When does your Tuesday night dinner time stress begin to creep in - 5pm? 9am? On Sunday? I’ve heard all of the above in my nearly 20 years as a professional chef focussed on helping busy families eat dinner at home. The problem with dinner is that it’s relentless, it just keeps coming up again and again and again. If you have kids to feed then I know you’re hearing them ask “What’s for dinner?” and possibly complaining about your response making the whole cycle even more irritating.
I’ve focused my career on helping folks remove some of the stress and set up good habits in their home kitchens. I’m also passionate about reducing food waste and envisioning a new normal where we prioritize eating what we already have in the cabinets and a more sustainable future of food at home. But, don’t panic! It has to be in that order - first de-stress, then lets build habits to be more sustainable as well. Even if you’re a seasoned foodie who loves weeknight dinners, I’ve got some ideas for you to take on in 2021!
Start off with a clean slate! Take a moment pull out the things hiding in your pantry that have been hanging around. Get real about using them up in the next few weeks. Write down a dinner idea for each item and put it on your calendar! If you dislike or won’t use an ingredient, call up a friend and do a pantry swap. If anything is left, search for a place near you to donate the items.
Watch this Two Minute Tip for more ways to make use of what you already have.
Let go of “Pinterest Worthy” unless it brings you joy. If you do not revel in trying new recipes weekly, then just don’t do it. No one else cares what you eat, you aren’t being judged. Cook things that you enjoy or feel comfortable making. If you want to improve your cooking skills or try new things, take a virtual cooking class and add new techniques to your repertoire slowly. Be sure to plan new meals for nights when you have time and patience.
Organize your fridge with an Eat First shelf and learn a few “use it up meals.” Download StopWaste.org’s Eat First Sign. Talk through the new plan with family members old enough to serve their own food and motivate everyone to participate (perhaps with a favorite meal later in the week, TV time, or a night off from setting the table, etc). Some of my favorite “use it up meals” are sheet pan dinners, frittatas, soups, and homemade pizza. They’re endlessly flexible and comforting dinners to make from your “eat first” shelf.-Fridgettata
Ends + Stems recipes to use up your leftovers:
-Winter Minestrone Quinoa Soup
-Salad Pizza with Baked Eggs and Arugula
Set New Expectations of Family Members. I feel comfortable betting that if you are reading this article, you feel responsible for at least 75% of the work surrounding dinner time. Let’s get you some back up! Kids as young as 3 can help meal plan and talk about which fruit they’d like to have this week. Older kids can chop veggies, set the table, put the leftovers away. Pre-teens can organize a left overs night and make a fun buffet for everyone to choose from. If you can legally drive a car, you can make dinner once per week alone. Don’t even get me started on adult partners who do not help. They better be doing all of the laundry and toilet scrubbing in exchange.
Make a meal plan and a running grocery list. A meal plan can be very involved or it can simply be a list of 3-5 ideas for the week. Sometimes I use a piece of notepaper on the fridge, and other times I’ll use a worksheet. (Download and print StopFoodWaste’s worksheet)
Some people include nights of take out, breakfasts, even through to snacks of packed lunches. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, jotting down at least a few night’s of meals and snacks will help you prepare to shop and if you do this gradually throughout the week, you’ll never have to sit down and think of all of the ideas at once. That said, if dedicating 60 minutes once a week to a planning session works better for you, try it that way! Always shop with a grocery list that includes what you need to make a few night’s of planned dinners and cross reference that with your pantry before you leave the house; not in the parking lot. You will save time, money, and reduce waste if you shop with a list.
Underestimate and scale up. Do yourself a favor and underestimate what you can do. Keep it overly simple for a few weeks or planning, list making, shopping, and cooking through the plan. I can not tell you how many people have told me they start out excited and make purchases for 7 dinners at once and end up cooking literally none of them. Take baby steps and add on more when you’re feeling good and ready. You have plenty of time, dinner will be planned, cooked, and served for the rest of your life!
Visit Ends + Stems for more meal planning tools, recipes, and inspiration to reduce wasted food in your kitchen.