As a mother, we have been given the responsibility, by our Heavenly Father, to use our gifts to nurture our families. Nurturing takes many forms, one of which is nurturing temporally by feeding and nourishing our families. I was at a nutrition workshop where I heard Angie Christensen point out that Adam was given a commandment “by the sweat of [his] brow he would eat.” In our modern age of giant food farms, grocery stores and restaurants, there is not a lot of sweat going into our meals anymore. Yes, you have to go to work to earn the money to buy your food and then prepare it -if you don’t go out to eat-but it isn’t a direct relationship anymore. Angie’s thought was that we have lost a lot in giving the work portion of our eating to others. For thousands of years, fixing meals and serving food to families has been a source of pride for mothers. Now we are told we shouldn’t have to slave away in the kitchen, that we deserve better. What blessings are our families missing in not being more obedient to this commandment?
I have always believed in fixing healthy meals, primarily from scratch, for my family. My mother did for me all of my growing up years. It was her labor of love. I want to do the same for my family, but the one thing I’ve struggled with is the meal planning. When 3 p.m. rolls around and the dread of “what should I fix for dinner?” sets in, being the food fixer loses a lot of its luster. It becomes stressful, and it’s no fun.
I’ve tried calendars, meal lists based on main ingredient, etc., but I always dreaded the planning part. It was too easy to procrastinate, and then I was flying by the seat of my pants, resulting in too many days of “what can I fix fast with what I’ve got?”
I finally figured out a system that works really well for me. I haven’t seen one quite like this talked about anywhere, so I’d like to share it in case you are looking for a new answer to the daily dilemma of “What’s for dinner?”
You will need:
• 3 x 5 card file Box with 1 divider for each category you choose to use
• 3 x 5 File Cards in at least 6-7 colors – or take markers and color the corner of white file cards.
• A simple list of your family’s favorite main dishes – at least 20 or so.
A couple of years ago, Liz Edmunds, aka The Food Nanny, visited our stake and promoted the value “family dinners together at home” and taught us how to make them happen more effectively. I adopted her method of planning meals by theme night.
Step one is to choose what “themes” you would like to use. This could be considered optional but it really helps you easily add a good variety of food types to your meals. Use the list of your family’s favorite dishes to decide on your main categories. I leave one night open for leftover night, or as my husband once called them when he was having a brain lapse, “refried scraps.” I also chose to use “easy/fast” as one of my categories. You’ll see why in a minute. I would suggest having no more than 7 categories: one for each day of the week. Think about your schedule and decide how your categories will fit on your days. For example, if you have a category that includes homemade bread with soup, then choose a day you will have time to make bread to go with your soup. If you have busy days, choose a category that will fit there. If you use a lot of fresh produce, schedule your veggie days soon after your regular shopping trips.
Here are the Food Nanny’s theme ideas:
Monday – Comfort Foods
Tuesday – Italian
Wednesday – Fish/Meatless/Breakfast
Thursday – Mexican
Friday – Pizza
Saturday – Grill Night
Sunday – Traditions
Here are the categories I chose and am currently using:
Sunday – Crock Pot (keeps Sunday meals simple)
Monday- Seafood or pasta
Tuesday- Foreign foods
Wednesday- Easy/Fast (This is usually our busy night with youth activities so having an “easy” menu helps get a meal on the table and everyone out the door.)
Thursday- Veggie based (meatless) or soup
Friday – “Handy” food, meaning food you can hold in your hand: Sandwiches, pizza, burgers, wraps etc.
Saturday is usually my leftover night so we can clean out the fridge. This allows me to have a “day off” on Saturday to do whatever projects I want to do.
Step two is to assign each category a color. No special magic here; just give each one a color. Label the dividers with your categories, and use a marker to put a different colored dot or stripe on each one.
Step three: Now you will set up a “meal planning file box.” This is different than a recipe box in that your meal cards will only have 3 key items: the name of the dish, the place you will find the recipe (if it is in a certain cookbook), and the ingredients you will need to have on hand to make the dish. I don’t include the staples that I always have around in the list, only the things I will most likely need to purchase. Each dish goes on a single card of the color associated with that category. Even if the dish is a simple one you always have ingredients for and the recipe is in your head, write it on a card. Choose the category that your dish will fit in best for your own purposes. For example, if you have a pasta dish that is really easy, you may want to put it in the “easy” category rather than the pasta category.
You will find that it is quick and easy to make the meal cards since you don’t have to write out full ingredient lists or directions. Simply add each of your family’s favorite dishes to a card and file it behind the correct divider in your box. It’s also really easy to add a new dish if you try a new recipe and find that your family loves it and you want to incorporate it into your meals more often.
Now when it is time to plan, just grab your calendar and pull out the cards for Monday’s category. Flip through till you find something that sounds good, or that uses a food item you have on hand and want to use up, and add it to the list. Then add the items you will need to buy to your weekly shopping list, or just stack the chosen cards together to take to the store with you. After you come home, it is easy to re-file them with the correct colored cards. Planning 1-2 weeks at a time allows you to switch meal nights around easily if needed because you know you have all the ingredients on hand for those meals. Another benefit of the cards is that if I have a night that I need to make a quick change (I need a quick meal) or I didn’t get to the store and I don’t have an ingredient I need, it is easy to flip through the cards and choose something that I already have all the ingredients for. I have a whole box of meal ideas right in front of me.
I also have another category in my file box for “Veggies, Sides and Salads.” This makes it easy to find a side dish to go along with my main dish selection if I need one. If you have other categories you would like to add to make your food life simpler, go ahead (maybe a category with a
few favorite FHE treats/desserts or easy things for potlucks??), but I wouldn’t expand with too many categories. It will just over-complicate things.
I love systems that help me be a better homemaker and better nurture and bless my family. I hope this new system will add joy to your life as you reap the blessings of family dinners together at home.