With a less-than-satisfying bowl of Special K sitting in my belly, I am ready to write about food, glorious food. I could probably host an entire blog about my favorite entrees, but that's not what this post is about. Today I'm here to share my tips on getting through that chaotic first month of school without ordering pizza every night.
Being organized and having a plan will save you time and money and keep you feeling energetic because you are going to need all the energy you can find during those first few weeks.
Here are my tips and my free gift to you! (It's a menu to fill in)
1. Most importantly: MAKE A MENU Brainstorm your easiest dishes to prepare. Think about meals you can prep ahead of time. Jot down dinners that freeze well. Then fill in the calendar with the meals for the month. It might seem like a big task at first, but it really isn't all that hard to do. This will keep you focused and make grocery shopping easier. If your family is not too quick on the uptake you could easily repeat the same menu month after month and make your life even easier.
2. Streamline your grocery shopping. Nerd alert! A few years ago, I took a little notebook to the grocery store with me one Saturday morning when I went shopping. I walked up and down each aisle and wrote down the aisle # and the items that we buy from that aisle. When I got home I typed up a master list and made a bunch of copies. I leave one in the kitchen and as we need an item we highlight it on the list. I then add in any additional items we need based on the menu and highlight those too. It seemed a little over the top and dorky at the time, but OH-HOW-THIS-HAS-SAVED-ME-TIME! We zip through the store and never need to double-back or hunt for things. On the occasions that Hubby and I have gone shopping together, we actually rip the list down the middle, start on opposite ends of the store and meet in the middle. This is something you could do in the summer that will make your life easier during the school year. Because who wants to spend their precious free time in a grocery store.
3. Look into freezer cooking. There are lots of websites and books that suggest taking one day a month and spend that entire day preparing meals to freeze. Not my idea of fun. Instead, on Saturdays and Sundays I try to make a dinner that freezes well and then triple the recipe. We eat one and freeze two for weeknights. It's so easy to do because you already have everything out and 8 nights of cooking yields 24 nights of dinner.
4. Team up with others. Find a couple of friends at work and exchange freezable dinners. You make 3 lasagnas, another friend makes 3 chicken pot pies and another friend makes 3 batches of meatballs and homemade sauce. Make a trade and you each have most of the week's dinners covered.
5. Embrace the crockpot. There are so many quick and easy dinners that can be made this way. Plus, there is nothing better than coming home from school on a cool fall day to the smell of something warm and delicious. Waiting from 3:30 until 5:30 for dinner is a bit on the challenging side, but it's worth it.
6. Look into organizing an event at Dream Dinners. I personally think the same thing can be achieved at home much cheaper and would much rather sip margaritas on a girls night out than cook, but some people really view it as fun.
7. Prep as much as you can ahead of time. During the school year I try to spend a bit of time on Sunday cooking and prepping for the week. It doesn't take too long because I'm able to rinse and reuse knives and pans and everything is out. I typically bake some potatoes and sweet potatoes, cook some chicken breasts, brown a pound of ground beef and chop up fruits and veggies. I can then throw together tacos, fajitas, soups, etc. pretty quick on a weeknight.
8. Stockpile sales and cut coupons. Coupons are a pain, but they do save you money.
9. Buy in bulk if you use a food often. My son starts every. single. day. with a bowl of oatmeal. He has done this for the past 4 years and is like a little old man who hasn't had his coffee until that oatmeal is consumed. If you are going to buy an item every week and it keeps well, buy a month's worth at a time.
10. Look at the BIG picture when menu planning. Think about foods that have like ingredients and plan to make them around the same time so that you use up all of your ingredients.