Wednesday, September 1, 2010

All Systems Go {A Series}: So What's For Dinner?

If you missed Part I of the series, click here. If you want to know about the nonsense that started this whole series, click here.

This is Part 2 of the series in which I tell you how to be an underachiever. I'm kidding. But it does sort of feel like that.

Oh, the systems I have tried {and abandoned} regarding grocery-shopping and meal-planning. There are many brilliant and frugal meal-planning gurus out there. As much as I love being inspired by new and fresh ideas, I am a guru of real life. It's important to balance inspiration with reality.

I know that no matter how well you plan, there will be those nights when you hit the Wendy's 99-cents menu on the way home from soccer or pull out a frozen pizza and call it dinner. I have those nights. You probably have them too. We just don't like to admit it. I do try to avoid feeding my kids over-processed junk but sometimes, garbage happens. It's okay. Give yourself some credit for feeding your family.

Now that we've gotten that unpleasantry out of the way, let's move on.

Regarding meals, I like having some meals planned out. I have tried to plan them out a month at a time and that didn't work for us. Because sometimes I just didn't feel like what was planned or The Man would unknowingly eat all of the mozzarella cheese I needed for lasagna...and then I would resent him and his cheese-loving ways for crashing my whole system.

So, here's my fancy way of doing things now.

Most of the time I make a short list of 5 meals, buy the stuff, and proceed accordingly. It's not on a pretty calendar or written in grids. It's on a post-it note and stuck to the side of my fridge, usually on the back-side of the grocery list.

If I'm out of meals and haven't gotten back to the store, I just survey the remnants of the pantry, fridge, and freezer and breathe a prayer for inspiration. Usually a meal finds its way out of the chaos.

And if those two options fail, it may be because the day has eaten me alive and I have a meal planned or even part of it prepared but am simply without the energy to make it happen. On those nights, we resort to cereal or the aforementioned frozen pizza. Or if we're feeling splurgey we call 1-800-PAPA-JOHN.

{I don't know if this is motivational how-to stuff or true confessions. It feels a little like both.}

So even though I've sworn off systems, I do have a couple of goals in mind for our busy fall. Since we'll be at the soccer field or tennis court 2 - 3 nights a week until October, I'm thinking that my crock-pot should be my best friend. I'm trying to use it more. I've become a big fan of making dinner right after breakfast.

I'm also thinking that on the occasion when I make a lasagna or casserole something or other, I should make two and freeze one. It's just as easy to make two while you're already cooking and messing up the kitchen.

So those are my two {very loose} goals. And because they are loose and doable, they are actually working quite well. Oh my, this is starting to sound like a system.

In light of those goals, I thought it may be fun to have a linky party next Monday, September 6th. I'm giving you time to prepare and maybe write a recipe post of your own so come back on Monday and we'll dish. {Get it?} If you don't have a blog, no worries. Just write your recipe in the comments when we meet back here next Monday.

I'll do a post between now and then to remind you.

Here's what I'm looking for: No Fool Back to School Meals.

What is your easy, family-friendly meal that you can always count on? {That meal that you possibly make too often and then get sick of but it always finds its way back into the rotation because you don't know what else to make.} I figure if enough of us link up then we can all find a few new favorites to put into our own rotation, thereby decreasing the repetition.

I know we all have different preferences, food aversions, and priorities with our meals. I'm sort of looking for those meals that are reasonably healthy {"real" ingredients, not overly processed}, reasonably affordable, reasonably well-balanced, and reasonably normal. Because while I totally love weird food and will eat ethnic anything, my husband and children will not.

And I will love you forever if it can be made in a crock-pot.

Wow, I am getting bossier by the sentence.

So those are the rules. Now go get yourself a cookbook and let's see what we can make! I can't wait to see what you all cook up for me when we have our party.

I'm curious. Do you have a "system" for planning meals?


{What's for dinner tonight? Chalupas, pictured above, made in the crock pot. Recipe from Slow and Savory Suppers, a $3 e-book that you can purchase at My family has enjoyed quite a few slow-cooked meals from this book.}


  1. You, my dear, have a system for making me chuckle, giggle, snort, and simply laugh. What a great post! Hope you get some great recipes to add to your loose and doable meal system.


  2. I've tried this recipe twice recently and it is delicious, cheap, fast and super easy. You might could even do it in the crockpot. Just use a mild salsa and it should be ok for the kids. Abigail LOVES it. Miss you all.

    Tex Mex Ravioli

  3. This post is so real and so fun! I can relate to all of it especially the prayer of inspiration. I've already started praying that one for this evening since I don't go to the grocery store until Saturday and somebody's going to have to get really creative for a few nights.

