So, since I'm returning to my old ways....I'm going to share some things I did/do to make life easier. We're a busy family of 6. My kids are very active, and we're often "out" 3 evenings a week (that is just kids stuff...not MY nights out, which are at least one a week.) We eat together every night, a luxury in today's society, and one I am so thankful for. Even if it means we all eat at 5, or 7...we ALL eat. Why? Because it's important to me. Anyway, that's not the point!
Food is key. I've always been a meal planner (meaning: I sit down once a week and plan out what we will eat.) To aid in meal planning I made a spreadsheet with EVERYTHING I cook on it. Then, I could pull it up, and not end up making the same handful of things over and over because they were what sprang to mind. Also, it's important to have your calendar handy when you meal plan because, for example, if your Monday is Manic, you WILL want to plan something EASY for Monday. A crock-pot recipe for example. Just a couple weeks ago, I posted about trying to cut back on our food budget. To do this, part of my plan was to plan our meals FARTHER in advance, and be more conscious of using everything I have. What do I mean by that? Well, I mean, if I'm going to make a whole chicken on Sunday, then on Tuesday I should plan something that will use the leftover chicken. I should also try to plan a whole chicken around the time I'm going to run out of stock (I make it from the bones, in the crock-pot) so that I don't have to buy the stock at the store to make a different recipe. I printed out 2 months worth of blank calendar pages, and I sat down and planned. I pulled things from my spreadsheet, I pulled new recipes from my pinterest account, I pulled new things from a cookbook I have been using (a gift from MIL) and I purposely included a meatless dish and a breakfast for dinner night each week.
This approach has been great! I didn't have to go to the store "for real" last week (on Monday, I did need to get some sugar, and sliced cheese but I was able to do that while One was at her dance class.) Going to the grocery store "for real" is one of my least favorite tasks. I loathe it. It always ends in me wanting to strangle someone. Taking 4 kids into the store is just no fun for me. Sometimes, I let The Punk take them and I just stay home, avoiding the task altogether. It's also much better if I take any pairing of the kids--except One and Two, and Three and Four. One and Three, Two and Three, One and Four, Two and Four...all that works. One and Two alternately love and hate each other (hormonal teenage sisters that are 18 months apart...who'd have guessed?) and Three and Four feed off each others energy and make me C-R-A-Z-Y. Actually, One, Two and Three is also bearable. It's really all Four's fault. Yep, I said that. Anyway...Shopping less means a.) I don't have to go there as often b.) I'm spending less and c.) since it's planned we aren't eating the same thing twice in at least 2 months! See that? Win...all around.
Second, each week I bake (usually on Sunday because it's our slowest day.) I make a loaf of bread--I'd like to start baking wheat bread, but for now it's sweet breads (banana, apple, zucchini, pumpkin) or a batch of muffins. I also will make a batch of waffles or pancakes that the kids can then warm up over the course of the week (you can microwave them with a cup of water and they reheat well.) The Punk makes breakfast a couple times a week, and with that, the kids have a hot breakfast almost everyday. I also bake some sort of "treat." A cake. A pie. A cobbler. A batch of cookies. A batch of brownies. Something just for fun. So, yes, I spend a few hours Sunday cooking, but it means we have homemade snacks and hot breakfast throughout the week. It's an even trade.
Lastly, I cook my ground meat ahead of time. We buy a large thing of ground beef and ground turkey. I mix them up and cook it. If it's a meatloaf, I will mix it together (adding 2 eggs if I intend to do it in the crock-pot) wrap it in aluminum foil and then Ziploc bag it. If it's going to be Salisbury steaks, or hamburger patties, again, I mix it together and wrap and bag it. This takes out a huge chunk of time on the day of actual cooking! If I'm making a recipe that uses ground beef-I just grab a bag of precooked meat from the freezer, and throw the rest of the recipe together.