Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Diffusing Dinner Stress with Bloom Guest Melanie of My Kitchen Cafe

I discovered My Kitchen Cafe through a friend's recommendation, who discovered it through a friend's recommendation; it's the kind of trusted food blog you want to recommend. I know I can count on Melanie for delicious meal ideas that won't break the bank or send me googling to read up on obscure ingredients. We're so excited she agreed to make a Bloom appearance (lucky us!) Today she's sharing some tips for reducing the crazy around dinner prep. Come back tomorrow for some delicious dinner menus and a yummy new recipe! Thanks a million for being here, Melanie...


Am I the only one that dreads the hours from about 4:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.? Anyone, anyone? Instead of peace and harmony, singing angels and lots of love, this hour and a half, give or take a little, is usually filled with chaos, mess and complete frazzle. Kids getting off the bus, needing help with homework, a diaper change here and there, little fingers wanting to “help,” and a myriad of other interruptions make dinnertime the hardest time of the day for me.

Believe it or not, two years ago, the chaos in my home was even worse! I was so sick of feeling this way that I decided to do something about it and I made some little changes. Thanks to a few easy tips, I don’t fear preparing dinner and actually look forward to it (ok, sometimes):

Tip #1: Have a plan…

I’m big on menu planning. It saves me from subjecting my family to 5 buck pizzas every night for dinner. When I know what is on the menu, it takes one half of the frazzle away. I sit down and plan my menu two weeks at a time, mostly because that’s how we get paid and also, it means I don’t have to drag the kids to the store every week. This gives me two weeks of meals, which means 14 days of not having to stress about what on earth I am going to make for dinner. I tape the finished menu plan on the side of my fridge in easy-viewing range and I check it out the night before or morning of and mentally get ready for what I’ll be making for dinner. If you are interested, here is the template I use. I love it. It has saved me from major menu planning woe.

Tip #2: Have a realistic plan…

Speaking of love, I also love lobster tails. And filet mignon. And triple chocolate mousse cake. But guess what? Those menu choices don’t really fit into my life right now. Budget-wise, time-wise, and crazy-toddler-wise. Your plan for dinner should be realistic depending on your phase of life, how much time and money you have, whether you work during the day or not, and really, most importantly, what you like to eat. Sure pinto beans are cheap and healthy, but if you (or your children) want to vomit at the very thought, then you probably should stay away from pinto bean casserole (if there really is such a thing). Make a realistic menu plan based on all of your circumstances and it will make dinnertime that much easier.

Tip #3: Have a backup plan…

In the most perfect world, something will still come up to turn my menu plan on it’s head on any given day. A rescheduled baseball practice, me deciding I’m just not in the mood for Tuesday night’s menu pick, sick children, the list goes on and on. This is where a few backup meals come in very handy. I don’t write these down on my menu plan but I always know in the back of my head that although I didn’t schedule it on my two week menu, I have the ingredients for a quicker meal to fill in for what was previously scheduled. A few of our favorite backup meals are pasta noodles with butter, freshly grated parmesan cheese and black pepper, frozen burritos, grilled tuna or ham and cheese sandwiches, buttermilk waffles and fruit smoothies…you get the idea.

Tip #4: Prepare in advance…

I mentioned in #1 that I glance at my menu plan the night before or morning of – this helps me make a list of things that might need to be done in advance (i.e. marinating meat, etc.). Additionally it keeps me aware of the dishes that can be made (and sometimes fully prepared!) while my kids nap or watch Diego so that the late afternoon isn’t so crazy. Sometimes while my kids are eating their mid-morning snack at the counter, I’ll whip out the green pepper and onion that need to be chopped for dinner and practice my knife-wielding skills while they munch on their string cheese and pretzels. Two ingredients down, baby. If you work full-time and don’t have morning/early afternoon hours to prepare, many times, ingredients can be chopped and prepared the night before.

Tip #5: Include easy-peasy…

Lest you think that a menu plan needs to be packed with the extraordinary meals every night, think again! Throughout my 14-day menu, I have at least two nights for leftovers, perhaps one night for a Little Caesar’s run, and one or two nights for ultra-simple meals like grilled cheese and fresh veggies. Those nights are the oasis. The dreamy nights – the nights I can build up my reserve and tackle a “real” dinner the next night. Don’t be afraid to simplify. It makes life and dinner…well, simple!

