One of two things is happening here today. Either
(a) I’m launching a recurring feature sharing my family’s weekly dinner menu. While I’m no cooking jainyus, I do manage to feed twelve people, seven days a week, without spending a million dollars and without anyone getting rickets.
I’ll list our dinners and include any recipes that might be interesting, and I hope readers will share their menus and recipes, too, so we can all get some good ideas from each other. If there’s enough interest, I may start a weekly blog link-up;
(b) I’m launching a dumb, useless thing that everyone hates, and in a few weeks I’ll sheepishly kick some dead leaves over it and hope everyone forgets it ever happened.
Come onnn, (a)!
We’re busy people. I work from home, I have two pre-schoolers and eight other kids in three different schools, my husband works late most nights and has a long commute, the kids all have clubs and activities and jobs, and I spend two hours in the van on a good day. I don’t expect myself to cook like someone who’s home all afternoon, or someone who has leisure in the evening, or someone who cares deeply and intensely about optimal diets. We can’t afford the farmer’s market, and our garden stinks.
I stay within a certain budget, but I no longer have to shop as cheaply as possible. It’s worth it to me to pay a little more for convenience or variety. We now have an Aldi nearby, which means that foods that used to be luxuries are now staples.
I don’t have a crock pot or a microwave, because I’m stubborn and I enjoy suffering.
I started making a weekly menu several years ago, planning and listing and buying only exactly what we needed to eat, because we were super broke and I had to make, say, $30 stretch for seven days. The menu habit stuck after our situation improved, and I’m glad it did. I hate hate hate grinding out the menu on Saturday morning, but I love always knowing what’s for dinner each night, and always having all the ingredients on hand.
- I try not to make any main dish more than twice a month.
- I try not to serve chips more than twice a week.
- I try to serve a vegetable with each meal. I am for produce in season, but frozen veggies are still veggies.
- I try to serve three things at dinner, but two happens a lot.
- I try to provide a balanced diet over the course of the week, rather than over the course of a day.
- I try to make sure there’s always yogurt, cheese, pretzels, and fresh fruit in the house, so the kids can get themselves healthy snacks. This is especially important for kids who are picky about dinner, because I refuse to stress out about everybody eating dinner.
- I try to serve meals that at least half the family enjoys eating.
- I try to get the kids involved with cooking when possible, even if it’s just peeling carrots or measuring out water for rice.
- I let them have straight-up dessert, plus candy and maybe soda, on weekends, but loosely limit sugar during the week.
- I try to make at least a few actual homemade-from-scratch meals each week, but don’t beat myself up for filling in the rest with semi-homemade or box-and-bag food.
- I fail in each of these things repeatedly, but I try again next week, or next next week. It’s a constant slide and correction, slide and correction.
- I try to remember that it’s just food.
How I make my weekly menu:
On Saturday morning, I write the days of the week on a piece of paper, and I make note of any upcoming events that will affect what food I buy (a birthday, which means the kid picks dinner; or lots of dentist appointments, which means I’ll be out of the house during the day; or an evening concert, which means we’ll need to eat early and clean up quickly; or a radio spot right at dinner time, so the kids need to be able to just heat and eat; etc.).
I write in easy meals for whichever days seem like they will be trickiest.
Then I look up online supermarket flyers and add a few meals based on what’s on sale.
At this point, kids start swirling around me, and, seeing food on my computer screen, they start shouting out meal names. I yell at them to leave me alone and let me drink my coffee, and then guiltily fill in at least one meal that they shouted for the loudest.
Then, if I can’t think of anything else easily to fill in the rest of the days, I go to Budget Bytes, AllRecipes, the NYT food pages, Epicurious, Good Eats, and Pioneer Woman for inspiration, if not for actual recipes. (Sometimes I’ll be like, “Oh yeah, chicken! I forgot about chicken.”) Most of my staple recipes are from the Fannie Farmer cookbook, which I recommend highly as a comprehensive, clear, and encouraging resource.
