This is the “I don’t have time/talent/energy to write a food blog” blog. With that said, here it goes!
Many years ago, before I had kids, I was an elementary school teacher who loved organizing my classroom and planning for 20 or so little people to walk through my classroom door each morning. Clear goals, good intentions and purposeful planning wasn’t a convenience, it was a necessity. Who would want to be caught off-guard with 20 sets of eyes staring at you each day?! I used to love filling my calendar with goals for each day and lessons to match. I began each day with a sense of calm as I posted the daily schedule on the board each morning and wrote down everything that I could possibly plan. And because unexpected events happened throughout the school day, such as a fire drill, last minute assembly, arrival of a new student, etc. I learned to always write in pencil, erasable pen or dry erase marker. Life’s plans shouldn’t be written in permanent ink.
Fast forward five or so years when I was pregnant with our first child. Just like most expecting moms, I began thinking about and planning for those busy days that lay ahead and the possibility of holding a cranky baby while cooking with one free hand. I decided to try one of those meal preparation services, Dream Dinners, I think it was called. These businesses have the great idea of presenting a recipe, with all the ingredients ready and measured out, placed it in a plastic bag or foil container, with a premade label on it such that you could make it and pop it in your freezer for a rainy day. Brilliant! I came home with 4-5 semi-homemade, freezer ready meals with easy-to-follow directions and was so happy when I could pop one of those meals out of the freezer and cook it up like a boss.
I was pretty happy doing that off and on for a few months when I realized it wasn’t the cheapest meal around (diapers were expensive!) nor was it the healthiest with many premade sauces that seemed pretty high in sodium. The one thing that these pre-made dinners provided was a weekly dinner plan… frozen lemon chicken on Monday, pasta bake on Tuesday, leftovers on Wednesday, etc. Yes! Like a set of lesson plans and a daily schedule – just like how I ran my classroom! Being a new mom and now juggling a part-time teaching job, any chance to make life easier, more organized and a little less chaotic was exactly what I needed.
I printed off a basic blank calendar and wrote out my plans for dinner for the entire week using up those premade frozen meals. I continued the calendar long after I ended going to Dream Dinners to prepare our meals. And because you never know how your daily or weekly plans might change, I learned to always use a nice sharp number two pencil.
The meal planning idea became even more important when babies two and three arrived… While I stuck to a meal plan each week, I experimented with planning dinners for the next 2-3 days and as long as 2 weeks ahead of time. I cannot say that either of those was ever really great. Even today, it seems best for me to look at my weekly calendar on a Sunday, see what we had going on that week, then plan dinners accordingly. If my husband was traveling that week, was it really the best time to try that new recipe from Bon Appetit with three toddlers as my taste testers? Probably not! If we had a late afternoon pediatrician appointment where I could probably expect cranky babies wouldn’t it better just to plan for leftovers that night? And if planned out correctly, I might even have time to prep a dish during their morning nap and pop it in the oven after the doctor’s appointment. It was a weekly routine I enjoyed – and I have to believe it made us saner and healthier (not to mention saving a few pennies too!).
As crazy as it sounds, I have over ten years of these meal calendars in a file folder sitting right next to my favorite cookbooks. TEN YEARS! For quite some time, the calendar printed off the Internet was simple and worked perfectly fine. Then one day, I had a little fun using a clip art program and began printing off seasonal calendars that looked cute hanging on the refrigerator or sitting out on a cookbook stand in the kitchen. It wasn’t necessary by any means, but an October calendar with a picture of a big ‘ol pumpkin sure put me in the mood to put butternut squash soup and a fall salad with persimmons, goat cheese and candied pecans on the menu. Yum!
Anyone that has been to my house before is familiar with my posted schedules, chore charts, and calendars. Once a teacher, always a teacher! My meal-planning calendar is no different and is easy to spot in my kitchen. It gets a giggle or two every time someone asks, “Is that a calendar for food? Did you make all that? Do you do that for just dinner? How do you plan that far ahead? WHY do you do that? How many times a week do you go to the grocery store?” All good questions… I frequently giggle with them, show them how many times a month I “meal-planned” leftovers, pizza delivery or a reservation and we all instantly feel better. J
The truth is, I can look back on my many years of meal calendars and so much of our life is evident on those calendars. New babies, new houses, new jobs, birthdays, celebrations, houseguests, illnesses, vacations, etc. I love looking back on previous years to see how food at dinnertime shows what our life looked at that time. New baby in the house? You better believe there were plenty of easy to make meals, freezer ready meals, and thankfully plenty of delicious homemade dinners delivered to us by loving friends and family. New job or celebration? A tasty dinner and dessert to honor the special person that surely took longer than 30 minutes to prepare. Packing to move to a new home? Lots of outdoor grilling, paper plates and pizza delivery. Trying to lose those last 5 pounds before a Hawaiian vacation? Low carb meals! It’s all evident on our calendars and it’s my kind of scrapbooking.
Beyond the fun memories these past meal calendars provide, they are also a great resource of meal ideas when I’m planning out a new week. If I’m tired, have a busy week ahead or don’t feel like trying any new recipes, it’s fun to look at previous calendars for the current month and choose a few meals for the week, throw in a night or two of leftovers and a pizza delivery or date night and I’m done! That’s right, I try to plan for pizza delivery or leftovers so that we don’t have to scramble when everyone’s starving or coming in and out of the house from evening sports, school meetings, etc. Planning for these busy nights, even when it means delivery, has made dinner in our house that much easier.
This blog is lovingly created for my friends and family who over the years have asked for a copy of my meal calendar template, have been curious about what is in my dinner rotation, or just wanted a copy of the recipe from something I’ve made that they have enjoyed. I’m beyond flattered and humbled by the interest and I hope that together we can enjoy sharing those tried and trued recipes, meal planning tips, and all things related to Food, Family and Friends.
Attached is a calendar for the month of August. You can print it out and give it a go. It’s a new month so let’s get planning!