I hope these tips have armed you with a few ways to take the frazzle out of dinnertime. I'm sure there are a million more - like creative ways to let your kiddos help. Feel free to share any of your tips in the comments. I’m always looking for new ways to de-frazzle myself. Happy menu planning and may your dinnertime hours be ones of peace, harmony and love!

10 comments:

something good said...

I'll follow any menu planner that puts 'treats to make this week' as the top priority!

My printer is warming up!

Thanks Melanie for the much needed motivation in this department.

Anonymous said...

So that's how you cook such amazing meals (and still stay sane), Melanie! :-) Great post...thanks for sharing these wonderful tips!

Kim in MD

Rachael said...

How do you only go grocery shopping every couple of weeks? I have to go at least once a week just to keep us in fruits and vegetables (unless our garden is going strong in summer...)

I loathe grocery shopping with all 3 kids--I'd love to hear how you make this a less-frequent experience!

I'm also a huge fan of advance prep--I almost always start working on dinner while my kids are eating lunch, since they're happily occupied!

Melanie said...

Hi Rachael - I do my main grocery shopping every two weeks but I always have a "fresh foods" run prior to that second week. Inevitably we are usually missing something else important, too, that I can pick up like chocolate chips. But on that second week run, I'm picking up 7 items, max since I did the majority of the shopping the week before.

I hear you on grocery shopping with kids. No fun! The last time I took all four kids, my cart tipped over ON TOP of my four-year old and my 1-year old took the brunt of the fall on his little noggin since he was strapped in the front seat. To make matters worse, the store manager wouldn't let me out the door without insisting I sign a waiver of liability. Of course I didn't sign it - but I'm sure my children will need therapy to get past the experience.

Now, I do my grocery shopping on Thursday nights (b/c we get paid on Thursdays) after dinner when my husband is home to get the charges in bed. I leave early enough to hit Sam's club (since it closes early-ish) and usually a main grocery store and Walmart, too. If Thursday night doesn't work, I head out about 7 a.m. on Saturday mornings, alone, and try to finish up in a few hours. In a pinch, I'll take the kids (Sam's isn't so bad since you can strap in two kids in the cart!) but it isn't fun.

Hope that helps!

We live in a Zoo! said...

Excellent tips!!

LJ said...

Wahoo. I always love to find out about new sites for dinner ideas. Thank you, Melanie and Bloom!

Andrea said...

Okay, I just spent way longer than I should have perusing Melanie's website. Oops! But I love it. The recipes look awesome and I love how organized everything is. Thanks so much for the recommendation!

Susan said...

Thanks for some excellent tips! I really enjoy Melanie's site as well, and have tried literally dozens of her yummy recipes.

I'll pass along another tip that has made a huge difference in our home. My three kids (8, 5 and 2) love to help in the kitchen, but you all know how multiple eager, competitive "helpers" can make you bonkers sometimes -even that sound of a kitchen chair bring dragged across the floor so they could reach the counter made me grit my teeth. On the other hand, here was this great chance to spend time with my kids and teach them valuable skills. So I decided to assign them each a night to help me, and it has worked out magically. They like planning what they'll make with me on their night, it gives me a chance to spend one-on-one time with them, it resolves the arguing over who gets to mix, and it leave me 4 other nights to cook in guilt-free relative peace. It's simple, but it's made a huge difference and has actually been tremendously fun for both the kids and me.

Kansas Mom said...

I love Melanie's site and have tried many recipes with a list about a mile long of others I want to try. Something that has really helped take the stress out of helpful toddlers during meal preparation has been allowing them to play in bubbles. I put a mat out on the kitchen floor, put a little water with bubbles into a bowl, along with wisks, measuring cups, and maybe a couple of bath toys. They sit on the mat and play in the bubbles (pouring, mixing, laughing) the whole time I am cooking. It is fabulous. And the most I have to do afterwards is perhaps mop up some water.

Becky Mendoza said...

Love your dinner tips Mel!! I can use major help in this department and reading this has given me renewed motivation to do better! You are so organized!!! I'm going to check out your blog while menu planning! Thanks again!