Foods | Cooking
Hints & Tips
How to Manage Five Easy Nights of Family Meals
It’s organized - It’s oh, so easy!
Author Lea Schneider, a columnist for What’s
Cooking America, is a freelance writer and organizational expert whose organizing ideas have been published in many magazines including Woman’s Day,
Better Homes and Gardens Kitchen and Bath Ideas, Family Circle, Parents Magazine, as well as numerous newspapers
and websites. She is a member of the Association of Food Journalists.
Getting organized is all about living simpler and making things easier. The bonus is it often leads to saving money.
Lea Schneider's kitchen organizing columns tell you how to organize the many things that relate to kitchens, menus, meals, and special food events.
Check out all of Lea Schneider's helpful home and kitchen columns at
Organizing Kitchens, Pantries, Menus and Meals.
One of the joys of being a professional organizer has been to
work with families to make life easier. In doing so, I’ve
learned that we often make planning menus and meals much more
complicated that it needs to be. Over the years, with my own
children at home, and then working with other families, I’ve
worked out a great formula for thinking about meals.
Begin by Tossing:
Toss out the idea that you need to come up with seven nights of
dinner ideas. Even if you are on too tight of a budget to go out
often, seven nights is unrealistic. Between school spaghetti
suppers, dinner at grandma’s, church potlucks or a treat of a
pizza night, few families cook seven nights a week. Even if you
eat in, one night’s meal might be using up leftovers. Remember,
there’s always soup and sandwiches.
Choose the Meal by These Themes:
Sunday - Home for the
weekend with time to cook
- Enjoy a
made-ahead dinner prepped yesterday
Tuesday - Come home to
dinner ready in the slow cooker
Wednesday - Pop your
prepped dinner in the oven and relax while it bakes
Thursday - Make use of
the extra entrée portion you made yesterday in easy to use
Read on for ideas!
With this meal plan, there are millions of options for variety.
What you are doing is plugging that variety into a schedule that
is really workable. Here’s how that to-do list would look for
Sunday - Prepare dinner
for your family choosing something that might take too long
on a week night. This is your chance to cook. While you are
in the kitchen, prep your dinner for the following night. So
many things can be made ahead. You can marinate meat for the
grill, combine things for a casserole, prepare fish for
baking or make a large salad. Get things ready so that when
you come home Monday, you can put things in the oven or on
Monday - Cook your
already prepped dinner. While it cooks, or after you eat,
add ingredients to your slow-cooker for a meal for tomorrow
night. (Refrigerate your crock of course.) If you tend to
forget things, place a note on your purse or briefcase to
remind you to turn it on in the morning.
Tuesday - Walk in to
dinner ready in the slow-cooker. Since you don’t need to
cook tonight, you can take a few minutes to prep dinner for
tomorrow. Plan on a meal where nearly all of it can go in
the oven or in the summer on the grill. Plan to make twice
as much of the main entrée so that there is enough meat for
the next night as well. Good things to double would be items
like oven baked or fried chicken, meatloaf, baked Swiss
steak, meatballs, roast pork loin, sausages or a turkey
Wednesday - Pop in your
oven-ready meal. It’s a middle of the week break. No prep
Thursday - Plan ahead to
use the extra meat you made on Wednesday. Extra chicken can
be diced and placed in taco shells with toppings or rolled
into wraps. Extra pasta becomes pasta salad when tossed with
a few veggies and bottle dressing. Meatloaf and meatballs
make great sub sandwiches and just add some frozen sweet
potatoes fries to the oven. Sausages can go into a sandwich
or a quick omelet. Top English muffins with spicy mustard,
pork loin slices and cheese then run under the broiler until
bubbly. If you have the extra meat ready from the day
before, you can plan on a fun, fast 10 minute meal made from
Each week, you can use this basic map to plan a wide variety of
menus. When the weather gets very hot, you can substitute a
cold supper for the slow cooker preparation. Toss together a
pasta salad or main dish salad and it is also ready when you
walk in the door. Just add some rolls and eat!