Monday, September 10, 2018

Keepers: Reviving Tired Meal Plans

Cooking has always been fun to me.  If I didn't have to wash dishes and clean up messes, I might even do it more often than required of me!  My mother-in-law is less-than-excited about cooking.  She helps me remember that one person's passion may be another person's pain!!

Yet, as adventurous as I like to be in the kitchen, it is easy to let the bustle of life stick me in a rut of repetitive menu offerings which often result in listening to groans at the dinner table because everyone is weary of how mundane meals have become.

It isn't like we need a big bank account to keep meal time lively; fancy new ingredients are not required to have adventure in the kitchen! I may be stuck with ground beef and chicken because it is budget friendly and stretches well for the crew I feed, however, I know I don't have to cook it the same way every-single-time.

I'm not talking about switching up every meal on the menu.  I know our weekly go-tos like burgers and pizza never grow old with the crowd I serve! But if I make chicken with the same cream sauce week-in-and-week-out or pasta over-and-over.... I do see subtle grimaces as we plate up.

So, what do you do when meal time has gone from "Yah" to "Blah"?  I found myself asking that question and what followed was a string of thoughts which got me in the right direction:

  • With homeschooling I research curriculum each year not just because of changing grade levels but also because some subjects need a switch-up... something new, interesting and engaging
  • When my wardrobe is tired and thread-barren, I dig and look for deals and even poke around to consider some trends... I may even try on various pieces to find what works for me and fits nicely.
  • When we have bought cars, we don't just grab the first one we see, we research the model and price and consider specs till we find a good fit.

So if, for every other tired and warn or 'needing a change' situation, we dig in and research... than why wouldn't this same concept apply to meals when they have gotten monotonous.  It was with this understanding that the revival process began.

Last year as I was doing Menu Monday and then issuing a monthly menu in the newsletter, I realized I couldn't ignore my family's requests for something new any longer.  I guess it never registered with me until I SAW all of the redundancy in our meal plans via my writing excursions.  So, while I was on sabbatical, I took time to re-assess my kitchen adventures and see what I could do to make meal-time more interesting.  The process, which is still in motion and helping me, is something I thought others might find inspiring and helpful.  So here goes...

Assess and take note
First, I pulled out my menu binder (Yes, I really have kept many of my monthly menus since around the time Brenden was born 18 years ago!!) Flipping through I saw repeat after tired repeat.  I also noticed that the recipes I used were old and warn and mostly cycled because I was comfortable making them. With family faves, this is not a bad thing.  But some had lost their luster and we desperately needed revival.

Do you keep track of what you cook?  When was the last time you tried something new?
Click on image to get your FREE printable Menu Worksheet

Do some research
After assessing and admitting how desperate the need was to mix things up, I also realized I didn't know where to start! In one hand I felt like, after being a housewife for over 25 years, it should be easy and natural to try new things... and surely I knew what I was doing.  But in the other hand, I had to admit to myself that A LOT has changed in the kitchen since I first started cooking as well.  Kitchen gadgets, trendy takes on the same old meats and sides, and health awareness, which wasn't quite as prevalent when I first sailed into my housewifing adventures, forced me to admit I was lacking in some newly needed qualifications. 

I had to humble myself. 

At the same time, I realized MOST professionals, be they teachers or office workers, need to periodically go through re-certifications and training to be up-to-speed on the latest technologies and trends... so why wouldn't a housewife?!

I took a deep breath and I plunged. I subscribed to a *few* cooking magazines, Betty Crocker's emails, and scoured Pinterest.  I got the magazines for anywhere from $1-$5 for a year subscription on Amazon!  So a "few" is an understatement!  My mail box was being stuffed with magazines each month and I spent less than $20 to enjoy these new offerings and takes.

Take action
As the new recipes filtered in, I dog-eared interesting dishes with reasonable ingredient requirements.  I did have to look up a few substitutions for items outside my pantry's usual possessions when I found recipes I was desperate to try but slightly short on ingredients. 

