Making the Most of Your
Chapter 10 "Make it Simple"
“Thou dost prepare a table before me . . . "
“Hey, what’s for dinner?”
If you are like most women, “What’s for dinner?” is a question that makes you cringe. Whether you are asking yourself, or your children or husband asks you, what’s for dinner is a question that plagues every homemaker. Would you believe that over the course of your adult lifetime, you will make more than 18,000 dinners and almost 60,000 meals? That’s a lot of ideas that you and I have to come up with!!
Knowing that there had to be a better way, I tried the method where you cook for a month, but cooking for an entire day—all day long—was horrible! If that weren’t bad enough, when I tried it my family complained that they didn’t want “leftovers” every night, since the meals were precooked and heated up!
My mother solved her “what’s for dinner” dilemma by making the same few meals over and over again. Basically, we ate: spaghetti, hamburgers, pork chops, fish, and chicken. To have a particular meal set for a particular day would have been too organized for my mother, so she just mixed up the days, which was her way of keeping us guessing so we wouldn’t know which day to find another family to feed us.
When I was in college I came to the conclusion that it was not “making” dinner that was tough, but instead it was “what” to make that was the root of the problem. I concluded that if I could just come up with enough dinner choices for one month, and repeat it each month, each dinner would be served only 12 times a year!
I also noticed when I watched old movies, like “Pollyanna,” that the cook would have a clipboard that listed the meal, which the lady of the house would choose a week ahead. So, I set out to make a month’s menu and put it on a clipboard to save time, money, and primarily the mental strain and anguish of knowing what to have for dinner—“viola”—it worked!
My method worked so well for me that I was asked to speak about my monthly menu to many women’s organizations; however, I soon realized after my divorce that not all women enjoy organizing like I do and to just sit down and create this proven foolproof method. I also discovered that it is not always necessary to be that organized when you have the desire and freedom to come up with a variety of meals. Therefore, I knew I needed to seek the Lord for another method that would require less initial invested time, which would work for my family and yours!
*Seek Him. Ladies, that is always the key and answer to every dilemma of your life—seek the Lord for the solution. Why ask yourself, your friend, or an expert when there is Someone just longing to bless you and give you secrets that no one else knows? If I have any wisdom at all it came from God. We love to bless each other with ideas and tips to make our lives easier, but the best one I could ever give you is to seek the Lord for every solution to every problem or question you have. Big or small, He has the answers and is sitting right beside you just waiting for you to ask!
EASIEST Meal Planning Ever
10 Easy Steps
Goal: to find least 28 dinner ideas, which will include out-to-eat days.
- Take a 3x5 card and write on the top a theme for your meal: chicken, ground beef, Mexican, Italian, pasta, meatless, on the grill, casseroles, nice meals, crock-pot, family favorites, comfort food (what you ate growing up), and another for eating out.
- On each 3x5 card brainstorm and write down all the meals you can think of that are either chicken, ground beef, Mexican, Italian, pasta, meatless, on the grill, casseroles, nice meals, crock-pot, family favorites, comfort food (what you ate growing up), and places your family likes to go when eating out.
For dinner ideas: check any list you might have made, think of what you usually make, ask your family or friends for ideas, look in cookbooks, and think of places you eat out and what you order to trigger your memory. Everyone who does this simple exercise is surprised by how many dinners they actually have listed!
Now, look at your cards to see which theme has the most dinner ideas listed. For your once-a-month-menu you’ll need just 7 themes, one for each day of the week, which would include your eating out card if you’d like to eat out once a week.
By the way, you may notice that some of your meals overlap. For instance, you may have fried chicken on your chicken card and on your nice meal card. Not to worry, we cover this on a later step.
More about eating out. If your family, right now, goes out to eat all the time, plan at least 2 out-to-eat days per week. If you’re the kind who never eats out, you might want to think about taking a break from cooking and also forgo the negative comments grown children love to bring up making you feel guilty about.
