Ann Waterman

by Ann Waterman

Wedding
My husband and I celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary this week. Ten years isn’t a long time in the grand scheme of things, but in a world where so many things are fleeting and temporary, I think it’s something worth celebrating. And celebrate we will — with a visit to the church where we were married, followed by dinner, where we’ll toast to 10 wonderful years together and hopefully many more.

I’ve learned a lot in the past decade — not only about marriage, but about myself. Here’s some of the wisdom I’ve gleaned along the way:

An argument isn’t the end of the world — or your marriage.

As a child of divorce, marital arguments (even small ones!) terrified me. My instinct was to view every argument as the beginning of the end — not necessarily of our marriage, but of our happiness. My husband’s perspective was completely different: He saw arguments as mere low points in an ongoing continuum of peaks and valleys that mark normal married life. It’s what he saw in his own parents’ marriage. Over the years, as we’ve passed through various highs and lows, I’ve learned that healthy relationships can survive and thrive in spite of the occasional disagreement or argument.

Extend an olive branch…and If you’re offered one, accept it.

It may come in the form a joke or a change in tone, but if we’re frustrated with each other or arguing, I’ve learned to recognize my husband’s signals that he’s looking for a truce and is attempting to make peace. I may still be raging, but I’ve found that accepting his olive branch is the first step in moving out of our disagreement. We’re both able to reset, gain control, and be productive in resolving our differences.

Focus on improving yourself, not your spouse.

It’s easy to see only your spouse’s shortcomings while overlooking your own. I’ve learned that honestly assessing my own weaknesses and working to improve myself is much more productive. And if I find myself griping because he forgot to empty the kitchen garbage or left the toilet seat up, I remind myself of all the wonderful things he does do (which are many).

Don’t become too dependent.

One of the wonderful things about being married is dividing labor according to your individual strengths and weaknesses: I handle detail-oriented tasks like bills and scheduling, while my husband manages facilities — computer maintenance, lawn care, and home repair. The downside is that you can all too quickly become incompetent in those areas in which you’re weak: As the luddite in our marriage, I found myself relying more and more on his computer know-how to the point where I would call him the moment my computer started acting up. One day, he asked me what I would do if here weren’t around to help, and I didn’t like what I envisioned — a woman who couldn’t do anything for herself. I still ask him to help me out with technology glitches, but not until after I’ve taken a few stabs at it myself. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that, often, I can solve my own problems.

Physician, heal thyself: Take time for self-care.

One of the things I love about my husband is that, when he notices I’m stressed or tired, he encourages me to do whatever I need to remedy the situation (or at least mitigate it). Now, instead of persisting in a state of stress, I’m much more likely to look for solutions, whether it’s something as simple as stepping out for a walk to clear my head or asking for more involved help — and we’re all happier for it.

Marriage can be an incredible catalyst for personal growth. What important lessons have you learned in your own marriage?

P.S. — You might also enjoy reading about my wedding splurge and what I did with my wedding dress.

Image: Thomas Zeeb

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by Ann Waterman

Watermelon-granita-close-up

No matter how much care you take trying to find the perfect watermelon — knocking it, feeling its heft, checking for field spots — sometimes you end up with a lemon: It’s flavorless or pulpy, and then you’re just stuck with a lot of fruit. It used to get me down, but since I’ve discovered granita — a semi-frozen dessert that’s refreshing, cool, and perfect for summer — I’m almost excited when I land a less-than-perfect watermelon, since it gives me an excuse to make this delightful dessert.

Watermelon-granita-ingredients

This recipe for granita (adapted from Epicurious) couldn’t be simpler. While some versions call for straining out any pulp, this is a quick and dirty version that can be made in minutes (not including freeze time). Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 4 cups seedless watermelon, cut into chunks
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp lime juice
  • 2 Tbsp finely chopped mint

Place all ingredients in a blender (an immersion blender would probably work in a pinch) and puree until smooth. Pour the mixture into 9×13 baking pan and cover with plastic wrap (or a lid, if you have a pan like this). Place pan in freezer, keeping it as level as possible. After an hour, stir the mixture, breaking up the frozen chunks. Place pan back in the freezer.

