Our exciting new meal plan

We have given great thought, lately, to the reasons why we don’t cook. They are many: no food in the house, no time, no skill, no one who wants to shoulder that responsibility… no wonder we never have proper meals! So after much discussion, David came up with our new meal plan.

Please note – David came up with the plan. I did not. This is key, because historically, I jump from scheme to scheme because I always think the next one sounds better. People around here are – not surprisingly – a bit skeptical when I present a new plan. One designed by someone else is a bit less suspect.

The new plan is basically a job chart. There are three jobs:

  • Chef – the chef is in charge of planning the meal, making sure there are groceries in the house for the meal, doing the bulk of the cooking, and getting the meal on the table in a timely manner.
  • Sous Chef – the sous chef is the chef’s right-hand person, doing any prep jobs the chef requires: chopping, fetching ingredients, running to the cookbook to see how long something should simmer, and so on. This person is also in charge of setting the table.
  • KP – the “Kitchen Patrol” is in charge of cleanup: clearing the table, doing the dishes, and restoring the kitchen to its full upright and locked position.

Our particular schedule runs Tuesday through Sunday. Everyone has Monday night off to fend for themselves. David designed the job chart so that each of us has a rotating assistant: I am chef on Wednesdays with David as my sous chef, and on Fridays, when Quinland helps me.

I took Quinland out to dinner last Thursday and explained the plan to her, along with one additional rule: all meals have to be based around a vegetable dish. It could be a salad before the meal, a specific vegetable to accompany the meal, or even a vegetarian meal itself, but the veg had to be front and center. We brainstormed a list of main dishes she likes (and veggies, of course), and the plan started right up the next day.

We haven’t missed a day yet. Fabulous meals have included Chicken with Lemon and Garlic (David), chili with cornbread and spinach salad (Quinland) and beef stew (Lori). In fact, it is 8 AM right now, and the beef stew has just been readied in the crockpot. (Q is going to a sleepover tonight, and she has KP; she’ll be able to do the bulk of her work before dinner, this way.)

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Crockpot Beef Stew – veggies ready to go!

The kitchen has never been so consistently pristine; in fact, when emptying the dishwasher the other night, David remarked, “I don’t think we have ever had every single piece of silverware clean at once!” We are usually about one meal behind, with a stack of rinsed dishes waiting to go in as soon as the dishwasher is emptied… but no longer.

To the bulk of the world, this probably seems like the most ridiculous “breakthrough” ever. Of course people shop and cook and clean on a schedule, right? Yeah, unless those people are particularly – inept? passive-aggressive? resistant? – I’m not sure which adjective to use there, so I’ll just replace it with a new one: content. Oh, and nicely fed, thank you!

Eating dinner as a family

I may have mentioned before that David and I have struggled for all time with preparing and serving regular meals. I never developed any skill in cooking, and I know that my fear of failure in the kitchen – failure that, I might add, is a frequent occurrence – has definitely hampered my ability to buckle down to regular cooking. Add in some family dynamics about whose responsibility for shopping, cooking and cleaning is whose, and dinner time often leads to an every-man-for-himself “grazing” extravaganza.

This has bummed me out over the years. I know, without a doubt, that all three of us would be healthier if we ate better.

Last week, I read an interesting article about families who eat dinner together. “When families dine together,” the article states, “they tend to eat more vegetables and fruits — and fewer fried foods, soda, and foods with trans fats, research shows. When younger kids frequently eat dinner with their families, they are less likely to be overweight than other children.”

I feel guilty. I feel like I have been a bad mom to Quinland. I am resolved to step up to the plate, and I can only hope that these next few years have a positive impact on all of us. I’ve broken out my Pampered Chef Deep Covered Baker – which I have owned for years and never used – and have made some excellent chicken stews. Pop everything in, cook 30 minutes – foolproof and tasty. (No, I’m not a Pampered Chef consultant, but this thing is awesome!)

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Still, I must say, the article kind of cheered me up in another way. It identified these benefits of dining together as well:

  • Kids are more likely to stay away from cigarettes.
  • They’re less likely to drink alcohol.
  • They won’t likely try marijuana.
  • They’re less likely to use illicit drugs.
  • Friends won’t likely abuse prescription drugs.
  • School grades will be better.
  • You and your kids will talk more.
  • You’ll be more likely to hear about a serious problem.
  • Kids will feel like you’re proud of them.
  • There will be less stress and tension at home.

These effects, I surmise, come from the positive, one-on-one interaction that occurs around the dinner table, from open communication between parents and their children. I’m happy to say that – regardless of our haphazard eating habits – we have plenty of that quality time with Quinland, and I believe we have reaped all those benefits. She is an awesome, awesome, awesome kid… she has amazing, supportive, friends who are all awesome kids… and they all get good grades (and stay away from substance abuse!).

Whew! I’m not a bad mom, after all – just a bad cook… and I am getting better every day.

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Adventures in basic cookery

out of the frying pan
Photo by waferboard

I made breakfast brunch yesterday for the ladies at my scrapbook weekend.  I decided to make a scramble with eggs, diced potatoes, onions and peppers, then top with cheese and call it good. I made bacon, as well.

It was good, but along the way it caused me no little anxiety. I burnt the first batch of bacon by forgetting it was in the oven.  The potatoes were slightly burnt; the eggs took way too long to cook; the cheese melted and got sticky. It was tasty, but it ended up looking pretty unappetizing and hit the table about 45 minutes later than I (and the hungry people) anticipated.

I am not sure what makes cooking so difficult for me.

Okay, strike that; I am trying to be more positive. How is this: I bet I will get better at cooking with practice! (and I sure do need some serious practice!)

What could possibly have been the problem with such an easy breakfast plan? Why, thank you for asking. Basically, I get the idea of cooking. There is a recipe set of instructions. You follow them. You get the end result: food. Pretty straightforward.

Yet, somehow, the time management piece of cooking has always tripped me up. I get excited and dive into a recipe without being sure I have all the ingredients I need. I get going on one dish, only to have another dish burn. I put things in the oven, forget about them  (out of sight, out of mind), and they burn. I burn myself. (Okay, that’s space management, not time management.) I can never seem to time the main dish and any/all sides to be done simultaneously. I am the one still in the kitchen stirring the gravy when Thanksgiving dinner is over and done with. I am not good at juggling all the separate tasks.

So, you may be asking, if I can’t really cook, what do we eat? We eat stuff that only needs basic assembling. Tacos are easy because you really only have to cook one thing: the meat. Everything else can be prepared and then left until the meat is done. This is my kind of food. We also eat in stages quite a bit, cooking one thing from start to finish, eating it, and then going on to cooking the next course. This can make the whole dinner process take ages.

For a person who has such issues with cooking, I have a surprising number of gadgets and cookbooks. Well, I guess it’s not that surprising, considering a) I love gadgets and I love books, and 2) I think many people acquire things that they think will assist them in areas of challenge. The magic bullet, if you will. (Not the trademarked small appliance…) If the answer to my cooking needs could be purchased from Pampered Chef, I would have had it long ago.

What I need are cookbooks that have set menus and built-in timelines so that I know when to start each step. Someone should market these and make millions.

Daily Check-In:

  • I’m grateful! for Bethany and Melissa, my Girl Scout co-leaders, for their great company and hard work. I’m super mega grateful for this little tiny laptop, too. I love it.
  • I’m lighter! I processed a huge stack of mail tonight. I also tried to backup the old laptop, but of course it blue-screened before it was anywhere close to done. AND… ta da! I was only 4 minutes late to Girl Scouts.