For a long time now, I have tried in vain to crack the code for a reliable weekly meal-plan that puts dinner on the table without wasting my time and sanity. Working against me are 1. our collective love for cereal and peanut-butter-jelly sandwiches, 2. our inability to like anything permanently (except pizza).
Growing up, I remember many a times when my mom would ask us for ideas on what she should make for lunch and dinner. I now realize that this stemmed not because she wanted to make our favorites daily, but because when one is in-charge of meal planning Every Single Day, it can get boring very quickly. To me, her question seemed like such a nuisance at the time! Until of course when she did make something (with thought, love, and so much effort) and my first words as I scrunched up my nose were “I don’t want that!”.
Well, isn’t payback a b*tch.
As a general rule, I’ve learned that the likelihood of everyone eating what I cooked without complaining is inversely proportional to the amount of effort I put in it. So, something that takes time and a zillion ingredients is more likely to be ignored, compared to something I threw together in minutes if not seconds. And you know what!? Why am I even complaining about that.
So in one of those break-through moments, I’ve decided to chuck this whole traditional meal planning idea and instead rebrand it to include tricks and theatrics which I find my kids respond to best. For instance, instead of “French Toast Wednesdays”, I now call it Breakfast Wednesdays because they have found a way to complain in their favorite high pitch whine “french toast againnn….” on some nights too. “Leftover Sundays” has been rebranded to Picnic Sundays when we put down a picnic blanket on the floor and eat the same food I otherwise would have put on the table, but it works better on that blanket apparently. “Stir-Fry Tuesdays” has been rebranded to Chopsticks Tuesday (and is one of the most well received nights after Pizza and a Movie Friday of course).
I find that these loose descriptions give me just enough direction to make a meal instead of trying to eat the same thing every week. There is enough variation under each category that I can keep them guessing and excited. It also makes it easier to pick a carry-out place if it comes to that.
I have also gotten really good at making an “appetizer plate” which waits for the kids when they get home. It’s just a bunch of chopped veggies, but going back to the theatrics, if I were to put the exact same items on their individual plate, they complain and moan, BUT if it’s on one communal plate looking so colorful, I, in fact have to stop fights over who gets to eat all of it. On days when I didn’t put one together, they’ve surprised me by asking for it. (total chopping time is roughly 5-7 minutes done sometime during the day when Ajay naps or plays. The plate goes in the fridge until dinner time).
For Chopstick Tuesdays today, I am making tofu stir-fry and rice. I have NEVER succeeded in making a good stir-fry sauce and so instead of buying all the sauces and measuring, I now buy Trader Joe’s Asian Vegetables with Beijing Style Soy Sauce from their freezer section and a case of their sprouted tofu. For the tofu, I remember to wrap it in dish towels and weight it down for about half hour. Then drench the tofu cubes in a tablespoon and a half of cornstarch and a bit of salt before cooking it in a skillet with a tablespoon of oil. Leave it alone for a few minutes before moving it around again. This way it gets a nice crust and becomes very crunchy, just the way we like it. This crisping seems to work well for anyone who hates tofu (my husband). The tofu prep takes about 5 minutes, with another 7ish minutes to crisp it. I make the tofu first then use the same skillet to cook the stir-fry which takes another 10-15 minutes. I can do both of these steps one handedly in case Ajay decides to supervise the process.
Now for the star of the show – the chopsticks. We save them from our favorite carry-out place called Peace China in Seaboard Station. I use the chopstick wrapper and rubber bands to help make it easier for the kids to use them.
I am feeling so good as I type this, because honestly, deciding what to eat everyday brings me a lot of unnecessary anxiety. With this plan, I have never felt better. And now that I have thoroughly and absolutely jinxed myself, I am open to hearing what tricks you have up your sleeves to make dinner planning easy every day, because God knows I will need a new plan pretty soon.