7-Day Menu: Quick 'n Yummy Family Dinners
Autumn is mainly a back to school time for me, even though I’m not in a classroom, learning or teaching. When my three kids were young it seemed that, like many moms now, I was in and out of school nearly daily, busy with PTA projects, sports boosters, or helping room mothers. I loved it!
Autumn also means hectic days with different schedules for different kids. We are so busy nowadays, and also, it seems more kids are determined “to do it all,” and kids doing all is mighty hard on the parents, especially working mothers. Fatigue after a hard day can leave even the most creative, brainiest of cooks left with that question, “What can I fix for dinner?”
Since fall is also a harvest time, some kitchens are running the canning and freezing marathon now. While putting food by for winter, it’s easy to raid the bounty for a few meals for the immediate future.
It’s easy to make partial meals for convenience when there is little time to cook. This means family-sized packets of vegetables in various forms, tomato sauces with herbs or spices that will sauce pasta or be the basis of chili, packets of soup starters to freeze, ready to thaw-heat-and eat soups, and even some casseroles to freeze. (Before baking, sprinkle with crumbs and dot with butter.)
A family might even get the kids involved, and make “prep packages” on a weekend night with everyone working in assembly line fashion. It’s fun and also a reason to get the family together.
Years ago, we tried to bring everyone together once a week for “family meetings” to discuss individual concerns. (Our kids dreaded family meetings because they thought we parents always bullied them. Probably true... until the kids took high school debate.)
At one of these meetings, we decided that we would make a loose plan for a week’s dinners, nothing set in cement or spaghetti sauce, of course, but a plan with a general entrée category for each day in the week. This time, the kids’ input was important, and their input made the plan successful.
The results went something like this:
Monday: Pasta Night
A pasta, a vegetable, a tossed salad, and bread (usually hard rolls). Pasta with red sauce, or Alfredo, or white clam or perhaps a creamy seafood sauce.
Tuesday: Kids’ Choice
But they had to declare their choice on Sunday, giving the cook shopping time. This was often hot potato salad because each child could pick out his favorite part, the sweet-sour potatoes, bell peppers, onions, or sausage, etc.
Wednesday: Ethnic cuisine
Usually easy Mexican, but sometimes Eastern European (goulash), British (fish and chips), Italian (meatballs in red sauce), Russian (stroganoff), etc. A slaw, fruit or salad completed the meal.
Thursday: One Pot/One Item Dinners
Stew, chicken or beef pies, pasties, clam and corn chowder, or corned beef. (Why do some folks only have corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day? Tip: For the few extra cents, choose flat cut over point cut. Flat cut means savings in the end in use and ease for leftovers.)
Friday: Health food and Diet Night
This usually turned out to be balanced, but low-calorie meals for us, the dieting parents, and large portions of healthy food for our in-shape, athletic kids (along with some basic education about the foods on the tables, hopefully with a joke or two.) Groaners: Why did the tomato turn red? It saw the salad dressing. What is green and goes to summer camp? A Brussels Scout. How do you fix a cracked pumpkin? With a pumpkin patch?
Saturday: Surprise Day
Anything goes! Even eating together, but with modern Saturdays, it usually means fast food or filled-at-home sack lunches or picnic hampers, food to be eaten after hockey or soccer practice or on the way to friends. The best surprise: the family cooking together when the day’s events are over.
Sunday: What's cookin'
Usually do-it-yourself breakfast with foods laid out
A mid-day Sunday dinner, a pot roast, stuffed pork chops, or steak on the grill, but a meal with a starch, vegetables (maybe two), relishes, and dessert (might be just cookies). Snacks or sandwiches in the evening.
As I cooked those busy back to school days and through the long school year, our family routine gradually altered the original plan. Plans for certain nights faded.
Monday wasn’t always pasta because we often had leftovers from Sunday, a day I like to cook. But Easy Night Friday stuck: Diet and health food sets the tone, a great way to start a fall weekend.
Still, I have our old entree-for-the-day plan perking along in the back of my mind. I’m lucky; I never have to ask, “What can I fix for dinner?”