Watermelon-granita-blender

The granita will be ready to eat in two more hours, but you can keep it in the freezer for up to 3 days — perfect if you’re having guests and looking to get some of the prep out of the way. To serve, scrape granita with a fork or metal spoon to create ice flakes. Garnish with a spring of mint, if you want to get fancy. It’s endlessly adaptable, so feel free to play with the amounts of sugar and lime if it’s too sweet for your liking.

Watermelon-granita-glass

Still have more watermelon to use up? Check out my friend’s recipe for watermelon margaritas, which are sure to become a summertime favorite.

Images: Ann Waterman

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by Ann Waterman

Clock
Like most moms, I’m always looking for more hours in the day, so when I heard about Laura Vanderkam’s book 168 Hours over at Modern Mrs. Darcy, I had to check it out. The title refers to the amount of time in one week: The premise is that you have plenty of hours in the week to do the things you want…if you use them wisely. While I still feel plenty busy, it helped me think differently about how I use my time, and consequently, I’ve made a few adjustments (like parking my smartphone downstairs at night, rather than by my bed) that make me feel a little better about how I spend the hours I do have. Here are my main takeaways from the book:

Core Competencies

The first thing Vanderkam recommends is to identify your core competencies — activities you find meaningful and have some aptitude for but that still challenge you in a constructive way (rather than frustrate you!). I came to this realization on my own some time ago, as I got older and busier, but it was nice to be validated. Now I’m content to admire a friend’s talent for sewing without feeling like it’s something I necessarily need to try myself; there are only so many hours in the day (and week!), and I’m OK spending them on just a few activities I enjoy and have a bit of a knack for. For me, those things include writing, cooking, photography, and working out.

Vanderkam also says that, ideally, one of your core competencies should be your job (which, for me, is managing my home and caring for my family), and another should be some kind of exercise (since it’s so beneficial to your health and, ultimately, your productivity). It could be anything from Crossfit to simply walking around your neighborhood, but it should be something you enjoy so you’ll make it a priority.

Controlling Your Calendar

This is a tough one, especially for moms with little ones where every day is unpredictable. Still, there are times of the day I can usually count on to be free and clear — like before the kids wake up in the morning, nap time, and in the evening after the kids go to bed. The trick, Vanderkam explains, is to fill that time with your core competencies first, rather than non-essential work or time-wasters like web-surfing or aimless TV watching. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve told myself I’ll quickly check my email before I start work on a project, only to find myself still in my inbox half an hour later — time that could have been spent working on the project I set out to do.

Vanderkam also recommends tracking your time over the course of the week to see where there is waste or where you may be spending too much time on one activity that could be cut back or outsourced. Which brings me to my third takeway…

Outsourcing

I used to iron my husband’s dress shirts. I dreaded the task because it’s so tedious, and the only time I could do it (because unsteady babies and hot irons do not mix) was after the kids went to bed, when I was exhausted. One day, when my husband was down to his last shirt because I kept putting off this horrid chore, he begged suggested that I cut myself some slack and take his shirts to the cleaner’s. The domestic goddess in me bristled at the suggestion, but after thinking about it, I agreed and have never looked back.

If you’re finding yourself pressed for time, it may be worth taking a look at your weekly activities to see if you can get something off your plate by outsourcing. The cost may be worth it if it frees up a significant amount of time for the things that are really important to you.

I highly recommend the book and would love to hear how you make time for the things you love. Any tips to share?

Image: Shannybeebo via Etsy

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by Ann Waterman

Wine
Your freezer is your friend: It stores ice cream for late-night binges, ice cubes for drinks, and maybe even a meal when you’re pressed for time and can’t cook. But are you using your freezer its full potential? It can also serve as a second pantry, providing a storage solution for perishable staples that are always good to have on hand. Here are some of my favorite things to keep on standby in my freezer:

Wine

While I’m often tempted to polish off that bottle of wine after dinner, I know the leftovers could be put to better use in a recipe at a later time — so I freeze it. Because of the alcohol content, the wine won’t freeze completely, but it’ll be ready to go when a recipe calls for it, all while saving you from opening a new bottle just for cooking. You can store leftovers in a Ziploc bag — or better yet, put unused breastmilk storage bags to good use: The bag size is perfect for small quantities of liquid.

