January 4, 2013

Fresh Cooking for the Week - How to Simplify

Hoppin' John Soup & corn muffins
How can you work full time outside the home and still get good home-cooked meals on the table for your family most nights of the week? There are several options, but the one that works best for us is what I like to call IE Meal Planning.

IE = Industrial Engineering. This was my major in college - and grad school. The simplest way I've seen it explained is on a nerdy bumper sticker: "Engineers make things. Industrial Engineers make things better." So in case I haven't discussed this already on this blog, it kind of is my hobby to optimize everything, not just the traditional factory stuff the profession was born from. All aspects of life can benefit from the intersection of 'taking the easy way out' and 'doing it right'.

So you and I probably know at least half of the recipes our families make regularly by heart, but I still pull out the recipes for them each week, like a Kan Ban system to help me plan our meals (ok, I am boring you, right? My professors would be so proud, though!). Not only does this help me make sure I have all the ingredients I need, the instructions are still handy in case hubby needs to jump in and help out while we cook.

On Saturday or Sunday, I take requests from the family and pick 4-6 recipes for the week. I generally try to have at least one meatless day and one seafood day - and just enough servings to make dinners and lunches for all of us for most of the week (I admit I look forward to NOT cooking by Friday!). I put the pages on the cookbook holder (even for recipes out of books, I prefer to make a photocopy of the pages I'll use - just to accommodate this system. Is that OCD?). I review the recipes and add the ingredients we don't already have to the OurGroceries app (along with the stuff we need for breakfasts and snacks) and head to the store, reusable grocery bags and phone in tow.

I should interject here that 95% of our recipes are healthy, fast and tasty. Very few make the cut that take too much time or work and even those have to be earmarked for a Sunday evening when we have extra time. Fairly often a recipe for muffins or another snack will make the pile - but those have to be made on the weekends, too!

During the week, Daddy picks up from daycare (I do drop-off), so I can usually get an uninterrupted start on dinner. And most days the meal is in its final stage of cooking (or close to it) when the boys get home.

We dish out our plates, eat together, play a little, then its off to bed for the little one. After he's bathed and tucked in, we pack up the leftovers into our lunches for the next day (check that box on the To Do list!), wash dishes and still have some time to relax ourselves.

As an example, here are our recipes for this week:

Fish Sticks with Green Beans and Potatoes (from Tyler Florence's Fresh Start)
Hoppin' John Soup (adapted from this Parenting.com recipe, by swapping in a can of black eyed peas for one of the cans of white beans, and adding a cup of cooked brown rice)
One Pan Lasagna (from Tyler Florence's Fresh Start)
Cozy At Home Mac n Cheese (from What to Expect: Eating Well When You're Expecting, we use cauliflower as our veggie add-in)
Two Cheese Pesto Pizza (from Weelicious.com)
Pear Struesel Muffins (from OnceAMonthMom.com - but I'll be honest, we probably won't get to these until THIS weekend...)

(if you use MyFitnessPal, I can share the nutrition info I already input for some of the recipes below that don't provide it!)

more weekly recipes:

1 week
3 weeks' worth


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