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Easy Menu Planning From the Rush Hour Cook

By Brook Noel

It has been said that changing one’s mind is a woman’s prerogative. However, I don’t think the author of that statement anticipated how often women would change their mind on what to fix for dinner during the course of a day. My routine goes like this… get up at some early hour in order to get everyone else up at a normal hour, then think about breakfast. Schlep cereal on the table and run to work. Half way through the day, it occurs to me I will need to feed something to my family. At this point, usually whatever my coworker ate for lunch seems a good candidate . By 3 o’clock, I’m usually starving from not having time to eat yet, so my dinner choices turn to richer foods—like a stack of flapjacks or a juicy bacon cheeseburger. When I leave work, I go by the store and think about stopping—but alas I am too exhausted. I justify that I can just “throw” something together from the pantry. (I ignore the fact that my last five attempts to throw something together have ended up in the garbage, untouched.) I get home only to scour through the pantry and learn that I can make spaghetti and meatballs—if only I had spaghetti; macaroni and cheese—if only I had cheese, chicken with lemon and rosemary—if only I had the chicken. What’s a girl to do? And of course, you know how this story ends, the famed call to the takeout joint up the street.

One of the best techniques I’ve found to simplify supper is to simply assign each night a “theme.” Now, some of you may be organized enough that this isn’t necessary, but for those of us who have found all-too-much comfort in the cardboard of a takeout box, this is a winning strategy.

Simply take a weekly calendar and next to each day of the week, write down a theme for the evening. Below you’ll find examples from my own cooking closet.

For example:

Finger Foods
This could be appetizer trays of fruit, vegetables, cheese and crackers, mini-sandwiches, hot dogs on sticks—anything that can be tackled by hand… literally!

Breakfast for Dinner
If your family is at all like mine, a leisurely breakfast of omelets, pancakes, sausage and accompaniments only occurs when you are traveling and hit the Sunday brunch buffet. Try doing a breakfast for dinner. Eggs and pancakes are quick and easy to prepare and by doing them in the evening everyone can enjoy them before racing off to their appointed destinations.

Keep Reading

Pasta Presto
You pick the type and the night for Pasta Presto. Perhaps it’s spaghetti, fettuccini, macaroni, lasagna—just pick a sauce and pasta and check a weeknight off your list.

Meat and Potatoes
Unless you are a vegetarian, it’s best to designate at least one night for the good 'ol American standby. Try the One Dish Meat and Potatoes on page 49.

Some Assembly Required
Whether it’s pizza, tacos or baked potatoes, this night features a main course that each family member can customize to their liking.

Kid’s Cook
(or spouse cooks, or mailman cooks)–You get the picture—someone other than Mom gets to man the kitchen (and the dishes) for this night.

Soup & Sandwich
There is a reason almost every restaurant offers a soup and sandwich special—it’s a hearty, healthy and wholesome combo!

Make It and Bake It
When in a rush there is nothing like the beloved casserole. Choose your favorite, throw it together, and toss it in the oven for a 30-minute-bake. Don’t forget to double your recipe and reserve one for freezing.

Lasso Your Leftovers
I dedicate this theme to my mother. For years, my mother insists on saving food—never wasting a biteful. While I find this quality admirable, I find it interesting how much food is wrapped carefully in plastic so tightly it could be donated to NASA, only to sit in my refrigerator for longer than George Burns was alive. This night is dedicated for anyone else who hoards their leftovers—now is the time to bring ‘em out and bring ‘em on—potluck style.

Deal With It Dinner
I must confess, this is one of my favorite themes. It basically involves letting someone else deal with the cooking or letting the family forge for their own findings in the fridge.

© Brook Noel
Brook Noel, an international, best-selling author, has written over 10 books. Her works include: "I Wasn't Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping and Healing After the Death of a Loved One", "Surviving Holidays, Birthdays, and Anniversaries: A Guide for Grieving During Special Occasions (Grief Steps Guide)", and "The Change Your Life Challenge: A 70-Day Life Makeover Program for Women".


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