bagels
Bagels and Bread

My favorite bagels come from a bakery in Montreal called St. Viateur Bagel. What makes their bagels unique is that they’re made with malt and boiled in a honey-water mixture before being baked to golden-brown perfection in wood-fired ovens. In fact, their bagels are so famous, they offer air shipment all over Canada and the U.S. The only catch is that the minimum order for this service is four dozen bagels. So what did I do when I placed an order for my brother’s birthday? Gave him half and froze the rest for me! I slice mine and store them in the freezer; then, when I have a hankering for one, I simply pull it out of the freezer to let it thaw, or pull the two halves apart and drop them straight in the toaster (the best way to eat them, in my opinion).

Bread also freezes well, and I always have a loaf of two on standby in the freezer so we never run out of PB&Js, a staple in our house. I’ll also throw the remains of a fresh loaf in the freezer if I don’t think we’ll be able to finish it before the mold gets to it, though this is becoming less of a problem as our family grows.

tomato_paste
Tomato Paste

I’m almost ashamed to admit this, but if a recipe called for tomato paste, I used to use the 1 or 2 tablespoons I needed…and trash the rest. It’s not an ingredient I use often (or in great quantity), and by the time I needed it again, it would be well past its prime. Then it dawned on me: Why not freeze it? Portion the remaining contents of the can (I find 1 tablespoon servings most useful) in a silicon ice cube tray and put it in the freezer. Once frozen, pop out the tomato paste cubes and store them in a Ziploc bag. Now I have fresh tomato paste whenever I need it, in portions that are ready to go when I am.

ginger
Ginger

Fresh ginger is delightful in recipes, but I rarely use more than a knob at a time. Thankfully, it freezes well. Wash and peel your ginger, cut it into portion-sized knobs, and toss in a freezer bag. When a recipe calls for fresh ginger, pull it out of the freezer, let it thaw for about 5 minutes, and then grate or chop as needed.

Pancake
Pancakes and Waffles

While these aren’t as good as hot-off-the-griddle, frozen waffles or pancakes that are thawed in the microwave, warmed in the oven, or heated in the toaster are still considered a luxurious breakfast by the wee folk in my house. We always make a double batch and throw the leftovers in the freezer for a quick and easy weekday breakfast for the kids. My dad’s pancake recipe — which makes pancakes that are more crêpe-like than the traditional, fluffy pancakes — freeze particularly well.

What do you keep in your freezer? Anything that might surprise us?

P.S. — Looking for more ingenious kitchen tips? How about easy summer chicken, a better salt shaker, a storage solution for baking soda, and finding more space in the kitchen.

Images: Ann Waterman

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by Ann Waterman

Popcorn
Family movie night is a favorite event in my house, and an easy way to make it extra special is to watch with popcorn: It’s cheap, it’s good for you, and everyone loves it! And with Joseph’s fabulous movie recommendations, we have even more reason to enjoy movie night more often.

Since I don’t have room in my tiny kitchen for a hot-air popper, and the bagged stuff always leaves me disappointed (not to mention shell-shocked at the price and the ingredient list), I started making my own popcorn on the stove. It’s so easy and so much better tasting, I often wonder why it was ever outsourced to industrial food manufacturers. The best part about homemade popcorn is that it’s totally customizable (but more on that later). Try it, and I promise you’ll never go back!

How-to-make-popcorn
If you want to try your own homemade popcorn, here’s what you’ll need to make four servings (adapted from Simply Recipes):

  • Large, heavy-bottomed pot with lid
  • 1/2 cup of popping corn kernels
  • 3 Tbsp high-heat oil (I like safflower, avocado, or refined coconut oil)
  • Salt and whatever other fixings you’d like for your popcorn

Add 3 tablespoons of oil to your pot and drop in three kernels of corn, then cover the pot with a lid and place on the stove over medium heat. Now, wait.

