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.
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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