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Home Rule

An End to What's-for-Dinner Dilemma

April 11, 1985|BONNIE McCULLOUGH | McCullough, based in Colorado, is the author of four books on home management.

So much of life revolves around the purchase, preparation, consumption and cleanup of food. Basic organization can simplify the cycle.

Make the dinner decision before 10 a.m. each day. If you will be away from home, that means 10 p.m. the night before. Before you go to bed, decide what you will serve for dinner tomorrow. The longer you wait each day to decide what to fix, the fewer the choices.

This one planning technique can make a day go much better. Give it a try. Men and women who are caught at 5:30 p.m. wondering, "What shall we eat?" often end up going out to eat, not because they want to eat out or like the food, but because they aren't organized. Without thinking, they may be using money they would really rather spend on something else. It isn't the cooking that is so difficult--you can bake chicken breasts in the time it takes to get to McDonalds and home again. It is the selection that is hard.

Prevent Tension, Save Money

This policy of making the 10 a.m. or 10 p.m. dinner decision rewards you every time you use it. It can prevent tension and save money. Take the planning one step further and double the rewards.

Typical modern frustrated homemakers pick up the children at a day care center, then stop at the store to buy dinner supplies. While dragging whiny children up and down the aisles, they look for something that sounds good to fix. Tired, ready to reward themselves for a long day at work, children begging for everything, they tend to pick up extras and don't make logical decisions for comparative shopping. These people will spend 25% more on food than they need to.

Resolve to change; smooth out the after-work hassle. A 10-minute investment is all it takes. Write down seven main-course dishes that you want to cook next week. Your list might look like this: roast, spaghetti, tacos, pork chops, stir-fry, tuna and noodles, chicken. Note the ingredients you need to buy for these entrees. Add salad supplies to this shopping list. What do you need to buy for breakfast and lunches? Include these items. Ten minutes and it's decided.

A Memory-Jogger

Now, with that shopping list in hand, go to the grocery store. When you get home, post those basic menus on the refrigerator to jog your memory during the week. Don't go back to the store again for at least seven days. You can get very proficient at anticipating your needs. Keep a tablet handy in the kitchen and write down items to buy next time as you notice the need.

What are the benefits? You will save at least 17% of the food bill--quite a reward for a little time investment. The more trips you make to the store, the more you buy from enticing displays. Have you noticed milk is always at the back of the store so you pass the maximum number of temptations? Spending $10 a week more than necessary is $520 a year; enough for a nice vacation.

More rewards: You can cut down daily shopping trips to one per week. It saves nerves; you can go home directly from work, avoiding the busiest time at the food store. You can walk right in and start food preparation, skipping that agonizing decision time. If someone else is home before you, and the dinner menu has been posted, that someone might even have dinner started when you get there.

Faster Than Eating Out

Quick meals are wonderful for those who have to be away from home for one reason or another. Today, there are many choices of tantalizing meals that are even faster than going out to eat. (Check the bookshelves for cookbooks that specialize in quick dinners.) You can enjoy the tranquility and privacy of your own place rather than sit 18 inches from someone you don't even know at a restaurant.

If you are going out to eat, get twice the value from it by enjoying the pleasant anticipation of it all day, rather than deciding at the last moment to go get hamburgers because you can't think of anything else.

If you can spare an hour after the weekly shopping, put together some of your own quick meals. From the hamburger, mix up porky-pine meatballs, meat loaf and patties, and tuck them in the freezer. Cut up chicken to suit your needs and package it ready to cook. Freeze some ham sandwiches. When you cook a casserole, make a double batch and save one for a busy day.

Plan a Week or More Ahead

The experience of taking time to plan the meals a week or more ahead will help you add variety. Families with special diet requirements for weight, diabetes, heart conditions and allergies will find meal planning adds variety even with their limited food list.

In the busy '80s, we are looking for more ways to simplify housekeeping. New gadgets and appliances are not the only answer. Eventually we have to give in and use that old-fashioned technique, planning. Try it, you'll like it.

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