When you hear all three kernels pop, add the rest of the popcorn kernels, cover with the lid, and pull the the pot off the stove for 30 seconds to allow the kernels to reach the temperature of the oil. This helps the kernels pop at the same time.

Popcorn-Popped
Return the pot to the stove (with the lid still on) and gently shake the pot back and forth so the kernels don’t burn. (I highly recommend donning oven mitts for this part.) You should start to hear kernels popping; when the popping slows to several seconds between pops, pull the pot off the burner and let it sit for a few seconds to catch any stragglers.

Dump the popcorn into a large bowl. If you like your popcorn buttered, put a couple of tablespoons (or more — I won’t judge) in the pot you just used to pop the corn: It’ll melt from the residual heat, and you can save yourself from dirtying another dish. Pour the butter back on your popcorn, season with salt, and toss to distribute the yummy goodness.

Popcorn-Butter-Salt
While I love classic buttered popcorn, sometimes I like to shake things up a bit and try new seasonings. My current obsession is popcorn seasoned with salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese grated with my Microplane. Be sure not to skip the pepper; it really makes the dish. (Zoe also mentioned a delicious-sounding seasoning in this post.) My other favorite combination involves some gourmet popcorn I received as a gift: I sprinkle it with maple sugar and grey sea salt and toss with a couple tablespoons of a neutral oil to make it stick to the popped corn. It’s delightfully sweet and salty.

My final tip is to try different kinds of popping corn. I was surprised to discover that there’s a huge range of varieties out there, each with its own subtle differences in taste. (My personal favorite is Ruby Red.)

How do you like to eat your popcorn? Any special or unusual seasoning favorites?

Images: Ann Waterman

PS — In case you missed them, check out these past installments in “The Basics” series:

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by Ann Waterman

asparagus
Spring is finally here, and that means asparagus is front and center in grocery store produce aisles, farmers’ markets…and on my plate! With such a short peak season, I indulge as much as possible, and recently I discovered two helpful tricks to make the most of this delicious spring vegetable.

Conventional kitchen wisdom says to snap asparagus at the base, and it will naturally break at the point where the tender part of the stalk begins. More often than not, though, I end up losing half the stalk this way — which nearly brings this asparagus-lover to tears at the thought of all that waste. Last year, though, I learned a tip that saves most of the stalk for eating and makes for a pretty presentation.

The secret? Instead of snapping the ends, I cut off about a quarter to a half an inch from the bottom — just enough to get rid of the dry ends — and with a peeler, I remove the tough skin at the base of the asparagus (about 1 to 2 inches will do). It makes for much more even cooking and hardly any waste. It does take a little more time than just snapping off the ends, but it’s totally worth it in my book.

asparagus_peeled
My other secret? Blanching. Blanching is a way of cooking vegetables by briefly immersing them in boiling water until they are barely tender, then plunging them in an ice-water bath to stop any cooking from residual heat, preserving the texture and brilliant color. It works for a number of vegetables, like beans and broccoli, and I especially like it for asparagus.

asparagus_blanching
What’s so special about this technique? You can blanch vegetables up to two days in advance and store them in the fridge until you need them. They maintain their color and crispness and are ready to go when dinner is just around the corner. This can be a real life saver if you’re preparing a large meal and want to get things done a few days in advance — or for any day when you’re trying to make life easier by getting some cooking out of the way ahead of time. I like to pull my asparagus out of the fridge about an hour before I plan to use it to bring it to room temperature. Then I’ll warm some butter in a pan and give my asparagus a turn in it, or I may serve it with this quick and easy blender hollandaise by Julia Child.

asparagus_hollandaise
It’s also great chopped up and served in a frittata, where pre-cooked vegetables are a must because of the short cooking time. The possibilities are endless.

Frittata
If you want to give blanching a try, here’s what you do:

    • Wash and trim your asparagus (or whatever vegetable you’d like to blanch).
    • Fill a large bowl with water and ice and set it close to where you’ll be cooking.
    • Bring a large pot of water to boil, making sure to salt it well (the water should taste like the ocean).
    • When the water is at a good boil, add asparagus and let cook for 2-3 minutes until the stalks are just barely tender-crisp (you may need more or less time if you’re cooking different vegetables; some are firmer than others).
    • Immediately remove the asparagus from the boiling water using tongs or a slotted spoon, then transfer to the bowl of ice water, making sure the stalks are completely submerged.
    • After about 5 minutes, drain the asparagus and pat dry with a dishcloth or paper towels. Store in an airtight container or Ziploc bag in the fridge until needed, up to two days. I also like to wrap mine in some paper towels before storing them to soak up any additional moisture. Pull them out when you need them!

