For the past 5 or 6 weeks, I've been part of a dinner group where we exchange meals at the beginning of each week. Less cooking, fewer dishes, more time, more food, DEFINITELY more dinners around the table as a family. I'm LOVING it. So I thought I'd share. Just in case you have a couple of friends who have busy mommy-lives like you and want to join forces.
There are three of us in it, so you have three meals for the week. This usually seems to be more than enough since there's always at least one night that's too crazy for a conventional dinner anyway, and we like to eat out or do something weekendy on the weekends. :) And there's certainly left-overs to squeeze in if you need them.
We started out by all purchasing the exact same Pyrex containers. Julie, who'd done this before, insists on a specific one that's sold at Kohl's? I'm sure it's sold somewhere else, but I made my first trip to Kohl's to get mine, and I do love them. They're the perfect size for our 4-adult portion size, and having matching containers in your fridge stacked atop each other makes you feel SO much more organized than a balancing act of mismatched Tupperware. I have both of course. But I love my clean tower of three. They have blue lids that say Pyrex, Storage Plus, 7212-PC. Just in case, by the end of my rant, you are convinced.
We exchange on Monday nights at 5pm. Alternating houses each month. We text each other the Saturday before with what we plan to cook. Making a point to mix it up between red meat, chicken or pork, and seafood. So no two things are too similar. Only one main-dish-salad, so we can plan to eat it the first night while it's fresh. etc... You choose what you'll cook, destroy your kitchen Monday while cooking a triple batch of whatever it is (which is NOT that much harder than making a single batch), and then sit back, relax and have dinner with a clean kitchen for the rest of the week.
Usually the bulk of the food fits in the Pyrex container and we add on a grocery bag of any sides or toppings in zip locks. A couple of weeks ago I did a Spinach Asian Chicken Salad, for instance. I had the Pyrex full of a zip lock of each: craisins, parmesan, shredded chicken, chopped green onions, chopped parsley, toasted sesame seeds, mandarin oranges, and peanuts. Separately, I had a bag of marinated pasta and a bag of spinach. Whatever night you choose to eat the salad you just open all of your baggies, empty in a big bowl and TOSS. What I've found that's so wonderful too, is that--- if I had made this salad just for my family, I would have thoughtlessly tossed it all and had to dump the left-overs. But this way I've bagged everything separately for myself too, so we've got the fixings for a fresh salad days later! :) Can you tell I'm loving it?
So, Lizzie has been doing this for over a year and tried to convince me to do it when she started and I thought it wasn't for me. I like to control what I eat. Theoretically :) I want to eat healthy, (so I can save room for a silly amount of treats and maintain my fertile figure... fertile meaning i-just-HAD-a-baby-can-you-tell?) I certainly want to eat fresh food, and it sounded to me like I'd be eating a bunch of left-overs or casseroles. blah. How many foods can fit in one dish?
But after noticing the kinds of foods she had left in her fridge from dinner group.... my interest was peaked. So when they had a "member" drop out at the beginning of the year and Lizzie mentioned it again, I thought I'd give it a try. And now I'm so sold.
I did try my best to make one-dish-meals for the first couple of weeks, trying to figure it out. I did the chicken noodle soup in the pictures above, this yummy cooking light enchilada recipe, some tortilla soup.... tonight I did turkey chili. But we've also done lots of things you wouldn't think would fit in a casserole dish. Just to give you an idea: (because if you're still reading, you might actually be in to this sort of thing and not just think I'm crazy for going on and on about it).
A Few things we've eaten so far:
tilapia and rice
thai shrimp salad
marinated flank steak
healthy breaded chicken (breaded in nuts and herbs... no bread, yum Liz)
Light chicken parmesan (breaded in whole wheat crumbs)
Pear and gorgonzola pizza with arugula
... and other yummy salads
AND MORE! Mooohahahaha
If it's shredded pork, or meat in a soup etc... it's cooked.
If it's marinated or breaded chicken breast or meat, or fish, it's raw and ready to stick in the oven with directions taped atop the Pyrex I've been paid to advertise for. (kidding.) But don't worry, you're not eating reheated chicken breast. barf.
We supplement fruits and veggies if it's a meal that didn't come with plenty, especially for the kids. But this is the other thing I'm LOVING. My kids are EATING WITH US! I have felt like a failure as a mom wondering when that day would come. I've heard plenty of moms say how they only offer their kids what they're eating as a family. And if they don't eat it, they don't eat. I applaud them if it works... but I haven't been able to do it myself. With MY kids, it felt like one of those wins that wouldn't really feel like a win. Hungry nights and cranky kids etc..
But I think half of my problem wasn't WHAT we were eating, but that I was never really ready to serve a real dinner when they were hungry. So I'd pull out the pesto pasta I made at the beginning of the week and reheat it for them--- chop up but another apple. Then Ross and I would eat OUR meal when he got home. I'd heard the stats, I knew it was important for a family to eat TOGETHER. I just hoped we'd get around to it before it really mattered.
SO--- we're certainly still a work in progress. But my point is, I'm just excited about this dinner group because it makes it that much easier for me to have dinner ready to go each night at a consistent time, so we can sit down together around a table and eat it. I think I was always in such a hurry throwing something together before, that I didn't want to waste my time seeing if my kids would eat it--- so I'd give them their kiddie food before.
Don't get me wrong, my kids don't live on corn dogs and chicken nuggets (though my babysitters might disagree). But they had their fair share. And I've been shocked at how well they've done on fish and brown rice, tacos, soups... etc... when it's an all-together experience. I'm thrilled. Call me old fashioned, but it just feels like the way dinner's supposed to be. One of those things that seems like maybe it shouldn't matter, but it makes me feel like I've had some success as a mom.
Sitting around the table tonight, all of us with a bowl of chili and salad in front of us, Sophia thanking Heavenly Father in her blessing for "this WONDERFUL dinner that mommy made for us"... (it's a new line I've heard only since we've been sitting together), still with daylight left afterwards for some wild trampoline play (half of the springs are gone and they love it more than ever because they can jump and slide off over and over again since there's only tension on half of it). Then I clean up the 6 or so dishes from dinner listening to the most dramatic girls in the world yell "this is aMAZING.... BEST TRAMPOLINE EVER!!!" over and over again--- and I'm just feeling so grateful.
So start a dinner group.