Feeding a family is hard, important work.
A while ago, I began to cultivate a habit to do three things each morning; load the dishwasher, put a load of laundry in the washer, and decide what we will eat for dinner. These are the chores that keep our home running.
If I don't make a plan for dinner in the morning, 4pm will sneak up on me. I'll feel exhausted and incapable of being decisive. My meat won't be thawed, and we no longer have a microwave to do that job quickly. The kids will end up eating Mac and cheese and Stephen and I will spend $25 for Thai food from Siam Square.
I value variety at our dinner table. I value making seasonal recipes that use seasonal ingredients. I value using real food to make healthy dinners.
I value being frugal. My budget for groceries is $600 a month. This includes our cleaning supplies. The four kids who go to school eat breakfast, lunch, and a fruit or veggie snack at school for free which provides a huge savings for our family. Stephen's work provides snacks, good coffee, and sometimes lunch for him.
I should say, that I have no real ability to gauge whether $600 is a small or large budget for a family of seven. Also, we exceed this often by about $100. It's interesting to see what other people spend, but I know that each family is unique in makeup, values, and income. I will never have an apples to apples comparison. Comparison isn't important for comparison's sake, but I think it leads to learning from others and improving your own process.
I value my time. I want to make dinner in 45 minutes or less, preferably with prep time being 20 minutes or less.
Shopping for and making a new recipe feels ten times harder than making one I know well. This conflicts with my value for variety.
I stumbled upon the idea of a capsule kitchen on a blog called Less,Please. Then I did a search to get other takes, and discovered http://bemorewithless.com/kitchen/.
I started by doing a kitchen clean out. I've been working to declutter all areas of my home for about a year and a half. I've sorted through the kitchen once, but it needed a second pass through. I purged some extra dishes, tupperware, pitchers, and baking dishes. I sorted through my spices, and my pantry.
I started to make a list of ingredients that are staples in my kitchen. I decided that I did not like the idea of simply selecting 33 ingredients to purchase and make all of my meals from. That still left a lot of room to feel overwhelmed with the question, "What recipe am I going to make for dinner?"
Instead, I decided that I would start with making a list of recipes that I would make for dinner. I have about 30-40 recipes that are I know. I know that my family likes them. I know what ingredients are needed for them. I know how much time they will take. When I've meal planned before, I've tried to use twenty of them every month, and I've also tried to add a new one. It's just too much.
With this idea of a capsule kitchen, I selected nine meals that make sense for the season. One of them is a new to me recipe. We are going to repeat these meals every two weeks for two months.
- Hamburgers w-slaw & fries
- Italian Turkey Meatloaf w- stuffing & green beans
- Chicken Parmesan w-veggies
- Shepherds pie
- Zuppa Toscana Soup (the new to me recipe)
- Frozen Pizza w/carrots
- Yellow Rice/Black Bean Burritos
I've started ordering my groceries online and picking them up at Kroger. I make an order every two weeks. It's worth every penny of the $5 fee. It's inevitable that I will forget items, though, and need to head to the downtown Marsh to grab them.
I'm limiting my recipes, therefore, limiting the ingredients that I need to purchase. I have a list of 50 items that I need to purchase from the store to make all these recipes as well as feed us breakfast and lunch. This list will stay the same for two months, leaving me with really zero thinking and planning to do.
I get really excited about new ideas on how to run my house more efficiently. Stephen got an earful about this whole plan. I think he gets weary of all my planning and housekeeping scheming, but he is game for whatever I need to do to make dinner easier. (He just folded all of his t-shirts using the Kon Marie method. I think I'm slowly convincing him that this stuff is worthwhile.)