In my single days living in Miami, I would stop by the local Publix on the way home from work, grab a chicken breast, some vegetables, and come home to cook it. Some nights, if I felt like mixing it up a bit, it would be just a baked potato, other nights it would be pasta with canned tomato sauce jazzed up with some spices, or, simply a bowl of popcorn . . . I didn’t really pay much attention to it. If it made me happy, if it filled my belly, then I considered it dinner. Those days, my inspiration came from whatever caught my interest in the grocery store aisle.
Then I headed west to California to be with Greg, and I was now cooking for two. I had a home office, reporting to an east-coast boss, so once 3 o’clock rolled around, the phone stopped ringing, and I had time to dedicate to dinner preparation. But still, for the most part, inspiration came as I opened the fridge to see lie inside, then I’d create whatever would fill our bellies.
Flash forward a decade or so, and I’m still working from a home office, but now I’m feeding 4 growing children, each with different food tastes. All this is compounded with a hectic schedule of ballet and gymnastics lessons, baseball practice, and homework. More often than not, my inspiration is overcome by exhaustion, frustration, and impatience (of course, on the part of the children).
Making meals for a family of six can be a trying affair. Sometimes I feel defeated even before I get started, knowing that as I’m heating up the pan, there will be a cacophony of disappointment ringing out as someone announces his or her dislike for the evening’s meal. Rarely do I have a full mutiny, but even more rare is a general consensus for a family favorite meal (although pesto pasta does the trick!)
Clearly, meal planning would have to become an essential part of my day to day. No longer could I stand in the aisle at the grocery store and decide what to cook for dinner. No longer could I rely on opening the fridge last minute and whipping something together. No longer could I pop popcorn for dinner.
No, I had to minimize the stress that came with not staying two (or three) steps ahead of the kids. I needed a plan of action. I needed to know what was ahead of me, and be ready to whip up a dinner to feed – and satisfy – the hungry, ready-to-mutiny, troops.
So, plan my weekly meals I did. In the process, I was able to lower my blood pressure during that crucial ‘what’s for dinner?’ hour, all because I knew what I had planned for dinner.
Today, I am better equipped to handle the dinner hour. But that doesn’t mean that things always go smoothly. That’s why I rely on Plan B.
Plan B is the meal waiting in the wings. It is the meal I can turn to in a crunch, and not be sent over the abyss of frustration when the meal I had planned doesn’t come to fruition. Even if I don’t mentally plan to have a Plan B, I know that, due to my menu planning, that there will always something waiting in the wings.
Last week, it was the frozen chicken that thrust me into Plan B. Having neglected to pull the chicken out of the freezer when I first remembered it in the morning, I was faced with a still frozen chicken as I attempted to ready it for dinner before school pick-up. It was still frozen solid, and I was unable to jimmy my hand into its back end to grab the bag of giblets which were still frozen to the cavity of the bird.
After 5 minutes of struggling to get my hand inside, I acquiesced. I had to move on, I had to wrap my head around another meal. A quick look at my weekly menu (posted on the fridge door) revealed something fast, quick, and famously popular in our household. Pesto pasta. I was saved.
Plan B works in a variety of circumstances. Plan B finds its way onto the table after someone has steadfastly declared “I don’t’ like it.” I am well aware of when those words actually mean, “I like it, but want something else,” and when they are true to their meaning, “I don’t like it.” Then, and only then, do I allow Plan B to surface. If, for instance, one of the kids doesn’t like lasagna (i.e: Grayson), then I have something waiting in the wings. I plan the previous night’s meal with Grayson in mind (and prepare enough so there are leftovers). I’ll heat those leftovers up and keep them waiting in the wings until I am sure he will not, under any circumstances, put that lasagna in his mouth.
Plan B also works with adults – especially when they don’t share the same tastes. I do that when we serve Salmon, which is not one of my favorite meals. On those days, I reach for Plan B (leftovers from the night before).
Plan B also works when the crunch of the day’s activities, meetings, and sports events land you back at home, later than expected, and with a good 30 to 45 minutes of prepping and cooking ahead of you.
In our house, Plan B gets a lot of play, and I’m just as grateful to it as I am for our main feature. That’s why I will always have Plan B in my back pocket – or at least in the fridge.
For a bit of inspiration on Meal Planning, read Meal Planning: Taking the Stress Out of What’s for Dinner.
Here are some quick Plan B recipes that you can always pull out last minute.
Mini Turkey Meatloaves with Red Pepper Sauce(previously prepared and in the freezer)