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You’re Going To McDonald’s (Prepared For What?)

If dinner isn’t ready by 3:00 pm, you’re going to McDonald’s. That’s been my mantra for the past couple months.

Of course by “ready” I don’t mean “completely cooked”; I mean “planned out and (if necessary) underway”. And by “McDonald’s” I don’t necessarily mean the building with the golden arches; I mean any fast-food place or restaurant that sells convenient food.

The reason this has become my mantra is because when dinnertime rolls around, people look at the kitchen. If there’s nothing prepared, and nothing that can be readily prepared, despair quickly sets in. Between waiting an hour and a half for dinner or going out to eat, the second option seems much, much easier.

This isn’t good on so many levels, but here’s the highlight reel:

  • Going out to dinner is expensive. Restaurants have to pay for the food, then pay for somebody to cook it, then pay for somebody to serve it to you. You only have to pay for the food, so it’s almost universally cheaper for you to cook at home than to go to a restaurant.
  • Going out to dinner is unhealthy. Again, with rare exceptions, restaurant food is laden with more fats, sugars, and salt than you would ever dream of putting in the food you’re making at home.
  • Going out to dinner is unnecessary. A little bit of advance planning can put food on your table without a lot of stress, so there’s no need to go out to dinner.

There are a lot of facets to dinner planning, but it doesn’t have to be hard. Today I’m going to talk about the emergency quick-fix strategy for having something to eat.

Quick-Fix Pre-Planning

Life happens, and sometimes you don’t have the time or energy to throw together a complicated meal in the evening. This is a scenario where it’s good to have some backup options on hand that are relatively quick and easy, and can be stored for a long time if necessary.

To be really effective, it helps if these backup options are:

  • Truly on-hand. If you don’t have to leave the house, you can’t get tempted to go get fast food on the way to the grocery store!
  • Liked by the people in your family
  • Able to be prepared in about the same time it would take to have food on a restaurant table
  • Not so overused that everybody groans and says “Oh, man, ______ AGAIN?!?!?!?!”

For most families, a good example of this would be pasta and sauce. The sauce could be from the store or it could be your own pasta sauce that’s been canned or frozen. The whole mess takes about ten minutes to cook.

Canned or frozen entrees are another option here. We can argue about whether or not they’re good for you, but the option of going out to dinner is almost always less healthy than the worst canned or frozen meals. For frozen items, pay attention to the cook times. Frozen pizza (at about 15 minutes) works. Frozen lasagna (at about 75 minutes) probably doesn’t.

If you keep bread hanging around, you could even have sandwiches. Just add some meat and cheese (or peanut butter & jelly), and you’ve got something quick and easy. If you have some leftover onion, tomato, peppers, etc. those could be a nice bonus.

A Quick Action Step

Sit down for five or ten minutes and brainstorm. What does your family like to eat? Which of those options can be prepared in ten to fifteen minutes? Can you come up with three or four options for those nights when your schedule just gets away from you?

If you can come up with a few options, make a list of all the ingredients you’ll need. Then next time you’re going to the store, make sure to get any of those items that you don’t have.

If you’ve done the above, congratulations – you’ve got several dinner options ready-to-go at a moments’ notice!

Of course there’s more to meal planning to this – I’ll be tackling the other aspects in future posts. Is there anything food-related that you’d like to hear about? Let me know in the comments!

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10 Responses - Add Your Input!

Posted June 8, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

Eggs are always easy, and who doesn’t like breakfast for dinner once in a while? Also, by freezing leftovers (perhaps even purposely making too much if you have the freezer space) you’ll have home-made “frozen entrees” offering the best of both worlds — heat-and-eat convenience and homemade healthful goodness.
Mike | Homeless On Wheels recently posted..Venus Transit 2012 Photos

    Robert
    Posted June 8, 2012 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

    I know that *I* like eggs for dinner sometimes. :) Personally, I haven’t had good luck convincing the other people in my life that it’s a good idea. Although quiche seems to fly as a dinner food, and a quiche is basically just an omelet that’s baked in a pie crust.

    Out of curiosity, do you have a freezer in the RV? I would think that would take some serious power to run the compressor.

