I love dinner.  For me it signals the end of the day and it’s time to unwind.  I start to think about dinner while having breakfast.  Sometimes I’m even thinking about dinner the day before and in my family, we may even be thinking about dinner at Easter while eating dinner at Christmas! We are definitely a family of foodies but its more than that. It’s also about being thrifty, resourceful, creative and healthy.  I don’t mean to sound like a snob but it’s also about eating something delicious and hot.  This is not true for everyone. For example, the other day I was with a lady in her eighties and she said that even as a child her mother had a hard time getting her to eat. She then said, “I was never an eater!” We’re obviously not related.               

Obviously, I am serious about food but its more than that; it’s about order. I crave order and having a plan about dinner gives me peace. In my house I do not take responsibility for breakfast or lunch (if you’re over 18) but I’ll make you dinner. Obviously making dinner on a regular basis requires a little effort and planning but here are some ideas on how to handle food production for you and your people.  Can you tell I was in the restaurant business? (Yes, for 20 years.)

Think ahead to the week. Plan for a pizza night on Friday to eliminate preparing one meal and add a salad. You can also plan dinner out, if that’s in the family budget. If there’s an evening commitment in the coming week, plan to do leftovers or pick up something for dinner from the local market like chicken salad, ready-made lasagna or the like.  You will not have time for food prep if you have a 7PM meeting. Plan the rest of the week in terms of the main course and then build a meal around that.  Think about pasta one night, chicken another and maybe beef/ pork another, etc.  Make one night leftovers, which for me are a pleasure because most things taste better the second time around- especially if you don’t have to cook!

Use your leftovers. I am always managing my inventory. Sundays usually mean I’m cleaning out my fridge, getting ready for the garbage men on Monday.  At that point I am trying to figure out what I’m going to do with the leftover pot roast and can I get another week out of the cabbage in the fridge. I’ve learned not to let things like chicken and salmon go more than 5 days before using the leftovers or sending them to the freezer. I made the mistake once of offering salmon to my son- he said it tasted like cat food and I realized it had “expired.”  He’s very wary now of my offerings.

Check the Freezer. Every couple of weeks, I’m looking at the freezer and trying to figure out the meals I can generate from there, using up what I already have. It’s very handy to have something of the beginnings of the meal, like meatballs or frozen shrimp which can be grilled or stir fried within minutes. Sometimes, I’ll use leftover chicken I’ve frozen with a sauce and veggies and throw that over rice.   Of course this assumes I’m going to cook and that I have the time to do it. 

Ironically, I hate to think about food when I’m in the middle of something. This mostly applies to breakfast and lunch.  Usually by the time my stomach wakes up, I’ve been up for hours and am working at home or in someone else’s. The last thing I want to do is stop and look for food.  On the good days I can run to the kitchen and grab a bite or at work, I can eat half a sandwich that I’ve packed the night before. My work bag usually carries dried fruit and nuts, so I’m not totally without grub. If I avoid the lunch takeout, I think I can lose at least 5 pounds this year, but my coffee shop has an egg sandwich that fits within my constraints, so that will stay for now. Also there are days when I just don’t care and will have canned soup for dinner while my husband happily eats his cheese and crackers in peace. When the kids were little, it was macaroni and cheese for them on our night off but everyone got broccoli, of course!

Being organized about dinner reduces anxiety, being overwhelmed and contributes to our family’s overall well-being.  It also saves money, time and quality of life. Whether it’s canned soup or a homemade meal – I’m ready for dinner!