We’ve all been there, and many of you might still be there. Making dinners is a pain, no matter how much you might enjoy spending time in the kitchen.
It is a hell of a lot easier these days, with lockdown and social distancing, to prepare meals for the family, although it can be a challenge. Your meals may become rushed, less flavors, more monotonous, and probably less healthy too. It’s just the nature of our lives. We are too busy working, commuting, and helping kids with school activities. Always something to do.
Eating out becomes a go-to option, which in turn eats into your budget and holiday plans. And, not ideal for your wasteline.
It does not matter how small or large your family is. Planning, creating, and cleaning takes a considerable effort, and it can be stressful to say the least.
We are a family of five; two adults and three kids ranging from 10 – 16 years old. Not to forget the headcase dog we have, who of course also needs to eat.
Each week is a blur as we rush through the daily routines, trying to get it all done in time, while also getting some downtime watching TV, perhaps a little Peloton or just slump on the sofa with a book.
It is not happening. It is not at all like the sitcoms and movies where families magically have fun all the time, kids helping with chores and working 9-5.
While I was out sick from October 2018 to February 2019 and recovering, I decided to change our daily routines. How hard could it be?
I realized that we spent too much money on food, snacks, drinks, etc. It was bought with all the right intentions. Our fridge was stocked. Pantry loaded and downstairs fridge/freezer was also in use. In our heads, we had all these wonderful meals planned.
When we went grocery shopping, we would buy stuff that looked nice, other items that would make a nice dish, and some other foods that just sounded wonderful.
Funnily enough, we also bought loads of cooking books and magazines. We rarely used them, so they were sitting on the shelves gathering dust, while our food was spoiling.
Unfortunately, a lot of was the goods weren’t used and just sat there until it expired. We had to discard food that had past sell-by date or which had developed some dangerously looking mold. It was a waste of money and food.
Even worse, despite all the food we had, we rarely made a nice meal. If we did, we ended up eating at 8pm as we only arrived home from work around 6pm. Often we would snack on less healthy options and drink too many sodas.
It was taking a toll on our eating habits, our health, and money. We were wasting food and it did not feel right.
One day, I decided to do some radical. I was going to plan out our food consumption for a week. I was going to use our idle and dusty cooking books and magazines to find dishes for each meal of the day, for a 7 day period.
Once I had the week planned out, I would prepare the shopping list, based on the ingredients required for each meal.
But, before I went shopping, I triple checked the shopping list with the content of our pantry, fridges, and other storage locations. Lo and behold, I was able to reduce the length of the shopping list by half.
Already there, money was saved and we would be able to reduce our stockpile of food that we had saved for an atomic winter or some other pandemic like COVID-19.
I bought a simple food planner on Amazon and posted it on the fridge. If the snack, breakfast, lunch, or dinner is not on the planner, we don’t have it. Simple!
I went shopping with my wife on a Saturday morning, armed with my new shopping list, and we only bought what was on the list. We were very tempted to buy other stuff, but I was committed to a new way of living.
Sunday, after mass, I started to prepare every meal for the week; snacks, school lunches, work lunches, and dinners.
I kid you not, I spent 4-5 hours in the kitchen preparing food. I boxed or bagged it all, and labeled most dishes. The fridge and pantry was stocked with premade dishes, and we were ready for the next 7 days.
- The food plan was hanging on the fridge, and each day we would simply take the dish out to reheat it.
- Kids lunches were prepacked and easily thrown into their lunchboxes with their refill water bottles.
The daily stress of preparing lunches before school or dinner in the evenings magically disappeared. At least for our pilot week.
After week 0, my wife and I assessed the successes or failures of the pilot week. We collectively agreed that food planning and prepping had been a success.
- No unnecessary waste and our stress levels had significantly reduced.
- We have been doing this for over a year now, and it has been working out really well.
- Our monthly spend on groceries has dropped a lot, and our waste has decreased also.
- The discipline is around the weekly planning and prepping, and only buy what we need.
If you do this right, you can get your kids involved too. They need to learn and see that it takes time and planning to run a household. And, learning how to cook is essential for when they move out. If we can teach them to cook, shop, and eat healthier, then they’ve got some valuable skills.
Spending every Sunday cooking for 3-5 hours has been the hardest change. On the flip side, my cooking skills have improved. I get the chance to explore new recipes weekly, and the family loves the various flavors and cuisines that we test.
I can highly recommend making this change. The opportunity to start off well is high, especially as we are still in lockdown mode. This is the time where you practice meal planning, enhance your cooking skills and at the same time only need to shop once a week at the most.
I also use kitchen time as a distressing and relaxation. You can focus on just the recipe and the steps to perfect a dish. No need to worry about work, school activities, or other activities. Just you and the food!You reduce your interaction and strengthen your social distancing skills. Perhaps not the main goal of this exercise, but it will just be a few more weeks of isolation.
I’m confident that there are many ideas and suggestions out there. You have to find an approach that suits you and your family.