I'm trying to keep my business, my triplets, and my waistline under control. I excel at one of those, fail at another one of those, and one is a work in progress. Which is which is day dependant.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Feed a Crowd (Dinner)

Once people get over the fact that my kids do not have Cordon Bleu lunches, they often ask if we eat the most amazing, chef-inspired dinners. In a word: NO. I just don't have the time to be whipping up cauliflower foams and rhubarb brulee and a chiffonade of salad greens (don't you love the chef terms? That's to make me seem all superior.) Our meals need to be healthy, easy, and above all QUICK. Quick to make, quick to eat, and for DH's sake, quick to clean up. Part of our earlier aforementioned deal (which is not a deal so much as a rod for my back - slash - genius on my part since I never have to do dishes) is that he does all the clean up.

The evening meal is one which we all eat together, at the same time, sitting at the table. With proper plates and everything. It's how I grew up, how DH grew up, and we both feel it's an integral part of our life and family. We spend our dinners sharing our day, telling ridiculous jokes, talking about stuff and occasionally reverting to our child selves and holding burping contests (damn, I just ruined our whole Waltons image.)

The actual making of dinner is a pain in the ass, so to avoid meltdown tantrums (on my part), we once again we impart a "trip trick" and we use a formula:

Protein item + carb item x 1 + vegetable item x 1 (minimum) = Dinner and happy families

DH (and kids) are sworn carnivores, so the protein item is really what defines the rest of the meal. Sometimes it's ridiculously easy, like a steak or lamb chops or a roast or something which is the cooking method ofapply heat and ignore. Other times it requires more effort, like meatloaf or a stir fry, or roasted chicken, or something with more than just salt and pepper. Other times it's a one pot meal, or something I've marinated the night before. Either way it's the protein part of it which then defines the rest of the side dishes.

The sides - aforementioned carbs and veg - are again, ridiculously simple and easy. The carbs might be rice (cooked in stock for some flavour), couscous, polenta, quinoa, mashed potatoes, pasta and so on and so forth. The veggies might be cooked - roasted potato, frozen mint peas, boiled ears of corn, cooked mushrooms but they just might also be raw - salad, fresh sliced tomato or deconstructed salad (sliced, cut raw veg.)

Central to this whole easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy dinner making is the planning. We have a sheet on the fridge which has each day of the week listed, for a total of 3 weeks. So the paper is divided into 3 columns, with 7 rows. Sundays are always "catch as catch can" nights - so leftovers, maybe a take away, maybe dinner out, maybe the kids favourite of breakfast-as-dinner meal. Saturday nights are a Casa Verde tradition of Pizza & Beer night (more on this in another post...yes, we make our own pizza.) Friday nights are special so they are usually written in if we're staying here or going to family.

The rest of the nights of the week - so 12 nights for every 3 week period - are written in on our chart. If I know I've got meat in the fridge/freezer, I'll write all those in first and then fill in the side dishes. If I don't have ANY protein around, I'll pencil in a vegetarian night or two, and then head off the to butcher and see what's on special, what's in season, what looks nice. In the planning stage (which takes all of, ooohh...10 minutes) I'll also pull out a couple of the "I always wanted to try this" recipes which I have lying around. I try to put in one new recipe a week - keeps us from getting bored and if the recipe works, we add it into our 'regular favourites' to be dragged out again at a later date.

So once I've used whatever protein I've got, pencilled in whatever new recipes I want to try, and added side dishes to those - I'll ask DH or the kids to nominate stuff. More often then not they have suggestions, or requests (tacos is always in demand....). Several times the kids have looked through magazines (I can highly recommend Super Food Ideas for quick, cheap meal ideas) and picked stuff out which they think they will like.

Once I go to order our fruit and veg (we do this online), I know pretty much what I need for each weeek. Again, if something is on special or in season, I'll order it and add it to the list as a side dish. The meal plan list isn't set in stone - sometimes things get moved around, or crossed off, or ignored altogether. However having a plan - of whatever kind - means I'm not standing in my kitchen at 530 every night trying to answer the most annoying cry of, "What's for dinner?"

The benefits of planning are multiple - the kids are involved, we have very little food which we throw out (because it got forgotten at the back of the fridge), we take advantage of seasonal/economical products, and we get to try new things. We almost never have the same thing - other than Saturday nights- it can take 6 or more weeks for a meal to pop up again. Above all, I can forgo my nightly Prozac because I am not stressing out about feeding 3 hungry kids and 1 hungry DH in a manner of minutes. . Sure, there are times when I'd like to be making a slow roasted something-or-other, or really making more multi-layered dishes, or just exercising my chef chops a bit harder. I save those for weekends ... when I've got some free time on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, I'm quite happy to hand make bread, slow roast lamb shanks, and so on and so forth. Mid-week, once I've picked the trio up from school I cease being a chef and I put my Mum hat on - a hat which I'm far happier to wear, and one which does not totally bugger up my hair.

Without further ado, here are some meals which are from the last few weeks:

Lamb chops / Israeli Salad / Cous Cous

Devilled sausages / Mashed potato / Sliced Tomatoes

Chicken streusel / Basmati Rice / Salad

Roast leg of lamb / Roast pumpkin / Mint peas

Crumbed fish / Oven baked chips / Salad

Chicken meatballs / Risoni pasta / Garlic bread

Homemade sausage rolls / Roasted sweet potato / Honey and orange carrots

Grilled marinated chicken / Quinoa / Grilled asparagus and zucchini

Asian meat loaf / Mashed potatoes / Green beans

French Onion Soup / Bread for dipping / Purple cabbage salad

Burritos: Beef, tortillas, lettuce, tomato, avocado, cheese, Spanish rice

So there you have it - all simple, relatively healthy, mostly cost effective family meals. We're not eating in a 5 star restaurant - but we're enjoying our time together as a family, eating things which are good for us and delicious too, and all is right with the world.

Want to know more? Ask in the comments below.


Laura said...

Seems simple enough, but then why haven't I thought of it myself? :)
Do you feel like sharing so recipes? Devilled sausages, Crumbed fish, Homemade sausage rolls, and Asian meat loaf to start. Plus those veggie dishes sound much more delish (and still healthy) than the steamed broccoli my kids get (but thankfully love).

emzeegee & the hungry three said...


It's a deal - I'll post the recipes above shortly. You need to bear in mind that they may not all be exact quantities though!

..and you're one up on me as my kids don't really like broccoli! If I make it steamed or otherwise they *may* eat the heads off but that's it!