Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Paralegal's Guide to Easy Meal Planning & Preparation

Do you drag home from work and dread the thought of putting a meal on the table for your hungry family? Do you resort to take out and fast food instead?

Let's face it...you have to eat, your have to feed yourself and/or your family and you should be eating healthy meals. Right? There has to be an easy way to make this happen. That's why
I'm offering some simple steps for your meal planning and preparation that will have your meals ready in a jiffy (interesting term, jiffy!), clean-up a breeze, and more hours for you to relax in the evening. Here's how:

First, there are two time organization issues involved with meal preparation

  • Planning: When you walk in the door from a long day of entering billable hours you have to know what you'll be fixing for dinner. If you don't, you will definitely resort to fast food, take-out or cereal. To know what you'll be fixing, you must have a plan.

  • Breaking the work into manageable chunks: The task of fixing dinner seems overwhelming: too many steps and too much to do. If you look at cooking as one giant step, it's bound to seem overwhelming. If you break it down into smaller pieces, it becomes manageable.

Let's tackle planning:

Make a list of ten or so favorite, but simple, meals that your family loves. High on that list are probably pizza, tacos, spaghetti, sloppy joes etc. Then think about planning seven meals this way:

  1. Grill
  2. Pizza
  3. Breakfast (as in quiche, eggs, French toast, pancakes, bacon or sausage)
  4. Chicken
  5. Beef
  6. Pork
  7. Fish

OR you may approach the seven days like this:

  1. Grill
  2. Pizza
  3. Breakfast
  4. Italian
  5. Mexican
  6. Chinese
  7. French (and, no, I don't mean French Fries!)

Take a few minutes over the weekend to decide what you'll be having for the next seven days, using your favorite recipes to fit into that schedule. Every evening after dinner, pull the protein for the next meal out of the freezer and place it in the refrigerator. It'll be ready to cook when you get home from work.

When you arrive home the next evening, begin preparation of the protein dish. While that cooks, prepare your side dishes: a vegetable (either fresh, frozen or canned) or a salad and a starch (potatoes, rice or pasta. Voila! Dinner in thirty minutes to an hour, depending on your chosen recipe.

You may also get a head start on the next night's dinner by browning a pound of ground beef or sauteing extra chicken breasts.

Now let's think about breaking your recipes down into chunks so that they don't seem overwhelming. While some recipes may have a long list of ingredients that looks daunting at first glance, most recipes can be broken down into steps that are simple and take very little time. For instance, here is my recipe for a family favorite:

Brandicot Chicken:

Step 1: In a small saucepan, mix 2 teaspoons. cornstarch, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup apricot preserves, 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons white vinegar, 1/8 teaspoon instant minced garlic, 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger and a dash pepper; cook over medium heat until think and bubbling, 2 minutes; Remove from heat, stir in 1 tablespoon orange juice and 1 tablespoon brandy (or 2 tablespoons orange juice).

Step 2: Place skinless, boneless chicken breasts (enough for your family or more because this is a great leftover) in a shallow 9x13" glass baking dish. Pour sauce over top. Place in a 375 degree oven. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes; turn and bake an additional 20 minutes or until done.

Step 3: While chicken bakes, make rice. I usually use 2 cups rice to 4 cups water (always the 1 to 2 ratio, whatever your amount) with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook about 20 minutes until done.

Step 4: While rice is cooking, steam some fresh broccoli.

That's it...a balanced meal is ready with very little work. You could make the sauce the night before and use leftover rice for even simpler meal prep and clean-up.

Here are some additional tips for you:

  • Cook a ham or a roast, or make a big pot of soup, over the weekend so you'll have leftovers for one night.

Here's my very difficult recipe for a Sunday roast: Purchase a chuck roast (no need for a better cut of meat) and 1 package of McCormick Brown Gravy Mix; rinse the meat and pat dry with paper towel; place in a roasting pan and sprinkle gravy mix over; cover, place in oven and bake slowly for 4 hours - basically all afternoon. Temperature will depend on your oven but I set mine at 275 degrees. That's it and, yes, you read right...do not add any liquid.

  • Use only pans, utensils, mixing bowls and serving dishes that can go in the dishwasher. You may have to hand wash your knives but that should be it.
  • Use aluminum foil liberally so that you may not even have to clean a baking pan.
  • Some of my favorite sites for easy recipes are allrecipes.com, kitchenscoop.com and savingdinner.com.

With this simple approach to meal planning and preparation, you should be sailing through mealtime, with time to spare to go for a walk, read that favorite book or watch some television. Every paralegal needs time to relax!

I'd like to hear your ideas for simple, quick meal planning. Please leave a comment.

Vicki

1 comment:

Lynne DeVenny said...

Great post. We have pasta night, taco night and chicken night at least once a week. I don't want to talk about how many "drive-thru" nights we have, tho'...lol.

My lifesaver is my crock pot. With one inexpensive pot roast, a package of onion soup mix, and any 12-oz cola, I can turn it all on in the a.m. and come home to a wondrous smelling roast in the p.m.