What’s your favorite way to prepare asparagus? Any tips of your own to share?

P.S. — For a complete meal, try serving your asparagus with easy roast chicken and sweet corn pudding.

Images: Ann Waterman

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by Ann Waterman

Writing Anniversary
Hard to believe that SlowMama is already three years old… That means that I’ve been writing for three years (see my fledgling post here), and Zoe’s post yesterday got me thinking about how I got my start. It really all began in high school, when a teacher told me I had a knack for writing and should pursue it. I was never any good at things involving my hands, like knitting or playing an instrument, so it was exciting to find something creative that I could be good at — in my case, stringing words together to create beautiful prose.

The plan was to get a degree in English literature and then write novels, but life happened — and the realization that I prefer writing non-fiction — and while I did a few freelance gigs here and there, nothing really came of it (aside from some well-received school papers and a little extra pocket change). Part of the problem was that I didn’t know what to write about: They say you should write about what you know, but at 21, I didn’t feel qualified to expound on anything. I shelved my writing aspirations, thinking I would come back to it eventually — though how that was going to happen, I wasn’t sure.

It was three years ago when Zoe told me about a new lifestyle blog she was launching and asked me to be a regular contributor. My initial reaction was excitement…and then fear. It’s one thing to have opinions and ideas in your head, but it’s quite another to put them down on paper in a coherent manner for everyone to read. I also worried about meeting Zoe’s expectations (and my own!) and whether I could be creative on a regular schedule and not just when inspiration struck.

But now I had a life experience and something to write about: my family. In fact, I loved nothing more than talking with other moms and swapping parenting advice, mulling over the challenges of raising kids in this busy (and sometimes scary) world, and talking about ways to make our lives better. I knew I’d always regret turning down this opportunity, so I pushed aside my fears and self-doubt and said “yes” to this new endeavor.

After writing here for three years now, I don’t once regret pursuing my dream. I’ve learned so much, not just about writing, but about myself in the process. I’ve learned that writing is hard. Really hard. It requires daily attention and introspection (something that’s hard for an extrovert like me). It also makes you vulnerable, opening yourself to the possibility that people — including people you know, like close friends, family, old classmates, your husband’s co-workers — may very well not care what you think, or find what you write is trivial, inconsequential, or (in my case in particular) just plain gross.

Writing also shed light on my perfectionism. I was on the verge of quitting several times because I spent so much energy agonizing over every little detail of my posts, which made writing feel like a burden rather than a joy. Zoe — always a counselor at heart — helped me to realize that my “good enough” was more than sufficient and that things don’t have to be all or nothing: If you’re struggling, sometimes you just need to step back, reassess, and make a few modifications to make things work. In my case, writing every other week instead of weekly seemed to do the trick.

Writing has been an incredible creative outlet for me, especially now that I’m a mom, and it’s helpful to take a step back and reflect on the joy, beauty, and importance of my work amidst the chaos of raising a family. In many ways, this was the perfect time for me to brush off my stored-away talent and put it to use.

Happy birthday, SlowMama, and thanks for the opportunity!

What about you? Is there a talent you’ve recently resurrected, or one you hope to sometime in the future?

Image: Ann Waterman

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by Ann Waterman

Recovering-Perfectionist-Lead One of my husband’s favorite expressions is  “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” It’s something I’d heard him say a million times — and, in hindsightprobably directed at me — but never really stopped to think about until recently — and when I did, I had a rather significant epiphany.

I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and in many ways, this quality has served me well in life: helping me achieve good grades in school, earning the respect of my work colleagues for my reliability, and executing perfectly planned parties. But.

