When it comes to planning and preparing family dinner, there are two fundamental truths we have to face:
Cooking dinner for a family is hard.
Having a plan takes you most of the way there.
I used to drown in anxiety with regard to what’s for dinner tonight, and originally overcame this condition by starting to plan meals a week at a time and buying groceries with those in mind.
Recently, we’ve taken this model even farther by establishing a permanent weekly dinner rotation, primarily to help with the pickiness of my six-year-old, who is at a delicate age and is seeking both structure and a greater degree of independence all at once. We deemed that clear expectations that come with a rhythm and the resulting repeated exposure to certain types of foods will both provide the comfort of predictability and help her expand her tastes, while simultaneously minimizing the anxiety of everyone involved.
Because I am, after all, a food blogger, I wanted some sort of a balance between structure and flexibility, so instead choosing specific dishes, we made our rotation out of types of dishes. And since this change was primarily for and about my daugther, I included her into designing it. The whole thing took about five minutes, and we never looked back.
Here is our particular example, reflecting our preferences and resources:
Monday: Pasta (usually noodles and red sauce)
Tuesday: Meat and Fries
Wednesday: Meat with Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
Thursday: Soup or Stew Day
Friday: Meat and Rice (stir-fry or pilaff)
Saturday: Tortilla Day (burritos, fajitas, tacos, etc)
Sunday: Forage-for-yourself Day, although this summer we plan to turn Sunday evenings into backyard-campfire cookouts with my husband in charge – a start of family tradition, I hope!
And here is the repertoire of dishes I draw upon for the above rotation:
Spaghetti Bolognese (almost always)
Russian Meatball Pasta (also known as bitki)
Beef or Venison Stroganoff with Blue Cheese (or without)
Tuesday Meat & Fries:
Russian Meatballs (also known as tefteli)
Pozharskie Kotlety (Russian chicken patties – they are ah-may-zing, try them today!)
On occasion, I might deep-fry some fish, in which case I deep-fry the potatoes as well (I do all of my deep-frying in my enameled dutch oven) – just be sure you do the fries first, fish second.
Wednesday Mashed Potatoes & Gravy Dishes:
Murphy’s Hot Hamburger (only I serve it with mashed potatoes rather than fries, although it is also good with fries)
Chicken-Fried Steak (only instead of buying cube steak I use beef sirloin steak or venison round steak, which I cut in half horizontally to make it half as thick and then into 3-inch by 3-inch-long sections, which I pound to 1/8-inch thickness with a kitchen mallet between two pieces of wax paper)
Thursday Soup or Stew:
My soup and stew repertoire can be found here.
Friday Meat and Rice:
Azerbaijani Pilaf, with variations
Saturday Tortilla Dishes:
And, like everybody else, I also like ground-beef burritos, where I brown my ground beef with onions and spike everything up with a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste and ground cumin.
The only thing not mentioned is the side of green and/or fresh vegetable, which varies with seasons and is therefore left open.
While regularity is not something that I naturally gravitate towards, I can attest to the fact that structuring our family dinners in a this way made an enormous difference in the levels of acceptance and peace during supper, not to mention facilitating planning and preparation.
Do you have a weekly dinner routine? I’d love to hear about it!