Avoiding Convenience Foods

Photo Credit http://www.whattomakefordinner.org/
I absolutely know what it's like to be dog tired. I know what it's like to get to the end of the day and realize that I haven't even THOUGHT about dinner.

I also know the temptation to drive to the drive thru at that point. I've been there and done that.

Fast food and even most store-bought convenience foods are hard on the budget. And over the last few years we have gradually cut out 95% of our fast food/convenience food consumption. I do still buy the occasional box of Dino Bites and even less often we go for fast food.

The thing is, I still have days where I'm dog tired...and realize at the end of the day that I have no idea what we're gonna have for dinner. All of this has been a learning experience for me and I've discovered that there are a few things that profoundly effect the peace of our home around 5 o'clock in the evening and make dinner a much more pleasant experience for my whole family.

1.  Meal planning. I don't do anything fancy. There are some really cute, free (woohoo! who doesn't love free stuff?!) menu planning pages out there. Sometimes I'm all fancy and use one of those and sometimes I use a blank sheet of paper that nobody but me could make heads or tails of. My family really enjoys it when I post my menu plan on the fridge so they can check it and either get excited about dinner or check their attitude and count their blessings that they get to have their least favorite meal instead a bowl of grasshoppers.

I should note that I don't necessarily decide in advance on what day we will have which meal. Sometimes I just make a list of the assortment of meals we'll have for the next two weeks and then decide on a daily basis what we'll actually have on that day.

2.  Make a grocery list based on my meal plan. I try to base my menu plan around a few key ingredients. Like if one recipe calls for half of a whole chicken I would either have that meal twice or find another recipe that calls for the other half of the chicken...so I don't end up wasting half a chicken because we're having beef all the other nights...you know what I mean?

3.  Make a big batch of ingredients that take a while to cook, like brown rice (which takes 25-40 minutes) and beans (which can take HOURS to prepare) to keep in the fridge (I know that you can buy canned beans but I just think dried beans are healthier). Tonight I did a variation of Cheesy Beef and Rice. The rice was already cooked so I threw it in the casserole, and since I had them in the fridge I included lentils...so I cut at least half an hour off of dinner prep time (and the dishes I would have had to dirty to cook them are already done!).

4.  I unload my dishwasher before starting dinner prep so all I have to do is stick the dishes in as I am done using them and most of the dishes are done before we even have dinner. The kids are also in the habit now of putting THEIR plates in the dishwasher. So I don't have a sink full of dishes staring me down and overwhelming me after dinner and I can sit and enjoy dinner with my family in a stress free environment!

Convenience foods are...convenient but it's not that difficult to make homemade dinners more doable. And nothing beats the fun (and confidence boost) of my kids trying to think of the name I should give the restaurant they think I should be head chef of.

And that works for me!

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