*Eating leftovers. Include a day to eat your leftovers by creating a food bar, which is what I did (for our Friday lunch) for years until just recently. If you don’t want to eat your leftovers, find someone to give them to. For almost ten years I gave all my leftovers to my parents so my mom would not have to cook. The truth was that I always made extra, and included my leftovers that fed my mom, dad, and my retarded sister!
Since my parents are now deceased, I began giving my leftovers to my oldest son who works from home and is too busy to cook. He said it saves him so much time and money by just grabbing a meal and heating it up.
A friend of mine never made lunches. Leftovers were always their lunches. Once again, don’t try to figure it out. Ask God to tell you what to do with your leftovers!
- Choose your theme according to the day of the week. For instance, you might want the crock-pot recipes on Wednesday because that night is crazy when you go to church mid-week, or maybe you would choose the crock-pot meal for Sunday afternoon when you get home from church. Or, you might want it on Monday night so you can make it ahead of time on Sunday night since Mondays are always exhausting. Get the picture? Here is how I have mine:
Sunday is our only out-to-eat after church.
Monday we have Italian because it’s quick and easy.
Tuesday is chicken for no special reason—we just like and eat chicken a lot.
Wednesday we have Mexican, which is also an easy meal.
Thursday seems to be the only night all of my children are home, so that is our nice meal.
Friday is family favorites, which is our way of celebrating the end of the work/school week.
Saturday I like to grill (and yes, I do it in the dead of winter).
*Another leftover tip: Your leftover day should be the day before (or day of) grocery shopping so that you have cleaned out your old food, wiped down the shelves, all before putting in the fresh food (instead of what most people do—burying food that spoils).
Remember to also clean out your breadbasket, chip shelf, fruit drawer, salad/vegetable drawer, and meat/cheese drawer that can also be used for leftovers or given to someone in need.
Write on the top left, what day of the week you choose for each theme.
- Next, make a separate card for each meal. If you have at least four meals for each theme, it will cover a month of menus. If you have 6 meals, it will stretch for a month and a half. Depending on how many meal choices you have, you can stretch it as far as you have meals for! This also includes the places your family eats out.
- Take your theme meals and paperclip them together. Place these in a plastic 3x5 card file under the section “dinners.” Then, just once a week (we do this on Saturdays after our big breakfast), pull one of the meals from your theme for each day of the week. For instance:
Sunday: I’d choose “Chinese” from my out-to-eat cards.
Monday: I’d choose “lasagna” from my Italian cards.
Tuesday: I’d choose “fried chicken” from my chicken cards.
Wednesday: I’d choose “beef tacos” from my Mexican cards.
Thursday: I’d choose “pork roast” from my nice meal cards.
Friday: I’d choose “tuna fish cakes” from my family favorites cards.
Saturday: I’d choose “steaks” from my grill cards.
- Complete meals. If you want less to think about each day, then under the meal write what you’ll have with each dinner. First find the vegetables by brainstorming and writing down every vegetable that you can think of on a 3x5 card. Don’t limit your family by what they currently eat; begin to try something new and expand your family’s horizon.
Follow the vegetables with a starch: pasta, rice, bread, or potato, and finally, if you’d like, a dessert. Write this at the bottom of your card. For instance, I list hot tea, fortune cookies, and chopsticks with a Chinese meal. Use your 3x5 card to help you by making notes (in pencil) to yourself to save time thinking of these things each week. For instance:
Sunday: is simply Chinese.
Monday: next to the lasagna I would write salad, and bread.
Tuesday: next to fried chicken I’d write spinach, and corn bread.
Wednesday: next to beef tacos I’d write refried beans, tortilla chips with salsa and guacamole.
Thursday: next to pork roast I’d write pasta side dish, salad, and rolls.
Friday: next to tuna fish cakes I’d write elbow macaroni with tomato sauce.
Saturday: next to steaks I’d write baked potatoes, salad, and rolls.
