Motto: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
How do you react when you hear the “what’s for dinner” question? Do you smile, or do you look wearily at your family and give them what you’ve just cooked, too tired to eat yourself? Do you think with resentment about the next day and see yourself looking hopelessly for another dinner idea? Do you find cooking terribly boring and exhausting? Does looking for new ideas take you much longer than you would wish? Have you ever asked yourself why it is so?
Most probably it is because you don’t plan your menus, and when the time to cook dinner comes, you try to prepare a decent meal from what you have at hand. Often one idea replaces another because you discover that you’ve run out of this or that ingredient, and you have to improvise. The result is not always satisfactory, and you can see it on the faces of your family. But what other choice do they have? Ordering pizza or Chinese food? You don’t want that, do you?
Here’s where menu planning can help you save both time and energy, and prepare delious meals every day. Basically, planning the meal is very easy. You just need to know three things: what you need, what to do, and in what order. That’s it! Simple, isn’t it? You can also do it in a little different way: check what you have, find out what you can do with it, how to do it, and in what order. Whichever way you use, there are a few things to remember, though.
Look into your cupboards, into your fridge, and into your freezer. See how much food you really have, and how many meals you can prepare. Now, this is also a good point to think about some sequence of meals during the week, which will introduce more variety into what you and your family eat. Write down everything you have together with the quantities, and then use some of those things for the next day’s dinner. You may not be an excellent cook, but you can read, and I know it because you’re reading this article. So, grab one of those cookbooks that you have collected and find a meal that you can prepare with what you have. No cookbooks at home? There are hundreds of thousands of websites with recipes on the Internet. Some of them with a vast database, so it is enough to enter the main ingredient and voila! You get a bunch of recipes you can use right away.
Checking your cupboards, fridge and freezer, and finding the right recipe is just the beginning. Now the right planning starts. First of all, read the recipe, and if there is anything you must, should or can do today, just do it. It may be something as simple as to take out that piece of meat from the freezer to have it defrosted tomorrow, or anything else. Just find out, then do it. Secondly, since everybody eats, why shouldn’t they contribute to the dinner? See what you can ask your kids to do. The older they are the more they can do. The same concerns your partner. This way everybody will contribute to the family dinner.
The next thing to do is to plan how much to cook. This is often a problem in many homes. We cook too much, and there are some things that cannot be eaten on the next day, or nobody wants to eat them, and you have to throw them away, and food shouldn’t be wasted. Look for some time how much your family eat, including you, and try to adjust the quantities accordingly. Sometimes it is better to cook a bit too little than too much.
Finally, when using a recipe, especially for the first time, do what it says in the same order. You’ll often find out that you save much time when you change the order you used to do things in. You’ll also discover that some things can be done at the same time without a problem.
Learn to plan ahead more than just tomorrow’s dinner. Start planning meals for two, three days. Eventually, you’ll be able to plan meals for the whole week. You’ll find it easier and easier to prepare the right shopping list, to divide work among your family, to prepare things in advance, and to be creative in the kitchen. At the same time, you’ll spend less and less time cooking.
Summing it all up, there are only five things to remember: always know what you have at hand, find out what you can do of it, see what you can do beforehand, ask others to help you wherever possible, follow the recipe. It may also turn out that planning takes more time than cooking itself. In the end, however, you’ll have much more time and energy to do what you really like and want to do instead of “living in the kitchen”.