      Posted June 8, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

      The absorption fridge has a small freezer compartment, and I have a supplemental compressor-driven unit that can be operated as a fridge or freezer if/when needed. It’s fairly efficient, but still “costs” about 850 watt-hours (150-200w worth of solar panels) per day to operate, so I don’t use it unless I really need to while off-grid.
      Mike | Homeless On Wheels recently posted..Venus Transit 2012 Photos

    Posted June 8, 2012 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

    Hey Mike! I was just coming to comment that we always keep eggs on hand for a quick dinner as well. :)

    Scrambled eggs mixed with frozen spinach (thawed) and parmesan cheese with some fruit on the side is always a really quick and delicious hit at our house.

    We also keep pasta and sauce on hand as Robert suggested. Add a tossed salad and voila! Dinner is served in less than 20 minutes.

    And there is always the trusted standby — grilled cheese and tomato soup.
    Jenny @ Ex-Consumer recently posted..Getting Unstuck

      Posted June 8, 2012 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

      Hi Jenny! Yeah, Grilled cheese is super quick and easy. And while tomato soup goes best with it, any canned soup is a simple and fast way to supplement a sandwich, or even just bread. Split pea and ham/bacon…YUM!
      Mike | Homeless On Wheels recently posted..Venus Transit 2012 Photos

Posted June 9, 2012 at 12:11 am | Permalink

We keep some staples around, but we generally plan 4 different meals as all 4 of us have different diets. It’s a pain in the ass, to be honest. One of our big staples is smoothie components. When our boys are grumpy and being extra-picky, I make smoothies. Sometimes it’s chocolate sauce, berries, and tofu. Other times it’s protein powder, tropical fruit, yogurt, and veggies. I usually hit 3 food groups at least in a smoothie, so it’s often a better option than placing 3 separate food groups on a plate or making an actual meal (because if it’s not one of the 5 things each eats, it just gets wasted). However, we do have nights where we go out BECAUSE it is actually healthier than what we have available at home. I think eating out CAN be way healthier over frozen options, but it’s all about where you eat. One of our favorite places is Jason’s Deli. We call eat there, it’s very healthy, and they even have organic options. I actually ensure we have a restaurant budget every week since it’s way easier than making 3-4 separate meals. Since we are very health-conscious as it is, we choose healthy restaurants 90% of the time. One place with meals for all, and no dishes afterwards. Nothing better :)

Posted June 9, 2012 at 9:19 am | Permalink

Gosh nothing new to add here as I was going to mention Eggs (everyone’s beat me to it). They are my lifesaver – along with flour.
We have omelette or even just boiled egg if we need to. But I’m not averse to making the kids pancakes if we are struggling (my pancakes are pretty basic, they do add a little sugar to the top – but hey everything in moderation!), or yorkshire puds (which I believe you Guys may call popovers?). I keep frozen veggies in at all time, and pasta/chopped toms/puree. Have you ever eaten pasta with just puree mixed through and a sprinkling of cheese… it’s tastes pretty good when you are hungry! It’s surprising what you do actually have in your store-cupboard even when it looks bare!
Jo@simplybeingmum recently posted..No Waste Tastes Great / Keeping An Eye On The Prize

    Robert
    Posted June 9, 2012 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Hi Jo! Speaking of pancakes, I have a question for you – over there, is “flour” typically “self-rising flour”? I saw a Jamie Oliver show where he was showing somebody how to do pancakes, and the recipe was flour, water, and an egg. I was wondering where the leavening was. :)

    It looks like the American popover is a close cousin of the Yorkshire Pudding – Wikipedia has a bit of explanation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Popover

    I’ve definitely done pasta + very basic tomato sauce (the sauce they sell as “tomato sauce” for a recipe ingredient, as opposed to the stuff they sell as spaghetti sauce) + cheese. It’ll definitely do in a pinch! :D

      SarahN
      Posted June 25, 2012 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

      Robert (and Jo), love you all

      I’m in Australia – we are like little England – we have Plain flour (which is your flour) and we have self raising flour. If I use a US recipe, I use plain (as it’ll usually call for baking soda later). But with aussie/english recipes, I use what’s called for. SR flour seems less bitter (to me) than plain + BS.

      Love yorkshire puddings, though I’ve never made them, I make ‘dumplings’ on top of a caserole, more or less the same me thinks!

        Robert
        Posted June 26, 2012 at 2:23 am | Permalink

        G’day Sarah!

        It’s interesting how even things as simple as recipes can be so different in different parts of the world, isn’t it?

        I also see British recipes typically calling for flour in grams or kilos, rather than by the cup (which is what I’m used to from reading recipe books over here). But even though I’m used to seeing volumetric measurements, I actually prefer measuring dry ingredients by weight. Much more precise. :D

        Thanks for commenting Sarah!

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