New Year's Menu Resolution

Well, the holidays are finally over. Whew! After being busy, busy, busy for so long our bodies tell us it is time to hibernate in that relaxing position in front of the television.

But instead of watching reality TV, we need to pull ourselves out of the recliner and back into our own "real" world. Time to start the new year.

If you didn't have time to make New Year's resolutions, we have one for you...simplify. Ask these questions - What tasks can you make easier or more efficient? What can you delegate to others? Where can you just say no? Where can you take back control?

These questions need to be applied in all areas of our lives - family, work, home, chores, volunteer work, recreation, etc. But let's consider today one area that demands our time each day - food preparation. People have to eat and someone has to put the food on the table, and this chore generally happens every day. How can this process become more efficient?

Follow the PPPs

Planning a weekly menu

1. Pull out those cookbooks and recipe files that are tucked away in the cupboard. Thumb through old favorites and jot them down. Place stars by the easy-to-fix recipes and pass by the ones with lots of directions. You will be amazed that you haven't fixed some old family favorites for quite some time. Pick 2-3 main dishes for this week's menu. Plan to use leftovers for lunches if appropriate. To help get you organized use a recipe organizer or folder - it keeps all your scraps together! A 3-ring binder will keep your printed recipes nice.

2. Purchase a new general cookbook. If you're old Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook is 30 years old, maybe you'll find some fresh menu ideas and cooking tips in a newer version. We have many specific cookbooks for baking, cake decorating, candy and more!

3. Ask the family what they want on this week's menu - remind them that pizza is not a daily dietary need. Kids often will have great suggestions and then you can ask them to help prepare that particular dish.

4. Keep your local supermarket advertisement at hand. Some food item may be on special this week and you can incorporate it into your menu.

5. As you decide on the evening meals, look at your calendar or schedule. Try to ascertain who will be home to dine each night. It doesn't "pay off" to fix your son's favorite lasagna if he has a basketball game and won't be home for supper.

Purchasing your week's groceries

6. If possible, visit the supermarket only once a week. This will save you money! Stopping after work when you are hungry leads to a lot of impulse purchases, which adds to the expense line.

7. Compile your grocery list from your planned menu and clip appropriate coupons. Allow enough time for grocery shopping to find the best cut of meat, and to hand-pick fruits and vegetables. Stick to your list and avoid those "eye-catching" displays at the end of the aisles.

8. On the shopping trip, take along as few people as possible. It seems the more hands you have along, the more non-essentials reach the cart. For toddlers and babies, enlist the help of a neighbor for an hour, or one spouse shops while the other stays at home.

9. Purchase enough "staples" to last the week, such as milk, bread, eggs, etc. This will help limit those extra trips to the store, saving money and gas!

10. Buy large quantities of non-perishables if they are on sale. Remember just because you have a large supply, doesn't mean you eat larger quantities!

11. Just realizing you have supplies for sandwiches and snack items at home will help with the temptation to drive through and "pick-up" already prepared costly meals. (Include these in your week's menu for those busy nights.)

Preparing your groceries for quick meals

12. When you arrive home from the grocery store, don't throw all the food in the refrigerator, freezer or cupboard. Spend some time getting ready for your weekly meals. A little extra time now translates into luscious meals every night.

13. If you buy lettuce in heads or bunches, wash, rinse, and store in plastic bags or produce keeper for a quick grab out of the crisper bin. Hams, cold roasts or smoked meats can be sliced with a meat slicer and ready for sandwiches - same with bulk cheeses. Clean celery and other raw vegetables like broccoli and carrots and keep in bags or storage containers for easy access and less waste. Enlist the help of other family members for these chores.

14. For one-dish meals such as lasagna, meatloaf, or casseroles, make ahead and store in refrigerator or freezer. If stir-fry is on the menu, some vegetables can be chopped ahead of time and kept fresh in the refrigerator. Use a vegetable chopper or mandoline slicer for quick prep work.

15. Arrange your cupboards per meal. For example, if you are creating chili for Wednesday night, put the chili beans, diced tomatoes, tomato juice and seasonings together in one spot so you know you have everything you need and can grab quickly. Making sure each food has it's designated space saves time in preparation and knowing when it needs to be replenished.

16. I recently reorganized my spice cupboard with glass spice jars and new labels. Now I can see the spice and read the labels more clearly because every spice is in the same size jar. This is a lot handier than scrounging through the back of the spice cupboard.

16. If your family likes sweets, make cookies and desserts on the weekend and store in the freezer. (You may have to hide these so they will still be there when needed.)

Remember, these are only suggestions. Adapt and change these ideas to fit your family's needs and time schedule. With the PPPs in your life, much of the time you save will be decision-making time. You will come home in the evening knowing what is for dinner, which translates into less pondering on the question - What do we have at home to eat?? and less frantic searching for ingredients. In short, less stress.

This year under your New Year's Resolution to simplify your life add this small footnote -

Pssst..the PPPs can help.