Beloved called me at work the other day.
“I feel so lost, so adrift. I’ve lost my rudder and I feel like we’re directionless.” Nope, not an existential crisis – he was upset because it was three days after grocery day and the chalkboard where I faithfully write our weekly meal plan was still blank.
I love my kitchen chalkboard. LOVE IT! It has taken almost all of the stress out of weekday dinners. Not only do I know what’s for dinner every day of the week, but so does the family. It used to drive me bonkers that each boy would wander through whatever room I was in and idly ask, “What’s for dinner?” about three minutes after I’d finished apprising the previous kid of our dinner plans, or that it would be the first thing they’d say when they saw me right after school, occasionally before “hello”. I swear, I’d answer that question eight times in an average afternoon. We have three kids. You do the math. But now, they know – it’s written in chalk for all to see. (They still ask me, though. You can lead a kid to a chalkboard, but apparently you can’t make him read.)
I used to think I hated cooking dinner, until I realized that it was not so much the actual cooking that I hated, but the conceptualizing. So many cosmic tumblers have to fall into place for dinner to occur: you need to be able to pluck the idea out of the vast universe of potential meals, you need to have the ingredients on hand, you need to have the required prep time, and only then can you get on to the business of actually making dinner. The struggle is real.
The weekly meal plan takes all of that thinking and planning of the arsenic hours when you’re hungry and tired and cranky (YMMV, but I know I am all of those things between 4 and 6 pm on a weeknight) and puts them into a happier Saturday morning context surrounded by coffee and breathing space, and possibly rainbow-farting unicorns.
Hand in hand with the chalkboard comes the shopping list. I actually enjoy my Saturday morning meal and grocery planning ritual. About 20 minutes before I go out grocery shopping, I sit down with a coffee, a piece of paper, and my PC Plus points app. (I love PC points!) I start my list with things that are featured on the app for points that I would likely buy anyway, and sometimes I add a meal idea or two based on featured ingredients. Then I flesh out six or seven meals based on a big list of “things we like to eat” that’s stuck on the fridge with a magnet. Sometimes if I’m feeling inspired (or lacking inspiration) I’ll flip through my collection of Chef Michael Smith cookbooks, and if I’m really desperate I’ll peruse my Pinterest recipe boards (I have one for ideas to try and one for things that I know will work.) I fill in a shopping list based on what I’ll need to make those things, plus a quick scan of what I need to replenish in the fridge and cupboards. This always gives me a reasonably robust shopping list, and while I don’t religiously stick to my list, it does a pretty good job of getting what we need for the week without too many impulse buys or food that goes to waste.
As soon as I get home from the grocery store, I fill in the chalkboard with the week’s meals. I need to fill it in right away, as I find myself glancing to the corner frequently as I put the groceries away (or, more likely, as Beloved puts the groceries away) and making decisions about what goes into the fridge and what gets frozen for later consumption. Stuff heavy on fresh meat generally gets put into the rotation early in the week because I am a little unreliable when it comes to taking stuff out of the freezer – but the chalkboard helps with that, too.
I thought when I first started planning meals like this that I’d come up against my own fickleness (“but how can I be sure on Saturday that I’ll feel like tacos on Tuesday?”) but that really hasn’t been an issue. Sometimes we have pasta on Monday instead of Wednesday, and my ideas for Thursday or Friday tend to be a little more nebulous and based more on pantry staples than fresh food, so if we are going to go rogue and grab a take-out family platter from our favourite shawarma place instead, it’s likely to be on one of these nights. But I’d say we stick to the plan more than 80 per cent of the time.
I might have laughed at this “system” a few years ago but I rely on it now, and there are hella less dinner-time meltdowns since chalkboard arrived to save our sanity and guide us through the chaos. Clearly Beloved likes it, too, and I had to laugh when my brother and his family visited a few months ago and I noticed that someone had helpfully crossed off each of the meals we had already eaten during his visit.
Do you do this sort of planning? Could a chalkboard save your sanity, too?