Making a meal plan work for you

The Dinner Fairy

by Linda Burnside


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My Story: Coordinated Meal Planning

I am a working mother of three beautiful, wonderful children, ages 10, 13 and 17. My husband has mental and physical health issues and doesn't work most of the time. We've been married for 26 years. Planning and cooking meals is a crucial part of living within our means. I leave for work by 7:30am and generally get home around 6:00pm.

Many arguments and hard feelings developed over the years because my husband would not cook dinner. I thought that since he was at home and I went to work, he should do that for our family. Should is a dangerous word.

One day, I made a decision that changed my life for the better. I put away the resentment and said to myself, "How would I manage if he weren't here?" Don't get me wrong. I love my husband. In spite of his struggles, he's a good father. He's not well able to cope with simple things that I think I have the right to expect from him, but I'm not planning a divorce. I realized one day that he could never make me happy, and he probably would only on very rare occasions make me dinner. It was liberating. When I started planning for myself how to get dinner on the table every day, it made me happy and took pressure off of me. I wasn't relying on somebody who might not come through. It was important to me, so I changed my mindset and my plan to achieve the end result. I became the dinner fairy.

It's not realistic for me to start cooking dinner when I come home from work. It's not even realistic most days for me to put dinner in the slow cooker to serve when I come home. I'm gone too many hours per day, and our family's crazy schedules don't often match up. Many times, when I have asked someone else to put the food in the slow cooker at a specific time, it just didn't happen, and all my planning was wrecked because I was depending on somebody else for execution of the plan.

Moving Forward

I made a two-week meal plan. I shopped for the ingredients, buying fresh fruits and veggies every week, but doing the major stock up every two weeks. In the plan, I included at least one pizza night (I need a break here and there), and I marked the days when we had planned to go out with friends or family for dinner.

With my meal plan in place, I started the work of cooking dinner the night before. I would chop all the veggies and stuff them in zipper bags. I would defrost the meat, peel the potatoes, and otherwise completely prep the food to be cooked. Then, I would either put the food in the slow cooker before I went to bed to cook while I was sleeping, or I would write out clear instructions for someone to put the pan in the oven at the appointed hour. A lot of days, I cook the full meal before I leave the house, and put it in the fridge to be reheated one plate at a time.

Unexpected Bonuses

I started bringing leftovers to work with me for lunch. My co-workers were and still are jealous. What's really amazing to me now is that I don't see how people who don't plan ahead manage to feed their family, buy lunch every day, and not go broke. I save time and so much money, and it makes my life easier. I don't have to run to the store on my way home in a frantic mad dash when I'm already tired, hungry and cranky. The food we eat is healthier, too. My family sits down and talks at the dinner table more often. This builds family unity and gives my children a sense of security.

All I had to do was make a paradigm shift. I waved a magic wand that anybody else can wave when they get ready. There wasn't any magic. Instead, there was just elbow grease and a meal plan, and the payoff was worth the investment.

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