Dealing with the Dinner Demon

True confessions.

I have a bad habit of buying more than we can eat in a week.  I throw out way more food than I should.  I end up running to the store at 4 in the afternoon for the missing ingredients in the recipe I’m making.

And it’s stressful work deciding what to have for dinner day by day.  When I ask Jim what he’d like, he tosses out ideas like “steak and lobster”  or “rack of lamb”.

He obviously doesn’t feel my pain.

We often end up having one of those emergency dinners I was talking about,  burritos or eggs.  Which is, of course, an emergency of my own making.

I’m tired of the uncertainty.  It’s time to face my demons and deal with the dinner dilemma.

I’m diving in…  I’m going to create a weekly plan and thereby save time, money, and aggravation.

I’m keeping  it simple and low-tech.  A piece of paper, and I’m good to go.  From my research, I’ve gleaned a few important tips:

  1. Start with dinners.  At our house, many of our other meals emerge, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, out our evening meal.  Breakfast burritos from leftover beans and rice, ham sandwiches from pork roasts for lunch.  You get the idea.
  2. Take stock of what you’ve got. I’ve checked out the contents of our cupboards and refrigerator.  Is there something I’m overlooking that has a best buy date that’s nearing expiration?  What about that head of week old cabbage in the crisper?
  3. Check the calendar.  Is there anything that might impact dinner plans?  Like the fact that Jim will be out of town Tuesday night for work.  That’s a good night for pizza since he’s not a big fan.  And Friday we’re going to see a Christmas play so we’ll probably grab a quick bite at a friend’s house.
  4. Write it down.  Choose where to begin.  I’m starting with 5 days. That seems doable.  I’ll pencil in breakfast and lunch as well.  Luckily it’s not in stone because there has to be room for flexibility.  It’s a framework for meals, not a life sentence.
  5. Make a grocery list.  Looking over the meals, I can see what I’ll need to get at the store(s).  The saving money part comes when I stick to the list.

Wish me luck.

Using up an old planning book from my teacher days.

Using up an old planning book from my teacher days.

Are you a planner?  What do you do to get dinner on the table night after night, keep money in your pocket and your sanity intact?

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3 Emergency Dinners and Scenes from New York

My husband has been out of town for over a week.  He’s pretty much a homebody so this is definitely out of the ordinary for all of us.  He happens to be on the other side of the country working with utility crews from all over the nation getting New York City back in power.

Without him here every night for dinner, I’ve let mealtimes fall by the wayside–seriously.  At first, it  seemed like a vacation from the nightly stress of getting dinner on the table, but now, after a week of winging it, it’s rather tiresome. The most important lesson I’ve learned?

You have to plan ahead.

I know planning ahead for an emergency dinner seems counterintuitive.  But it isn’t.  Not really.

We rely heavily on a well stocked freezer and pantry staples so dinner comes together without too much fuss and bother.  Here are three of our favorites.

  1. Burritos  Beans and tortillas make the basis of this meal.  We always have cheese on hand, but if you don’t, it freezes well grated.  Fill them out with leftovers from the fridge: grains, meats, and/or vegetables.
  2. Breakfast   Eggs, any way you like ’em, cook up quickly.  Throw in some grated cheese and chopped spinach, olives or whatever’s tasty and available.  Whole grain toast with apple butter and breakfast sausage.
  3. Pizza  Using thawed pizza dough or pita rounds.  Top with your favorite jarred pasta sauce and grated cheese.  Add olives, ground meat, sliced tomatoes,or last night’s pan cooked broccoli and place under the broiler.

From the freezer:

  • tortillas
  • sliced whole grain bread
  • grated cheese
  • breakfast sausage (thaws quickly under running water)
  • pizza dough (taken out in the morning to thaw in the refrigerator)

From the cupboard:

  • canned beans (whole or refried)
  • olives
  • pasta sauce in a jar
  • apple butter

From the refrigerator:

  • leftover meats
  • last night’s vegetables
  • eggs
  • salad vegetables
  • fruit

Add a simple salad of greens or fruit to round things out.

Admittedly, these emergency dinners involve a working stove, refrigerator and plenty of light and heat.  So perhaps, strictly speaking, it’s not an emergency.  After Hurricane Sandy, an unplanned dinner is small potatoes to what the folks on the East Coast have endured.

        What are your favorite quick dinners?