“What’s for Dinner?”: 5 Tips on How to Prepare a Family Meal Plan

Family Meal Plan

As most of us have busy schedules, coming up with dinner ideas can be a tedious task. When you don’t have a dinner planned, you may find yourself in the rut of just grabbing a pizza on the way home or dining out regularly. Not only can this habit be expensive, it can also be unhealthy. Here are some tips on creating a family meal plan.

 

  • Give yourself time to plan

Many people believe that they can plan their family’s weekly meals in the car driving to work or dropping the kids off at school. While this may be a chance for you to talk to your family members about what they like to eat, you need to set time aside each week to actually sit down and meal plan. I recommend giving yourself at least 2 hours, as a beginner planner. Once you get the routine down, you can cut it down to 45 minutes to 1 hour. Ideally, if you can set this time aside when all of your family members are around you—do it. You can get their input and meal ideas so that you are not the only one coming up with dinner ideas. While you are creating the meals for the week, you can kill two birds with one stone by also putting together your grocery list. If you are a couponer, this is also your time to go through your coupons and see what items you will be buying this week.

  • Note Family Favorites

Whether you have your family around you when you are planning or not, you should take note of meals that your spouse and children enjoy. For example, your husband and kids love teriyaki steak tips, chicken stir fry, veal parm., make sure that you write it down because it will come in handy during your meal planning. Try to come up with a list of at least 10 family favorites—these will end up being your go-to meals when you can’t think of anything else.

  • Coordinate with Everyone’s Schedules

When you are meal planning, you want to make sure you have the family calendar readily available. If you know that you are going to be home late 4 nights out of the week, you certainly cannot be planning to make a dinner that takes over an hour to cook!

  • Designate a Day

Designating a certain meal on a specific day not only allows your family to know what is for dinner way ahead of time, but it also makes it easier on you to plan meals. I recommend designating 1-3 days. Some common meal days are Taco Tuesday. Fish Friday, and Wing Wednesday. It still gives you the ability to change things up as you could do beef tacos one week and ground turkey the next or change the type of fish you eat on Fridays.

  • Don’t Get Overwhelmed

It may seem overwhelming to have to plan the entire week’s meals in a couple hours, but it gets easier! I recommend using Pinterest to find easy and fun dinner ideas. Also, don’t feel as though you need to have a home cooked meal every night. Give yourself one or two nights a week where you order take out, like pizza or Chinese food. Or you could make a simple meal instead, like make sandwiches or eat leftovers; every night does not have to be a new meal.

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How To Can And Preserve Fish Safely

Preserve Fish Safely

Fish spoils pretty easily after it is caught, so it is very important to have a plan in mind for how you want to preserve the meat. Proper preservation will greatly extend the life of the fish, and it will also make it much safer for you and your friends or family to consume.

In order to preserve your fish in the best and most efficient manner possible, you need to start the preservation process while the fish is a fresh as can be. Also, the better the quality of the fish, the easier it will be to preserve.

Of all the types of meat, fish is the one that decomposes most quickly. It also can easily become rancid or be ruined by microbes. You can help prevent all of this by keeping your fish alive for as long as possible after you have caught it. One easy way to keep the fish alive is a metal link bag. It will maximize the fish’s ability to stay alive. Bacteria and other things that lead to spoilage will always be present, particularly with fish, but they multiply much, much faster on a deceased fish than on a live specimen, particularly if the water is warm.

Once fish are taken out of the water, they begin to deteriorate almost immediately. For this reason, you should clean your fish as soon as you remove them from the water if possible. Thoroughly cleaning the fish and chilling in promptly will keep it as intact as possible. This is particularly important if the weather is warm, as head rapidly accelerates the decaying process.

Canning Fish

Fish does not contain a lot of acid, so the safest way to process it is at the temperatures reached by a pressure canner. Failure to heat-process fish at a minimum of 240 degrees Fahrenheit may allow bacteria to survive and grow within the food. This is an easy way to get food poisoning, and that is obviously something that everyone wants to avoid. Contrary to popular belief, adding a small amount of vinegar or packing the fish in tomato juice or tomato paste does not alleviate the need for heat processing fish.

When canning fish, use standard canning jars (they should be heat-tempered). The times listed below are for pint jars. Also, wide-mouthed jars are easier to fill. This is the general USDA method for canning fish without sauce (including blue, mackerel, salmon, steelhead, trout, and other fatty fish except tuna):

  1. Within two hours of catching the fish, clean and gut it. Keep cleaned fish on ice until you are ready to can it.
  2. Remove head, tail, fins and scales from the fish, and wash and remove all blood. Split the fish lengthwise (this is optional).
  3. Cut the cleaned fish into 3.5 inch sections. Fill the pintjars with the skin side of the fish against the glass, and be sure to leave an inch of headspace. Do not add liquids. Adjust lids and process.

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Great Crock-Pot Meals

Great Crock-Pot

Now that it's getting colder outside, you're looking forward to a nice, warm, hearty dinner that's ready when you get home. It's the perfect time of year to break out that crock-pot or slow-cooker to make a thick, beefy chili or a chunky vegetable stew. We've got some suggestions for great crock-pot meals that'll warm you up after a long, cold fall day. 

Meatballs

This is a versatile dish because you can customize it to taste. If you like a more tangy and fresh option, you can add ingredients like citrus dressing or lemon zest; if you like them more traditional, add tomatoes and cilantro. Just add the flavorings that you like to a bag of frozen meatballs, leave it in the crock-pot, and come back in a few hours after watching a movie or running errands.

One option is to make honey garlic meatballs. Mix together a quarter cup of honey, ketchup, and brown sugar, then add a few minced garlic cloves and a tablespoon of soy sauce. Pour the mixture over a bag of frozen meatballs and leave it on the crock-pot for four hours.

Lasagna

You don't just have to bake lasagna in the oven- you can make it in the crock-pot as well. It's a great, hearty family meal for those colder fall nights. Start by cooking a pound of ground beef round until it's no longer pink. Layer the bottom of the crock-pot with tomato sauce, then add a layer of frozen ravioli. Over top of the ravioli, add some ground mozzarella cheese. On top of the cheese, add a layer of beef. Continue adding layers until you've got your lasagna. This should be ready in about 4-6 hours.

Chicken

Chicken is a great option for the crock-pot because the slow cooking time allows the chicken to really soak up the flavor and moisture. Chicken is also such a versatile base: you can make anything from barbeque chicken to cacciatore. Or you can make a simple, inexpensive chicken and rice dish. Pour a few cans of vegetable stock or cream of chicken soup into the crock-pot, add your boneless skinless chicken breasts, and it'll be done in about 7-8 hours. Then mix the chicken with some rice and you've got a family dinner that everyone will love.

Beef Stew

This is the ultimate winter comfort food. While it has more ingredients and it takes slightly longer to make, you can cook a lot at one time and freeze it for later. Add chunks of potato, cooked beef, corn, oregano, Worcestershire sauce, carrots, onions, flour, celery, and beef broth into the crock-pot. The stew should be done in about 6-7 hours.

You can also add variations to the traditional beef stew. If you're a vegetarian, substitute tofu or soy for beef. Likewise, if you're not a fan of certain vegetables, you can substitute those in and out as well. Crock-pot stew gives you a wide range of options to slow-cook the foods you love in order to retain the moisture, flavor, and texture of a great autumn meal.

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