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Meal Planning: What's For Dinner?
—by Jean Fisher
Dinnertime is a great time to come together as a family and enjoy a home-cooked meal. A little bit of planning makes this an easy task to accomplish.
Do you often find yourself pulling into the drive-through or phoning for take-out in the evenings? Do you stop off at the supermarket on your way home from work and gaze into the frozen food cases seeking inspiration? You are not alone. It is estimated that as many as 80% of working parents don't know what they are having for dinner by 4:00 p.m. of the same day. This is one more stress added to many others that dominate the life of the working parent. Consider these suggestions to help alleviate that stress and add the positive side-effect of contributing to the health and happiness of your family
Of course, you already knew this. The first, and most important step, is to pick a regular time for planning out the meals you wish to serve in the days that follow. But you need to be realistic. For how many days in advance are you able to predict your schedule? Many families find it convenient to plan for a week at a time. Other people prefer to make daily trips to the market and buy fresh each day. Other options fall within or outside these two examples.
Decide what's best for your family. I always wanted to be a week-ahead planner, but my good intentions often left me with spoiling food that didn't get cooked. Planning for three days at a time is better for me. If something comes up and I don't make the meal I had planned that evening, I can bump it to the next night and everything is still fresh.
As long as you are there in the kitchen creating a delicious, home-cooked meal for your deserving family, make the effort count! An extra serving can go into tomorrow's lunch box. Prepare double to freeze and give yourself an emergency reserve that will come in handy during a crunch time. Pick three meals to serve for the entire week. Have each meal twice during the week and treat yourself to restaurant food on the other day.
My husband, my son and I always enjoyed an evening of what we called "Dealer's Choice Leftovers". We played it like a game. For three days in a row, we would prepare a meal with one extra serving. On the fourth night we would draw from a deck of cards. The person with the highest card could choose first from the leftovers.
My husband is willing to fix dinner as long as I tell him exactly what to cook and have all of the ingredients on hand. Whenever it was my son's turn in the kitchen, the chances were high that he would whip up a delicious spaghetti. With encouragement, a small child can arrange cold cuts and pre-sliced cheese onto a platter, bring it to the table with bread and condiments and proudly announce, "Dinner's ready!"
The point is to work with the other people in your family and make it easy for them to take their turn with the responsibility. Agree in advance who will cook on which night. Decide if the designated cook prefers lots of guidance or will be given the free rein of an adventurous spirit.
Enjoy the Time TogetherGo beyond the "How was your day?" conversation. Tell jokes, ask riddles, play twenty questions, discuss current events, discover how much each member of your family knows about a specific topic. Check out our table topics for more dinner-conversation ideas.
If you are having a simple meal, sandwiches perhaps, you could play a card game such as Uno or Rummy during dinner. Watch a television show together while you eat. Seriously, watching television while eating dinner on occasion doesn't have to be a guilty pleasure. Check the TV guide, find something everyone will enjoy - maybe from an educational channel - and spend some time together. The television show will be sure to give you something to talk about.
Our editor, Jean Fisher, is a former elementary teacher. She offers "What's For Dinner?" as a free service for busy families.One delicious meal is suggested for each day of the week, plus an organized grocery shopping list that can be customized to include all your shopping needs.You will also find two stimulating table topics and one educational after-dinner activity for each day.
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