meal ideas to the din­ner ro­ta­tion

Kent County News - - OPINION - MEG JOHN­SON

My new­est at­tempt at get­ting my life to­gether? Meal plan ro­ta­tion sheet. I got into some ex­cel­lent habits for a while there, go­ing through recipe books on Sun­days and mak­ing a list of easy meals for busy week­nights. I scrawled them all on a piece of pa­per, right down to the book and page num­ber for each recipe.

Shop­ping list in hand, I’d run er­rands while hus­band Spencer hung with lit­tle Oliver and I could stock us up for the week. I prepped food, too, chop­ping veg­eta­bles and fruit so they’d be ac­ces­si­ble when we were on the run. I didn’t love do­ing it, but liked the free­dom of hav­ing some of that han­dled be­fore Mon­day rolled around.

Then came Baby No. 2, and my time and en­ergy to sit and think about the fu­ture dwin­dled. I could barely fo­cus on feed­ing my­self in the mo­ment. Hadley was a sweet baby who has grown into a sweet, sassy tod­dler, and if I thought I couldn’t keep up at home be­fore? Well.

She’s a climber, our Hadley. And a dare­devil. For as much as Oliver ar­gues and pleads and makes us crazy with his re­quests, he doesn’t scale walls. There’s the is­sue of a lit­tle couch- and bed-leap­ing — no doubt from tak­ing the wrong mes­sage away from “Five Lit­tle Mon­keys Jump­ing on the Bed.” But he usu­ally has both feet on the ground.

Hadley loves to cat­a­pult her­self off the couch — some­times feet first, but not al­ways. She hap­pily stands on chairs and toys, look­ing at us proudly with arms at her sides like a gym­nast. “Look! See? I did it. No hands,” her smile an­nounces, and we try not to re­act too quickly and scare her when we bring her back down to earth.

Hav­ing two kids on the move in­stead of one makes the week­ends de­cid­edly more hec­tic. I still man­age to make a gro­cery list, but it’s hasty. If there’s a meal plan, it’s rough: ta­cos one night, spaghetti an­other. No recipe notes. No recipes at all, even. And then Sun­day rolls into Mon­day, and the fa­mil­iar ques­tion is asked: “What should we do about din­ner?”

In the con­stant strug­gle to pre­pare healthy fam­ily meals, I’ve been try­ing to col­lect recipes that I can ro­tate with­out try­ing to rein­vent the wheel over here. We have some stand­bys, but the kids are still largely de­clin­ing any­thing we make. It’s chicken nuggets, pret­zels and ap­ple­sauce over here, y’all.

And that’s fine. De­spite my long­time be­lief that I wouldn’t be one of “those par­ents” who make sep­a­rate meals, I just don’t care right now. Both kids have had feed­ing is­sues, and if they’re in­gest­ing some­thing with pro­tein? Cool. Pick­ing my bat­tles. Picky eaters are still eaters, and that’s what mat­ters right now.

So my din­ner plans, then, are re­ally just din­ners for Spencer and me. Four recipes a week, given we’ll wind up bring­ing home carry-out or mak­ing plans the other nights. It’s not that hard.

So why is it so hard?

I think about my grand­par­ents cel­e­brat­ing their 60th wed­ding an­niver­sary re­cently. My grandma is a won­der­ful cook who, by my cal­cu­la­tions, has now pre­pared nearly 22,000 din­ners over the course of their mar­riage. Twenty. Two. Thou­sand. “Some­times I just don’t feel like cook­ing,” Gram will say, and you know what? I feel that. I feel that in my bones (or stom­ach?). I’ve been re­spon­si­ble for feed­ing my­self for just a frac­tion of that time, and I’m still ex­hausted by it.

My hus­band is a great cook, and has been mak­ing strides to get din­ner started be­fore I’m home most evenings. The weekly din­ner plan — now a ro­tat­ing list, mak­ing use of 20-ish fam­ily fa­vorites — is help­ing. I cre­ated a “Recipe Ro­ta­tion” with the suc­cess­ful din­ners we could add to the weekly line-up, and it’s be­com­ing my pet project.

Some nights are left­over nights. I read a quote re­cently that said we should try not to cook more food when per­fectly good, cooked op­tions are al­ready in the fridge, and that makes sense to me. Work smarter, not harder.

Of course, there are times you just don’t want re­heated turkey burger casse­role. You just don’t. And I get that, too.

That’s why our fa­vorite pizza place is in my con­tacts list. Bonus? Ev­ery­one loves pizza. “It’s the law,” as my 3-year-old likes to say.

And I love the quiet of lit­tle mouths en­joy­ing ac­tual food around our kitchen ta­ble. The sim­ple joys of life. Fol­low Me­gan John­son on Twit­ter @right­meg.

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