    My healthy go-to meal: Chicken with green onions and rice. We had it so often for a while that my kids would tease me mercilessly. They would say, "Hey, what's for dinner? Oh, let me see. Maybe chicken with green onions and rice. Or perhaps we could have chicken with green onions and rice. Hey, I have a brilliant idea. Why don't we have chicken with green onions and rice?"

    My less healthy go-to meal: Hamburger Helper. We never ate it for like 20 years and then it went on sale a few weeks ago and it was during one of those prayer of inspiration moments and now I think we can't live without it. I kiss the box and say, "Where have you been all my life?"

    I do manage a big freezer cooking adventure about twice a year and a few double batches now and then.

    Thanks for the laugh and the comfort that I'm not in this alone.

  4. Oh. My. Goodness. You sound JUST LIKE ME, it's like you channeled my brain or something!

    THIS week is the second week of school so I am using a simple new system called a .15 spiral notebook. I got the purple one because my daughter decided she's all into green and blues this year. Lucky me.

    Late last week I pulled out the store sales flyer, a stack of coupons about to expire, and saved a boatload of money, like 35%. Then I sat down and made a list of six dinners and a week's worth of school lunches out of what I had.

    And I'm sticking to it this week, it has been so helpful! Next week, we'll see. I use a lot of systems for one week. This one might stick around awhile. The best part, it's CHEAP!

    I'll be thinking of some good recipes for you, and then I'll be back in a few days to share.

  5. I use a similar "system" to yours except I write down my 5-6 meal ideas on an index card that stays on the fridge door all week. When I'm done w/ those meals, I store the index card so that I can reuse that week of meal ideas another time when I am at a loss as to what to cook.
    I have been posting my menu choices for the week on my blog on Mondays (with links to some recipes)
    You are welcome to check it out. I have small fries (9 & 6 years old) so the meals must be kid-friendly and economical!
    Oh, and I'm in total agreement about the housekeeper. I work from home and LOVE the fact that I can spend my free time on my family and not on cleaning bathrooms and vacuuming.

  6. Oh, good. Very good. I want to be in on this party. Here's a thought: give us a heads up the day before you decide to host the party--just a quick "Recipe party tomorrow" post or something like that. Then I'm sure some of us will make a post out of our recipes, and we can link back to you, the hostess, and you can get lots of traffic for your blog as well as party participants, and won't we all live happily ever after??

    Love you and your system(s)!

  7. What fun! I have a few recipes that I a going to use as my go-to meals for the busy days in the fall my crockpot favorites are: Home made Mac n Cheese (this is my favorite version)

    "Rotisserie Chicken" I took this recipe from my frieds blog and tried this Sunday - it was spectacular! We came home from church and lunch was ready. This is a definite go to for us - the next day I'll throw in some vegetables and make chicken soup.

    And then a yummy meal of Tortellini with a pumpkin leek sauce.(I love it - the rest of the family not so much) This is also done in the crock pot. I'll find the recipe later

    Yum. Can you tell I love food?
    And - I have to tell you that your "salsa chicken" that you blogged about last year I took and use now just as you recommended - tacos, nachos, soup. Yay! Three meals.


  8. Since I'm answering beforehand go check me out...

  9. Scooper,
    THIS is the hardest part of homemaking for me. Menu planning with healthy (real) ingredients. I have gotten a bit better at KP duty through the years, but it's still my struggle.
    I do have some ideas I've used in the past and yes, they definitely include slow cooker recipes. :) A slow cooker is a home schooling moms best friend, I do believe.
    As always, excellent timing for your posting as today I have endeavored to work on Fall Menu ideas.
    BTW, love Mom's comment. She is so witty!
    Gotta skitter!!!

  10. I love your blog - I love the way you write and pull in a complete stranger (me). :)

    Newly married - can pretty much only make chicken and is my newly discovered safety net - chicken wraps!! when i bake chicken i put an extra dish in with chicken to make for these wraps for the next night - so in a sense it is preparing ahead of time. bake the chicken anyway u like - if u want spicy, or regular. I love flat out (tortilla) wraps they aren't just flour wraps but wheat i think, chopped tomatoes, shredded lettuce, and cheese!! wahla! n use any kind of dressing or something spicy. I hate spicy foods, but my husband loves it - so this way he can have spicy and i don't have to. We do this with tacoes too. IT's all fresh & cold, and very very easy. If u have enough extra it can go into lunches too. So really the only baking is the chicken but u can purchase premade chicken in packs at the store if ur running short on time but they are kinda expensive n u need a few to feed a bigger family. So that's my tidbit. Thanks for making me not feel like a failure in the kitchen.

  11. Dinner is just so daily! I so get into a rut with my cooking, too. I will try to come up with a recipe for your party! What a fun idea!! I used to make the salsa chicken, too... but with corn (equal quantities of salsa, corn and black beans). I haven't made it in a while, but what a great idea! We have our small group here 2x a month and that would be a crowd pleaser. Blessings!


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