planning meals

I'm more or less an organized person. It's true that I misplace my keys several times a day, but I never actually lose stuff for more than a few minutes at a time and I'm pretty good about remembering where I need to be and when. That qualifies as organized in my book.

When it comes to fixing meals, though, I fall short in the planning department, and more often than not I tend to see what's in the fridge and cook by the seat of my pants, or I'll think of something on my bike ride home from work and stop at the store if I need to fill in any gaps. When I've really got it together, I'll have things figured out a day or two in advance, but that's usually as far ahead as I plan. 

There are two main reasons I have resisted making a weekly meal plan. First, I find the idea rather stifling. How, on Sunday, could I possibly anticipate what we'll be in the mood to eat (or, more accurately, what I'll be in the mood to cook) on Thursday evening? Second, cooking is all about the ingredients for me. I use what is fresh and in season, including whatever is in our weekly CSA box. We get an e-newsletter with veggie forecast so we know more or less what to anticipate every week, but until I see the amount and quality of what's there on Wednesday afternoon, it's hard to plan around it ahead of time.

This has worked so far because - like many, many people now and for many generations before this - I've been cooking for my family on a daily basis for a long time, so I'm pretty good at it. (Daily practice has that effect.)

The problem is that this approach, while it allows for flexibility and creativity and all those wonderful things, is not very efficient. And it turns out that this school year the various kid activities and my own freelance schedule will make me busiest in the late afternoons several days a week, right when I need to make dinner.

I'm squirming at that last statement. I've got two little Susans sitting on my shoulders right now. One Susan is the practical get-it-done mom/part-time employee/freelancer fretting and frazzled about the crazy late afternoons she is going to have at least three days a week and wondering how she can manage being in two places at once, much less in the kitchen cooking supper. The other Susan just indignantly pulled on her feminist power pants suit (this is my imagination, remember; I do not actually own a pants suit of any kind) and wonders why, just why, Frazzled Susan does not call upon other members of her family to help make the food that they help eat up every night. 

Sigh. Indignant Feminist Susan, your family should help, but remember that 8 and 10 year old kids should probably not be using a gas stove without supervision. Also, Stuart just can't get out of work early enough on a regular basis to be counted on for full meal prep (though he does help out when called upon.) So Frazzled Susan shall remain in charge and let's be honest, she'll complain about it more than she should.

Some weeks will be worse than others, depending on the needs of the students I'm accompanying this semester. There will be evenings where I'll have to pull soup out of the freezer or get takeout. But I'm hoping that with some more careful planning, it will be less stressful getting dinner made every night in between all the running around.

Yes, that's right. I said "careful planning." This means that I have decided on a weekly meal plan, and I'm really hoping it helps the weekly routine go a little more smoothly, especially when work ramps up later in the semester. I've tried this before and usually abandon it a couple weeks in. This time, though, I'm writing menus on the chalkboard in the kitchen and I'm making the grocery list based on those menus and I'm trying to come up with ideas for meal prep that are compatible with our daily lives.

I'm also asking my family for their input. "Any special requests before I plan the week and go to the store?" but that's only minimally helpful because they always say the same things. Lasagna. Meatballs. Noodles. Nothing that helps me figure out how to use up the giant beets we got in our vegetable box two weeks ago, alas.

I know, I know. This is what working parents do. This is what organized people do. There are whole books written about this, entire blogs devoted to meal plans and cooking. I'm  probably the last person to figure out that a little more work early on will save me stress later in the week, and I'm finally on board. We'll see how it goes.


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