Do you love to cook? Do you feed your family beautifully created, elegant dishes every night? Can you whip up a healthy, complete meal in thirty minutes or less? Do all of your homemade meals have at least ten ingredients, with names that are difficult to pronounce? If all of those descriptions fit you, maybe you don't need this post. But if you've ever fumbled around to put something together because you didn't even think about it until five o clock in the evening or if you've ever pulled a frozen pizza out of the freezer in desperation, this post is for you.
I am not a cook. That's not an exaggeration. It's the truth. I have a handful of edible meals that my family subsists on. And, I've come a long way to get this far. Here's a look at my own winding journey through Mealtime Madness and a few meal planning resources I've actually found helpful.
When I first got married - many years ago- I knew almost nothing about cooking. I could scramble an egg. I could boil water. I could brown hamburger meat (thanks to a minor incident I had in high school when I didn't know you had to brown the meat before making a cheeseburger casserole with it). "Cooking" for me involved Hamburger Helper and a can of corn heated up. If I were feeling particularly ambitious I would make a bag of quick rice and stir a can of cream of chicken soup in it. True story.
We ate out quite a bit. I had grown up eating out for most meals- thus my lack of cooking knowledge. And with only two of us to feed, it wasn't very expensive. Even after the birth of the first two kids we ate out often. Kids under two or so usually get to eat free, you know.
And then I had an eye opening moment. I had actually prepared food one night- something simple I'm sure. I called my then two year old Kathryne and told her it was time for dinner. She immediately ran for the door and started to open it. I asked her where she was going and she said she was going to the van to go get supper. I realized then that our path had to change.
Over the next several years I began the journey of actually learning how to cook. I learned more and more about nutrition and why it was important to cook real food instead of using convenience food and why it wasn't a great idea to eat out so much.
It's been a long, long journey. I am by no means a cook- as I confessed earlier. But, we eat more healthy food now. I can actually cook a few edible meals. I still have frozen pizzas in my freezer. But they aren't quite as frequent a meal now. I am still learning. (I'll probably be really good at it by the time my kids go off to college.)
One of my life savers is meal planning. Having a plan in place helps me to avoid the five o clock dinner panic. Although I haven't found any perfect meal planning system (Is there one that will cook for me?!) I have found some resources that I go to again and again. Here are a few of the resources I've found helpful.
Build a Menu
Build a Menu is a paid membership site that has actually been a big help to me. It works by allowing you to choose your menu items from a database of recipes. You can choose recipes from categories like "Family Friendly" or "Dine on a Dime" There are even allergen friendly and gluten free options. You can choose to cook for 1-2 people or 4-6 people. There are also some breakfast and lunch choices and a cooking with kids section as well as a dessert option.
Each week you can build your menu with your choices. You can place them on a calendar or just in a list (great for our family's need for flexibility with practice schedules and sports in the evening!). After you make your choices, you can download the recipes and grocery list for the week.
This is a free site that lets you look through tons of recipes or store your own. (There is a paid option with some extra perks like saving your meal plans.) I use Allrecipes as a recipe box for all of my recipes. I can type in my own, or I can put a link to a recipe I found somewhere else online. I can also search Allrecipes if I'm looking for something in particular and then save the recipes I find to my Recipe Box. Even with the free option, you can save and organize all your recipes here. The recipes can then be printed out or accessed from anywhere else online.
Pepperplate is similar to Allrecipes but even better in some regards. While I don't think it has as many stored recipes (I may be wrong.), it does allow you to save your menu plans and print shopping lists as a free service instead of a paid plan. You can search for recipes or store your own here.
The $5 Meal Plan
This paid subscription service is different because, instead of choosing your menu each week, you are sent a weekly meal plan for $5 per month. Your weekly plan includes five dinner entrees, one breakfast meal, one lunch meal, and a random goody such as a snack or dessert. This service is from the mom behind $5 Dinners, All of her meals can be made for $5 or less. (There are some great recipes on the blog.) I like the $5 meal plan because there is also a gluten free meal plan option. All of your weekly dinners are gluten free! You can also buy a few specialty meal plans on the site.
This isn't a meal planning service, but it has been an awesome resource for me and changed the way I thought about meal planning.I had the opportunity to review this book in my first year with the Schoolhouse Review Crew. You can read the review here. This book (and it's gluten free version) lays out meal planning in a new way. Readers are presented with several basic meals. Then many varieties are given for each meal. So, people like me who are cooking challenged can focus on learning a few basic meals and then changing them up to present new and varied meals each night. The books are an awesome resource!
So there you go- some meal planning resources that even a very challenged cook like me can find help from. Do you find meal planning and cooking stressful or do you love it? Do you have any favorite meal planning helps? I'd love to hear from you.