Planting-Seeds-1 My perfectionism has also been a major stumbling block. It’s held me back from doing a lot of things I’d like to do or need do. I will procrastinate or completely abandon initiatives from the start because, in my mind, the timing isn’t exactly right, or my house is too messy, or I haven’t gotten all the steps figured out just yet.

I also have trouble finishing projects: I tell myself if I tweak it just a little more, it’ll be perfect…but then this goes on ad infinitum. And by the time I finish what I set out to do, I’ve wasted so much time and emotional energy making sure everything is just so that I suck out all the fun and pleasure and end up never wanting to do it again — even if it’s something I genuinely enjoy.

Plantins-Seeds-2

So now I’m a recovering perfectionist. I’ve realized that, when we have guests over, the house doesn’t need to be cleaned from top to bottom — just the main floor where the guests will be (and a quick pick-up with a laundry basket that I shove in our bedroom is more than sufficient). Sometimes you don’t need to have all the details worked out; all you need is to take the first step to get the ball rolling, and the rest will follow. It’s better to finish a project with a couple imperfections (which only you will ever notice anyway) than have a perfectly executed project that only exists in your head.

Planting-Seeds-3 Are you a perfectionist? Here are 14 signs that you might be. How do you overcome your perfectionism?

Images: Ann Waterman

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When to Wean

March 18, 2014

by Ann Waterman

When-do-you-wean-1
My first baby, James, was a utilitarian nurser — he wanted to eat and get on with more important things, like pulling out the contents of the kitchen cabinets or reconfiguring the settings on our stereo system. In fact, he completely stopped nursing off one breast at 6 months because it simply wasn’t a high-volume producer like the other. That was my first indication he was in it only for the food.

By 14 months, James nursed only upon waking. It was the only time he remained still and silent in my arms as he slowly emerged from his sleepy state, so I really valued this special time together. One morning, I managed to get in the shower before everyone else was awake; when I got out, I found my husband playing on the floor with James, who barely noticed when I walked in the room — he was so preoccupied with playing. I knew then that it was time to let go. It was the last time I ever nursed him, and he never once looked to nurse after that day.

My second son, Peter, was definitely more interested in the comfort aspect of nursing, and I was happy to indulge him. Unlike my first, he preferred to stay close to me at all times and practically lived in the Ergo carrier until he felt ready to go out and explore the world on his own terms. Around 17 months, though, I started to feel the need to wean. We were hoping to have another baby, and I wanted to have a breather from breastfeeding, even if it was just for a couple of months. Thankfully, he wasn’t nursing much at that point, and a little extra cuddling was all he needed.

When-do-you-wean-2
My current baby, John, is now 12 months old and probably more like his brother James in terms of his nursing style — he looks for me when he’s hungry or needs me to go to sleep, but that’s it. Just a few weeks ago when I cradled him to start our morning nursing session, he giggled and pushed himself away to go join his brothers at play instead. Weaning seems to be just around the corner, which leaves me a feeling nostalgic for his baby days…but also a little eager to leave behind nursing bras and pads get back into my regular undergarments. (Shaping support and ease of feeding seem mutually exclusive when it comes to nursing bras. If you have a nursing bra that does both, do tell!)

Weaning is such a personal decision involving the needs of baby — and mom. I never thought I’d nurse past a year, and while most of my boys were ready to wean around that time, I could see myself nursing longer if I felt it was in my baby’s best interest.

What about you? When did you know it was time to wean? Has it varied from child to child?

In case you’re interested, I’ve also written posts about how nursing doesn’t always come easy and how it helped me slow down. And, of course, there’s also Zoe’s infamous post about why she let her preschoolers nurse when they came home. 

Images: Ann Waterman

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How to Make a Meal Plan

February 25, 2014

by Ann Waterman

Meal Plan This time last year, with baby #3 on the way and the realization that life was only going to get a whole lot crazier, I knew I had to get serious about meal planning. Sure, I’d been planning 3-4 meals a week, but that still left me scrambling, because (surprise!) kids need to eat 7 days a week, and if dinner’s not on the table, they let you know it. My lack of planning also made for additional trips to the grocery store for last-minute meals — something I knew I didn’t want to do with a newborn and kids in tow — and eating out as a family of five was a luxury we couldn’t afford.

