Our Family Weekly Cooking Strategy

I had a good laugh the other day when a friend told me that some people have this super glamorous vision of my family life when it comes down to food. They envision me eating at ICI (now called Maison May Dekalb ) almost every night, with my perfectly mannered children—aren’t we French, after all?—just relaxing the night away over delicious food. On the rare nights we’re not there, I become a domestic goddess in the kitchen at home, whipping up something spectacular with ease.

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This is as far as you can possibly get from our reality. The boys almost never eat at ICI and while, yes, I can cook, it’s nothing too elaborate. I focus on what I can pull off with one main goal: make something taste delicious efficiently and ethically. In short, we’re a regular family. And in that sense I face the same challenge every head of household does: how do you come up with three meals a day for three (or however many) individuals with incredibly different tastes and needs, in the most nutritious, empowering, and caring way?

I basically follow a pattern that helps me organize my brain so that I never stare at an empty fridge on a Wednesday night at 7:30pm with two starving teenagers breathing down my neck.

Map the Week

I figure out my schedule, and the boys’ schedules, and start from there. I ask myself:

What days will I be able to cook?

What days can I prep for other, busier days?

When will I be home late, or not at all?

What days do the boys have dinnertime plans?

What day is going to be pizza or burger night (I’m dealing with two teenage boys, remember)?

Make a Menu

The week’s food roster covers breakfast, lunch boxes, dinner, and snacks. I list a few key dishes, from which I can pull ingredients or save leftovers for lunch boxes. Based on our schedules, it varies how elaborate my menu plans are. I think about how much time and energy I think I’ll have, and I always predict conservatively. If I have extra time, I can always make a last-minute chocolate cake.

Make a Shopping List

I draft a plan, and include ahead of time, not only what I will buy, but from where. This is also based on my schedule for the week, as well as what we receive from the CSA delivery.

Make a Cooking Plan

I draft a more detailed plan so I can manage my time efficiently, and, most importantly, so I do not have to think about it or remember everything as the week goes on and gets more crazy.

Kitchen Meeting with the Boys

Well, it doesn’t always happen so officially, but I write everything down and post it for them on a blackboard in the kitchen, so they are aware of the rhythm—and so I don’t get a text at 2:45pm on Tuesday asking me what’s for dinner, when I am coming home, realize that they rated a chicken for snack... 

Cook!

Oh, yeah, and then that has to actually happen.

Despite the level of detail that goes into it, the plan is not actually so rigid—because I never forget that our life is nothing but unpredictable. For me, this routine eliminates the daily anxiety of coming up with a way to make it all happen, and gives me a sense of starting ahead of the game each week, instead of chasing it for the next seven days.