Seven years ago, I was terrified by the thought of cooking dinner day in and day out. I was also fifteen pounds lighter, but that's another story and a very unfortunate one.
I barely had any recipes to work off of, save a recipe card binder my mother compiled for me and a slow cooker book Mary, a long time family friend, bought me for my bridal shower.
Then Kraft's "Food and Family" magazine started to show up in my mailbox. The recipes were simple, and to the cooking standards I have today, they were child's play. They did, however, keep my husband from having the same three meals recycled over and and over again throughout the month.
When a recipe in the magazine looked good enough to eat, I tore it out and stored it in a binder.
A binder. Emphasis on a.
Now I have five binders.
The Kraft recipes were only the beginning. Eventually recipes printed from the internet, pulled from other magazines, and copied from friends became a part of my binder until it reached the point that one binder simply wasn't enough. Desserts mixed with dinners, dinners mixed with appetizers--the disorganization was too much for me to bare.
From one, the binders became two: one for desserts and one for dinners. Until that became too unorganized and overstuffed. So came the need for five.
It may seem outrageous. It may seem over the top. But it makes my life so beautifully simple.
And despite the chaotic glow I always feel about me, I love simple.
Here is the run down on my binders:
White and Orange Binder: Recipes that have not been tried yet
Orange Binder: Tips and tricks of the kitchen
White binder: Appetizers and sides
Pink Binder: Dinners
Green Binder: Desserts
If you have a lot of recipes printed from offline or recipes you've saved from magazines, I highly recommend this method. Recipes are first added to the white and orange binder. After I make them for dinner, dessert, etc. one of three things will happen. They'll either go into the trashcan (down the drain), into the binder they belong to (keep in the strainer), or remain in the white and orange binder for a second try before I make a commitment.
Of course, it couldn't be as simple as categorized binders. No, within the binders there are categories too.
We can't have seafood recipes mixed with chicken, or cookies mixed with cakes, can we?
Part of me is really proud when I look at these pictures and another part of me realizes that I'm just a teensy bit psycho to have spent time of my life on this. It's all about efficiency though, I swear. Down the line having organized and categorized my binders in such a fashion will save more time than I ever spent on organization.
At least I hope.
The issue I was faced with when I went to five binders was where to store them among my bazillion other cookbooks. I'm up to four shelves of cookbooks now, but who is counting?
One of the most painstaking things about preparing dinner is deciding what to make. It is a responsibility of massive greatness. The attitude of everyone surrounding your dinner table will be effected by it. The will either love you or hate you.
I don't think husbands realize this. Most times when I would ask my hubby what he wanted for dinner he would say, "I don't know," or "I don't care", or--even better yet--"Surprise me."
Oh goodness. What 'Surprise me" does to my blood pressure.
There were nights when we were first married where the scrambling to decide on what to make for dinner took almost as much time as the preparation of the meal itself.
Thanks to a finance class I attended at my church, I learned how to overcome this battle.*
*I'm sure this is confusing, it will make sense, I promise.
For one of our classes, a mother of four children taught us how she plans out her food for the month and also how much money she allotted for food.
I tried to take from her financial advice, but I rarely can stick as close to what she said she did ($50 per person for the month!). I'm probably closer to double that.
What most peaked my interest was that she showed our class a printed out menu listing everything she was planning to make for dinner for the month. There were some dinners that played off of leftovers of other dinners and others that incorporated similar ingredients.
If you can allot one day towards the end of your month as your menu planning day, you will save yourself that agonizing stress of "What should we have tonight?" and "Oh no, I have no ingredients for this or that, looks like it's boxed mac and cheese again."
During your planning day, fill a month calendar with what you will cook each night and don't forget the sides!!* I plan easier meals or crock pot recipes for the nights I work late and more difficult meals for my weekends or free nights.
*This WILL take at least 30 minutes to an hour. Don't convince yourself that it is a painless task. It sounds simple, but month in and month out it does become difficult--but it is SO worth it if you can push through.
Be as descriptive as possible. Some recipe names you will know right away what to do or where to find the recipe, others you'll need to write the name of the recipe book and page number or you'll end up staring at it thinking, I know I knew where this recipe was, but now....
Don't forget to add in nights that you'll be eating out, going to a party, or having company.
After your menu is complete, don't get too relaxed. This next step I usually do as I am adding dinners to my menu so that I don't need to do it at the end. See what works for you. The final step is to make your shopping list. Don't try to do this from memory. Pull out the recipes and make sure you have everything you need. Trust me, you'll be smacking yourself in the head if you don't when you realize that heavy cream was an essential ingredient for tonight's dinner.
Then again, when isn't heavy cream an essential ingredient for dinner?
Then again, maybe not.
If you cook dinner every night, or if you're tired of not cooking dinner every night due to the torment of the question, "What should I make?, try making a menu. You don't have to be insane like me and have a different recipe for everyday of the month. One of my sister-in-laws told me she was haunted by my menu. She woke up in the middle of the night tortured by the fact that I had not one recipe repeating on it. Let me be clear, this is a personal problem and not something that anyone need feel compelled to do.
Have Tuesdays always been Taco Tuesdays? Good. Put it on the menu.
Are Friday nights Pizza Night? Put it on the menu.
Then fill in the holes with other recipes you want to try out.