Get home from work. Look in the fridge. Nothing? Boil pasta. Add sauce. Serve.
When I think now of how meals were produced in our first few years of marriage, honestly, I’m kind of embarrassed. Even after Lucy’s initial allergy diagnosis things didn’t change too much; I just switched from wheat to rice pasta. Any vegetable we ate came from a can or the freezer and I was paralyzed but the fear of failure to try any new recipes. Of course, baking was a totally different story. I delighted my husband with various cakes, cookies, and pies every day. I was the first to acknowledge my hate of cooking and love of baking.
I wanted to change the way our family ate, but I was completely stumped about how to make that happen. I would have grand ideas of cooking great dinners, but I wouldn’t do more than dream. I would get a late start on the preparation and get halfway through a recipe before I realized I was missing some crucial ingredients. So, putting my business degree to work I began to research food. No, seriously. I watched tons of documentaries on what other people thought about food. I read articles about which diets were best for people with auto-immune diseases (like Chuck’s Psoriatic Arthritis) and allergen-free meals that we could eat (and enjoy) as a family. I devoured cookbooks and studied how the authors created plant-based recipes that were beefy [hehe] enough to sustain a dinner based on veggies. I then created some goals and an action plan to get our family eating right.
1. Create one meal each night that is either allergen-free or easily adaptable to be allergen-friendly.
2. Reduce meat consumption and increase vegetable consumption.
3. Have all meals planned at the beginning of the week and stick to the plan.
To spend one week creating meals from an already-formed meal plan that are allergen-free and ready at 5:30 p.m.
The first thing I needed to ensure success was the support of my husband. I needed Chuck to be committed to giving this meal plan a try and to be home at 5:30 and ready to eat so that I had a specific deadline for dinner. I next scoured websites like Eating Well and the kitchn to find meals that met my needs and looked yummy. [I started collecting them on pinterest if you want to see.] That was definitely the hardest part; there were so many recipes that were new to me and outside of the realm of southern cooking I was raised on. I found that many ethnic foods lent themselves easily to allergen-free cooking. And away we went (and kept going! We turned our goal of a week of clean eating into a lifestyle change).
My goals and action plan worked out pretty well that week, but the biggest factor of the week’s success turned out to be the two foot by three foot chalkboard in my kitchen where I wrote out the week’s meal plan. I mean, sure, it’s huge. But it gives me the accountability I need to not try to switch up the meal plan last minute. It also serves as a pretty “in your face” reminder to get dinner started in a timely fashion. I’ll definitely be the first to admit my with-children time management skills are not awesome.
So here’s an example of this past week’s meal plan. It was not a typical menu because we had to be at church Sunday night (so we did a big late lunch) as well as having the holiday Monday. Tuesday’s black-eyed peas with okra was a big hit (Lucy ate three bowls!). Chicken tenders and green beans are always a favorite. Thursday and Friday switched because Landon broke two molars and insisted on being held (that 4 to 5 o’clock hour is always when your children need you most!). The sweet potato and cabbage tart was an original recipe and tasty but definitely something I’ll have to tweak before it makes the menu again. And tonight’s meal is corn chowder based on this recipe by chow vegan.
So at the risk of getting lengthy (really I’m giving you a high five if you made it this far) I’ll leave how we set up a food budget and how we choose which foods to eat for later. This is something that’s so important to me and has so thoroughly changed our family; it’s so much fun to write it out. And hey, people are always asking what we’re eating!