Adding more meal ideas to the dinner rotation
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.