- Lunch. Another simple idea to make the most of our time is to brainstorm for your lunch meals in the same way as you did for your dinners. To find lunch ideas, begin by asking each of your children their favorites, but make sure they are alone when you ask them. Since we have home schooled since 1989, and have worked at home for almost as long, I have always tried to have ONE of each of my children’s “favorites” once a week. (However, they are strictly warned not to complain when they eat something they don’t particularly like on someone else’s day).
If you can’t come up with a month’s worth of different lunches to correspond with your dinners, just repeat the lunches that everyone seems to like the most. Make a card for each lunch and then match with the dinner with that lunch. A big meat dinner should be combined with a pasta or meatless lunch. Again, a light lunches go with a heavy dinners OR big lunch with lighter dinner. For instance:
Sunday lunch: is our out-to-eat. So, for dinner we always have Sunday snacks (those frozen meals that the kids love but I hate. So I just eat some leftovers or a salad.
Monday lunch: is a fast food lunch since my daughters and I do our grocery shopping.
Tuesday lunch: is hot dog day: hot dogs, corn dogs, chili dogs, or specialty dogs.
Wednesday lunch: is a meat sandwich: ham, chicken, chicken salad, tuna, roast beef or turkey.
Thursday lunch: is a boxed meal.
Friday lunch: has always been our leftover day, but when my children got so sick of it, I prayed and the Lord led me to give our family’s leftovers to my grown son who just heats them up in the microwave. Now we have PBJ (peanut butter and jelly) or the leftover meat for sandwiches.
Saturday lunch: we don’t have lunch. We eat our big breakfast very late and have an early dinner.
- Breakfast. Now make the most of your precious time and do the last bit of brainstorming for breakfast ideas. To make it easier, I began creating a breakfast theme. For instance:
Sunday breakfast: is each person’s choice since everyone is ready for church at different times.
Monday breakfast: is just cereal (not sugar cereal; see Friday).
Tuesday breakfast: is a boxed muffin or quick bread mix that my 13-year-old son makes.
Wednesday breakfast: is toast since we make our homemade bread on Tuesdays for sandwiches.
Thursday breakfast: is hot cereal or fruit and yogurt in the summer.
Friday breakfast: has been sugar cereal day for over twenty years.
Saturday breakfast: is our BIG family breakfast. We basically rotate between homemade buttermilk biscuits, scones, pancakes, and French toast (our recipes are in an upcoming chapter).
Here’s another example from when we lived on our farm:
Sundays: Donuts, it’s the Lord’s Day so REJOICE and make it special!
Mondays: Toast (keep it interesting by trying different kinds of bread like raisin or sour dough).
Tuesdays: Cereal (if you don’t have cereal everyday, then only open just one box at a time, or at the most two).
Wednesdays: Baked goods (This is when we have something baked from a box mix. Have one of your young girls learn to bake by having her make this for the family. When everyone praises her, she will begin to want to learn to bake more and learn to cook! This works for sons too!)
Thursdays: Hot cereal or frozen waffles.
Fridays: Sugar Cereal
Saturdays: Big breakfast (This is when I make a big hot breakfast like my buttermilk biscuits, scones, pancakes, and French toast, along with bacon or ham, juice—the works!)
*Cereal Tip: I just found a great cereal tip—again through prayer. I now remove the bag from the box, which makes more room in the pantry, helps to see when there are really only crumbs left, and helps remind children to keep the bag closed tightly.
I rip off the box top (that has the name on it), then clip it to the bag, which requires two clothespins thus keeping the bag closed and the cereal fresher!
If possible, try to only make a “once-a-week big breakfast.” If you are married, make sure your husband is agreeable. Some men do physical labor and need a hardy breakfast, like my neighbor’s husband when we lived on our farm. Remember to adjust all my “recommendations” with your family and what works for you. If you do pick one day a week for your big breakfast, try not to pick Sundays when you go to church!
- With all your meals planned, the rest is so easy! Just thumb through your dinner cards, lunch cards, and breakfast cards choosing a meal for each day.
