Saturday, September 22, 2012

The ultimate (kitchen) goal of a busy mom is to eat healthy, delicious meals that are prepared on a sane schedule and don't require you to take out a bank loan to pay for groceries. This is, for many of us, a pipe dream. Food isn't cheap and gourmet cooking takes effort, not to mention well-trained taste buds. Not every child will cheer for Brussel sprouts. But it can be done.

Or, at least, that's my theory.

My goal for the month of October is to plan out a well-balanced, nutritious menu with old favorites, new foods, meals that can mostly be made ahead, and dinners that can become tomorrow's bento box lunch with very little effort. Really, what I want is Lazy Gourmet on a Rice And Beans Budget.

Impossible? You never know until you try.

The first step is creating a realistic menu. I have a hectic week. Sunday is church, Tuesday is afternoon gymnastics, Wednesday is speech, Friday is equestrian lessons. Baking something for an hour so we can eat dinner means we eat really late, or we're home at least an hour before dinner. I don't always have that luxury. So I need foods that are crock-pot and microwave friendly. Something I can cook in under 15 minutes of actual heating or reheating time.

The other thing I want out of my menu is a well-balanced diet. My family eats meat, but they don't like soups or fish. Pasta dishes are a hard sell around here. I have one kid that hates sauces in all forms and can't stand tomatoes. Things like lasagna and spaghetti get pushed around the plate and left uneaten. To handle my picky eaters I'm planning dinner in five categories: beef, chicken, pasta, vegetarian, and breakfast. Yes, pasta is a hard sell, but it needs to be on the plate if I ever want my kids to learn to love pasta!

Breakfast will be a choice of muffins, cereal with milk, or oatmeal. It's not a wide selection, but breakfast runs from 5am when I get up to 8am when the babies get up and I am not cooking a special meal for everyone. Baking muffins once a week is doable, eggs and sausage every morning cuts into my writing time.

Lunch will be sandwiches most days, but I want to send bento lunches at least twice a week. These are cute, fun, and a little bit healthier than PBJ with a juice box. They also take more planning, and that's why they won't be a daily event.

Now let's discuss the budget... $1.50 per meal per person, or $22.50/day for the family. For two weeks I want the grocery bill to come in around $300 + paper goods (diapers, dog food, ect). This isn't entirely impossible, but it means cutting out a lot of waste. Pre-cut skinless boneless chicken breast is several dollars more than the skin and bone variety.

I'm going to run off and make a menu, I'll report back here on how this experiment goes.

- Liana

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