Friday, January 11, 2008

Take it or leave it

Last night we tried a new dish: chicken cacciatore. The recipe I used called for dredging the chicken in flour before browning it and Jimmy was not a fan of the breading. He refused to comply with our "try-two-bites-and-then-you-can-have-something-else" rule until Jim scraped it off. Then he took his two obligatory bites and requested cheap mac 'n' cheese (which I had in a Servin' Saver in the fridge, awaiting just such a culinary crisis).

While I enjoy cooking, I find the compulsory nature of having to make dinner every night for a potentially critical audience drains me of most of the creative stimulation or actual enjoyment I might get out of it. I discovered early in my married life that Jim was little help when it came to meal planning. His perennial suggestion if I ask what he'd like to have for dinner is, "Spaghetti. And garlic bread." To save myself from the tedium of spaghetti every night (not to mention major carbo-overload) within the first month of connubial bliss I came up with a weekly meal plan, which I also used to create my grocery list. This provided some much-needed variety in our meals while helping me save money by not impulse-shopping at the supermarket.

Three years ago, in an attempt to change things up and add even more variety (because spaghetti once a week is still a bit much if you ask me), I started to plan my meals a month at a time. I made a list of our favorite meals, created a calendar with my desktop publishing program, and populated it with dinner selections. Then I printed and posted it in the kitchen. From time to time, I add new dishes and get rid of the ones we don't like as much. I also vary it with more salads and grilled foods in the summer.

Lest you think I'm some kind of compulsive organizational freak (which I'm not; just look at the disgusting state of my upstairs bathroom!) I cannot stress enough this isn't a "set in stone" kind of thing. My world and identity as I know them do not implode if the schedule isn't followed with precision. Some nights I don't feel like eating what's planned for that evening, and I switch it around. Some nights I just don't feel like cooking and we eat out. Some nights I ask Jim to cook and we eat whatever he wants to make. But the beauty of the meal calendar is this: just ten well-spent minutes of planning each month saves me from the weekly boredom of spaghetti and the aggravation of aimlessly wandering grocery aisles trying to figure out what's for dinner.

Tonight was home-made pizza. Mmmmm.


aubrey said...

oh katie..that is what i should do. and i've tried. i actually have a calendar on the inside of my spice cupboard. a meal calendar. dated august 2006. actually i just started this dinner swap with dyann, lydia and i cook dinner on my enormous dinner but then i dont' have to cook the other three nights. they've been doing it for a while and just invited me to join up. (i feel so honored) so maybe this will save me from my indecisive dinner dilemma.

No Cool Story said...

Maybe I should try to do this sometime. Sounds so smart and organized.

Holly said...

Oh Katie...
For me, even spaghetti sauce out of a jar is a challenge some nights. Good for you!
As for boys not trying what was put in front of them, here's a typical story for you from our house. To start with, Kai has been learning helping verbs at daycare (like may, must), where what one is allowed and not allowed to do really matters.
Yesterday Kai and I went to the store and bought all the ingredients for spinach lasagne. He watched me chop and cook, and even helped me assemble the whole thing when it got to that part. He did his best to be patient, but when the lasagne came out of the oven, he jumped for joy, and ran for his seat. I cut a slice for him, then cut it into bite-size pieces. Kai picked up his fork and looked carefully at the lasagne, and then at me. 'But mama,' he said sadly, 'I'm not allowed to eat spinich.' Sigh.

chicklegirl said...

Aubrey, the trick (I think) is to do what works for YOU--and if that's a dinner swap, do it.

NCS, trust me--if I can do it, anyone can.

Holly, what a funny story about Kai! I think you should give yourself props for any home-cooked meal (even one out of a jar) when you're a working mom.