Well, you guys know how to make a list.
Suddenly I’m nervous that you’re going to think, “Why is she telling about these dumb, boring, obvious, yucky foods?” Well, maybe I’m just trying to make you feel better, you fancy person.
Okay, here goes. This past week we had . . .
Saturday: Corn dogs and frozen french fries. We had an insane-o busy day and it’s a miracle I managed this much. Anyway, I like corn dogs. We had rice krispie treats for dessert because I was afraid someone might mistake us for people of good breeding.
Sunday: Sesame chicken* (quadruple recipe) and white rice (5 cups uncooked rice). I usually make sesame chicken with steamed broccoli, but I forgot to buy broccoli. This recipe is much easier than it looks, but don’t crowd the chicken! Also, put on the air conditioner, or else you will get hot and frazzled and will accidentally just throw the chicken in the garbage when you meant to transfer it onto a tray. P.S. the most expensive part of this recipe is the sesame seeds. I’m going to look into growing my own sesame tree. I’ve made this recipe with inauthentic white vinegar, vegetable oil, and powdered ginger, and it still tastes fine. Dessert: fancy Aldi cookies and orange sherbet, much to my husband’s dismay. (Whoever’s shopping turn it is gets to choose dessert.)
Monday: Hamburgers, fried red onions, potato chips, and raw sweet peppers and baby carrots with hummus. (This is a “kids heat and eat” dish, because I was on the radio.) We use about 3 lbs. of 70/30 ground beef for the 11 of us. I’ve found that the easiest way to make hamburgers is to make the patties really flat, season them, and lay them on a two-piece broiler pan, so the fat runs off. Put the broiler on “high” and flip the burgers once.
Tuesday: slow-cooked pork tenderloin* (about 5 lbs), two loaves of beer bread, and an enormous basin of salad. I don’t have a slow cooker, so I just put the pork in the oven at 250 and covered it with tin foil. I also ran out of baking soda, so I used this baking powder+cream of tartar substitution, and it turned out great. The pork sauce is savory and fantastic, if you like salt, which we do. When it gets colder, I’ll make this dish with mashed potatoes.
Wednesday: Giant Pancake with chocolate chips, and scrambled eggs. The chocolate chips are because it’s still summer vacation, hoop de doo. I had plans to cut up a pineapple, but I got mad and tired, and went to bed with a handful of eggs, instead. The pineapple went bad, too bad. Giant Pancake is just pancake mix, you add water, you throw it in a shallow pan and chuck it in a 350 oven until it puffs up. Everyone gets a giant wedge and they tell Daddy “DUESS WHAT? WE HAD TATE FOR SUPPER.”
Thursday: Nachos!!! Three giant trays of tortilla chips, layered with ground pork and beef cooked with a few envelopes of taco spice, refried beans, corn, shredded cheese, shredded lettuce, salsa, sour cream, and guacamole*. (Our guacamole is: avocados, fresh garlic and tomatoes, onion, jalapenos, cilantro, lime juice, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes.)
Friday: Tuna noodle casserole and salad. This is the guilt dish that some kids were begging for, although I will admit, I like tuna noodle. I got a frozen pizza for Damien, who never did become reconciled to this dish. Our tuna noodle is: cooked egg noodles mixed with six cans of drained tuna and a three cans of condensed cream of mushroom soup. Put the mixture in a buttered casserole dish, and top with crushed potato chips and corn flakes. Bake at 350 until the topping is toasted. Serve with dressing made from ketchup, mayo, and vingar. Tell people online that this is what you eat. Take a bow, you prince among chefs.
*I recently discovered that you can crush garlic without peeling the individual cloves. I can’t believe I didn’t know this. You have to pick the peels out in between crushing cloves, but it’s SO much faster than peeling first.
Now you know! And I’d love to hear what you’re eating at your house this week. Remember, everyone has different priorities and situations, so don’t feel like you need to be fancy or fascinating. Whatcha got?