- The final step so you don’t need to answer the “What’s for dinner” question would be to write your next day’s meals on a small dry/erase board when you finish cleaning up each night after dinner.
Save more time and stress and pull your ingredients out onto the counter, and thaw any meat. This simple board keeps me a step ahead of any stress and eliminates my family asking what’s for dinner (or any other meal).
By investing just a bit more of your time, you can make the most of your time by making a monthly meal plan that you can use over and over and over again. Why not go to step two?
Monthly Meal Planning
If you’d like to invest just a little bit more time, you will be able to eliminate the weekly decisions and plan your menu for a month or even more depending on how many meal ideas you have. This is what I did for most of my married life, which made the most of my life and my precious time! Rather than pulling the cards each week, create a month’s menu.
- On your kitchen table or counter, take all your dinner cards and arrange them on your table like a calendar (Sunday – Saturday) for as many weeks as you have. Remember to look at the meals to see what fits your schedule (sport or church night easier meals; days most family members are home for the nicer big meals).
- Once they are laid out, rearrange the meals to keep it varied and interesting. You would be surprised how this little extra planning ahead will bring about so many benefits for you and for your family!
Also, be sure to include those out-to-eat days. To determine how often: if your family, right now, goes out all of the time plan at least two out-to-eat days per week. If you never eat out, as I said earlier, do it at least once a month or your children will certainly bring that up negatively when they are grown.
If you have young children, choose your out to eat day on a day when children eat free or at a discount. Special offers are everywhere if you just look (more on this below).
- Move the meals with fresh vegetables closer to your shopping day, followed by the frozen/canned vegetables that you can use later. I keep vegetables that are fresh (like yellow squash and zucchini, an artichoke or whole cauliflower) within two days of my shopping day (when arranging my meal order) with the frozen vegetables later.
- Once your cards are done and are laid out, then type up a permanent list. You can also post the list on your refrigerator that will answer that all time favorite question “What’s for Dinner?” rather than using the dry/erase board, which can save you even more time.
- To make this system flexible, simply cross off all the meals that you end up making and place a BOX around each meal that you have to skip. Many of us have things that come up so we may have to miss a meal that we have planned. Your schedule should work for you and not be another burden in your life. The beauty of a skipped meal is that you can pick all of them up at the end of the week or at the end of the month making your list of meals last even longer.
My four-week menu (that I used for more than five years) usually lasted about five weeks since very often we would have to skip that dinner for a variety of reasons.
*Just be sure that if your skipped meal included fresh meat, put the meat in the freezer or do the fresh meat meal the next day and skip (box) the next day’s meal.
List the Ingredients
Who will prepare?
How much of each?
- To simplify your life, sit down for another 30 minutes and list all the ingredients on the back of each card. I turn my length wise. That works well. If you want a simpler method, write the list of ingredients down on the day you make each meal for the first time, then add to it things you may have forgotten the first time around. This easy step will help you immensely when preparing your shopping list, making sure you don’t forget anything.
- If your husband likes to cook or you have an older or adult child who can prepare any of the meals, write who will be preparing the meal in the upper left hand corner of your 3x5 card and be sure to post their name on your calendar or Meal Sheet next to the date.
Also, to help prepare your younger children for adulthood, list the name of the child who could help you prepare each meal also in the upper left hand corner under your name.
*When choosing a child for any chore in your home, always start with the youngest child or least mature to see if they could manage it. Parents always overuse their oldest child (or children) not only overburdening them, but also creating spoiled, unappreciative and immature younger children.
- To help with quantity, each time you prepare a meal write down (in PENCIL) how much you used to prepare the meal to help you the next time you make it. If you end up short, then erase and increase the amount. If you end up with quite a bit of leftovers, then decrease the portions.