At first, I planned NEW dishes multiple times a week.  However, what I found was that the constant changing after so many years of same, was too much!!  Not only did trying new dishes often take more time to prep (it was like learning to cook on your own for the first time again!) but the culinary adventures were not always successful!  Just as much as my family was growing tiered of the constant sameness... they were now becoming weary of all the changes!

Make adjustments 
I un-subscribed from a few of the not-as-helpful magazines (especially when they regularly called for ingredients we either didn't like or were too expensive to buy).  I also scaled back my kitchen adventures so we were only trying new meals 1-2 times a week.  The other nights I cooked mostly favorites, with only a few of the  tired ones thrown in when necessary.

Consider a fresh take on the old
When keeping with the older more warn recipes, I switched it up with quirky new approaches. I might slice meat differently; chicken cut at a diagonal instead of cubes or beef made into meatballs instead of crumbled. Or I would switch up the customary sides; green beans instead of corn, seasoned potatoes instead of plain.  I even noticed myself incorporating some of the new ideas/ingredients/techniques I was learning into my old ones for fresh new takes!  Everyone was pleasantly surprised!

Step outside your comfort zone
Perhaps all this talk of new recipes is already outside your comfort zone.  Or, perhaps, you need an extra incentive.  One tip I had long forgotten and rediscovered this summer came via my Farmer's Market excursions.  I tend to forget how helpful the Market can be in in culinary adventurousness.  Growers typically have very reasonable prices on produce I am not use to using.  Where i may be more reluctant to throw my pennies down at the grocery store for a fruit or vegetable I don't usually cook with, I am happy to help a local grower as I accept the challenge of finding new recipes to match a new vegetable I decided to buy!

Whether you are brave at the supermarket or wander on into your local Farmer's market, buying outside your comfort zone is a great way to kick-start kitchen creativity and adventureness.

The end result?

Well, I hear much less under-breath groaning at dinner now!
We have found some new favorites which work into regular rotation.
My sense of adventure is renewed as I take what I am learning and develop new and different recipes of my own!
I'm having more fun in the kitchen again!

For the kitchen weary wife
.... keep it simple, follow a basic cooking show that uses REAL ingredients the average person buys, and ask for help.  Whether you find a mentor to encourage you in at least a contentment in the kitchen, or you simply ask kiddos or hubby to help with the meal prep burden... assistance can make a big difference.

Also, take meal prep breaks.  Don't feel like you have to be super-wife or super-mom and make every-single-meal and snack from scratch.  This can be exhausting and aid burn-out if you aren't a super big fan of kitchen work!  One night a week I plan an easy meal, something I don't have to prep.  It may be burritos from Costco or pizza from Little Caesar's or Papa Murphy's.  It is one night I don't need to juggle and can look forward to just relaxing.

A parting thought    
Food is a necessary part of life.  It isn't a burden, but a blessing, to get to care for our families with more than just nutrition but also a culinary experience which makes them look forward to dinnertime together.  It is our honor to serve our family in this way.

An excellent wife who can find?
    She is far more precious than jewels...
...She rises while it is yet night
    and provides food for her household
    and portions for her maidens.
Proverbs 31:10, 15

I pray you have (or find) a love of cooking and that you enjoy culinary adventures as a blessing to you and all who look to you for their nutritional care!


By the way.....

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  1. This is a nice article!

    As a pregnant mommy of two, meals are as eaaasssyy as possibleeee right now. Lol! I love the idea of having one “super easy” “not from scratch” meal every once in awhile.

    All your lists and schedules inspire me. You’ve got my creativity buzzing now.

    1. Your comment blesses my heart :-) I'm glad these tools could help! I will definitely work on an article and some recipes as per your request!

  2. As a pregnant mommy of two, I’m loving the suggestion of having a “no prep” “super easy” meal every once in a while. I usually cook from scratch, but a nice simple meal sounds amazing!!

    Do you think you could do a post on extremely FAST from-scratch meals with minimal cleanup? I’m excited to pick another home makers brain for ideas!