What’s for Dinner—The Relentless Question

What's for Dinner?

There are few questions that we HAVE to answer every day. None is more relentless than the question of dinner. It doesn’t matter whether you live completely alone or in a commune. It doesn’t matter if you are a vegetarian or a carnivore. It doesn’t matter how much money you have. Every single day someone in the household must answer the question and then get the meal on the table. If you live alone, at least the only opinion you must consider is your own. The rest of us have a regular chorus of opinions and requests pouring in.

If you are very poor, the answer to this question is easier—though certainly not happier. The answer is probably Ramen, or maybe a 99cent burger at a fast food place. Not healthy or inspiring. But, for most of us it is more complicated. We have choices to make. Eat out again, even though it will blow the food budget and is less healthy? Not if you are a frugalista. Take out? Same problem. Expensive and packed with unwanted calories and salt.

That leaves cooking at home, as I recommend strongly in all my posts about food. The reason we are attracted to take-out or going out isn’t the superior quality in most cases, but rather the convenience factor. Making a big pot of something and serving it everyday would solve that problem, but would also generate cries of discontent from our audience—maybe even mutiny. This is true even if you live alone. So, what to do? Try these tips to break the dinner code:

  1. Find out what your crew REALLY thinks about the menu. Making what they like ensures clean plates and less hassle. If they are partial to things that take a boatload of work, parcel those evenings out, and make them clean up!
  2. Shop once a week, and take advantage of specials. Try to get absolutely everything you need. In order to know what you need you must make a menu.
  3. When you do your planning on shopping day, think about all the activities that will be coming up that week. Where will you and your crew be when hunger strikes? If you know you have an activity planned for right before or at dinner-time you have to figure out ahead of time how you are going to handle it. You could bring something along, in which case you need a portable dish. You could wait and eat at home, in which case you need something fast, like pasta. Or you could just grab something if you must. Just have a plan.
  4. Buy a stock of cheater foods—pasta, cheese and crackers, cans of things you like.
  5. Have a plan A, but also a plan B in case something comes up. For example, if you were planning on BBQ, but get invited to happy hour or a surprise kid’s soccer game, you might shift to a quickie pasta dinner for that night.
  6. Now that you know what they like and you have a plan, go ahead and make a few large batches of things. Just don’t serve it day after day. Have the stew or casserole or whatever it is the night you make it. Then put enough for one more meal in the fridge, and serve it three nights later. The rest freeze in meal-sized portions. If you do this a few times you will start to have a stash of quick, easy, and not over-served dinners.
  7. While you are at it, make and freeze some meal-builders such as homemade tomato sauce. This is one of the smartest, most frugal things you can do.

Now when the daily question comes up, you won’t even have to think about it. Work the plan and smile.

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