Using your cards to write out any important information, like how many chicken breasts to cook or how many eggs you scrambled, helps so much if efficiency and cutting down even more the mental stress of homemaking. As your family grows and your needs change, you can easily adjust your cards. For instance:
For fried chicken use a half of a chicken breast per child, one per adult.
For hamburgers use a half a pound of Ground Round per person and one bun each.
For ravioli, count 4 for each adult, 3 per child or a small eater.
*To avoid fat or overweight children (and adults) do not serve “family style” by putting everything out on the table. Instead, I have always put the plates out in a row on the counter and put a portion on each plate. This also insures that everyone is getting vegetables!
I leave any extra on the stove so that if anyone is getting seconds (yourself included) the person is easily noticed while getting more. In addition, my children were never allowed to just go and get food from the cupboard or refrigerator. They were taught to ask first which helped me monitor not only overeating, but also eating too close to dinner.
Since my husband and I came from totally different backgrounds, I was unprepared for sugar cereal that my children wanted every morning like Daddy used to have. I am not sure how we came to this and how he ended up agreeing to it (it had to be GOD!), but years ago, we made Fridays mornings “sugar cereal day!”
It is often better to not make some things taboo unless you and your husband are in complete agreement—if you are, thank the Lord, because most couples are not! Instead, make it a “treat” or “reward.” God loves to bless us, so this may be an area where you can bless your children!
Our children don’t feel deprived, nor are they “weird,” but are learning to live with self-control and moderation rather than excess, which is the way the world lives. To forbid is to become religious, which is how rebellion starts.
Make “sugar cereal day” a special day like a Monday, so they pop out of bed, or a Friday, because they made it through the week! This goes for colas or sodas or pop (whatever you call it). Rather than eliminate it, have it for special occasions.
Teaching moderation and control, I believe, is better than forbidding something completely. My children were allowed coke with their pizza once a week. Now that we know sodas causes stomach cancer (not just cavities or obesity in children), we chose to basically cut it out completely and replaced it with sweetened tea once a week. The rest of the time they drink lots of water!
Taking a Break: Go Out to Eat
As I mentioned earlier in this chapter, it is always good to take a break from cooking, and actually schedule a day, or even two, to go out to eat each week.
Most families are out of balance and either eat out ALL THE TIME, or never eat out. Of course, sometimes it is because your husband loves your home cooked meals.
If you go out too often, it is often because you are not prepared. The method that I have shared with you should help, but as I said earlier, don’t try to stop going out to eat completely; instead, set specific out to eat days and take a much deserved break.
Sometimes, we women need to go out to eat; but very often, where you go and how you order will determine how often you feel you can go out. Because of our large family, we always tend to gravitate to the 99¢ menus that are in most fast food restaurants, and we have ALWAYS order water. We used to do so due to the sheer cost of 9 beverages, now it is due to health issues. Not only is it proven to cause stomach cancer, that amount of sugar also cuts the immune system down by 50%. If my children were to drink a soda now and then, I would prefer that they are at home so they don’t pick up outside diseases and an entire liter cost what one drink would in a restaurant.
Also, when they were all young I always gave them a couple of choices of what they could order. We also go where kids eat free, especially when we had so many under 10 or 12.
There are many national fast food chains and local restaurants that want to entice families, so they offer free or inexpensive kid’s meals. I see them all the time on signs. Call the restaurants in your area to see if they have a Kid’s Night. Be sure to find out what day, the time it starts, the ages (be extremely clear on this point), and whether the drink is included or not. I’ve ordered water for my children when they could have had a soft drink (a real treat).
The wisest solution is to find all this over the phone so you don’t look cheap or end up eating at a restaurant on the wrong night—it’s happened to me! Then write all the details out on your 3x5 card for each restaurant. With a pencil, write out what the children like to order! This helps when you take them out and especially if Grandma or Dad wants to take your little ones out to eat.
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As an “Older women likewise…teaching what is good, that they may ENCOURAGE the young women…” (Titus 2:3) you will have the opportunity to speak to the younger women who are still single as part of your ministry.