But I’m happy to report that, a year later, even though my house is louder and messier and laundry threatens to engulf us, food gets on the table every. single. night. When we eat out, it’s not because I haven’t cooked anything, but because I’ve planned ahead to have a night off from cooking. Our eating is more intentional, makes better use of my time, and nourishes my family. Here’s how I made it happen:

Gather Your Recipes

Set aside a couple of hours on a weekend where you’ll be undisturbed and pull out all your recipe resources — cookbooks, magazine clippings, your tablet (to review online recipe favorites). The key to making menu planning work is having a list of recipes that you know and love at your fingertips, so they don’t get lost and forgotten and you don’t have to go searching for them. I group recipes depending on my needs: quick and easy, sides, batch cooking, family favorites, company worthy.

If there are some recipes that you’ve been meaning to make but haven’t gotten around to it, put them on a “try” list — you’ll be more likely to actually make them. Just be careful about trying too many new recipes in a week, since they invariably take more time and you’re not always sure what the result will be!

Master-meal-list Organize

You can work from the master list of the recipes you’ve created, or you can take it to the next level and move your recipes to a single binder — with plastic sleeves, so you can easily wipe away those cooking spills that will inevitably happen — divided by category so you’ve got them all in one place. Better yet, go the electronic route and organize your recipes digitally, like Mags discussed a while back. I’ve been using Pepperplate for my recipe needs and will never go back.

Plan

Now that you have a working list of recipes, weekly menu planning will be much easier. Dedicate some time each week to sit down with your list of recipes and your weekly calendar so you can plan accordingly. Date night on Friday? No need to cook. Soccer practice on Monday? Pick a meal from your quick and easy list. Saturday is wide open? Double up a batch of lasagna and freeze the rest.

Don’t forget to include sides with your meals to make them complete. I shoot for one protein, one starch, and one vegetable.

Meal-plan-dinner

Cook Smart

Say you’re serving rice as a side on Tuesday and making shrimp fried rice Friday. Why not double the amount of rice you make Tuesday and save the rest for Friday’s meal? You could do this with pasta, noodles, and beans, too.

Try planning meals together that share an ingredient. Whenever I make brown sugar and mustard–glazed pork with sweet potatoes and braised cabbage, I automatically drop in pulled-pork sandwiches with coleslaw later in the week, since a whole head of cabbage is too much to use in one meal.

If your family loves a particular dish and you don’t mind eating it every week, make it a recurring event — like Saturday pizza night. It’s one less day you have to plan for.

Meal-plan-baby Embrace Your Freezer

Your freezer is your friend. If you can, try to do batch cooking at least once a month and double or triple recipes. It’s so nice to have a fallback if a meal doesn’t turn out, or if you have an especially busy day that doesn’t allow for cooking. I even keep a few store-bought prepared meals in the freezer for dire emergencies: Depending on what you choose, it’s still cheaper and better for you than the drive-thru!

Make a Shopping List

After creating my weekly meal plan, I review the recipes to make sure I have everything on hand. This usually requires checking my freezer, fridge, and pantry — and while I’m doing that, I’ll make note of things that need to be used up or are coming up on their expiration date and keep them in mind for the next menu plan.

Once I’ve figured out what I’ll need, I create a shopping list, listing items in the order I’ll find them in the store. It sounds tedious, but when you’re shopping with kids, you want to be in and out of the store as quickly as possible, and there’s nothing worse than marching back to the produce section — and past the dreaded candy aisle — with a cartful of tired, howling kids because you forgot to pick up the broccoli while you were there earlier.

Meal-plan-fridge Print and Post Menus

My kids love it when I print and post menus on the fridge: They can see when they’re getting their favorite meals or gird themselves for their least favorites (and begin negotiations about portion size). It also allows me to see what I need to prepare for the next day, whether it’s prepping some dough or pulling out meat to thaw overnight.

Do you have anything to add to this list? What are your meal-planning tips?

P.S. — How to Cook Better, How to Roast a Chicken, Introducing Babies to the Pleasures of the Table, and Kids and Table Manners

Images: Ann Waterman

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