According to my calculations, over the past 11 months, we’ve prepared about 980 meals at home. Three meals a day, every day. If I could tally the countless requests for snacks, I would.
However, I lost track months ago. The prison-like scratch marks, etched into door frames of our home could provide some indication, but they may also be evidence of boredom in a kid who misses her friends.
For the first time, weekly meal planning is met with a complete lack of inspiration. I realize this is a sentiment felt by many, a majority of the time. My mom repeatedly asks, how can you think about food when you’re not hungry? In response, I gently remind her that (for anyone), making food choices when hungry tends to lead to a bag of potato chips for dinner, but old habits die hard.
After taking inventory of the fridge and pantry, I choose an ingredient, plug it into the search box of my favorite recipe site and hope inspiration finds me. My daughter, recognizing this process is going to take longer than she has patience for, chimes in with her own enthusiastic contribution. When you’re 9, and have a newfound love for baking, meal planning always starts with dessert.
To her credit, and the detriment of my blood glucose levels, she’s become quite the baker this year. With conviction, she defends her proposal by reminding me Valentine’s Day is coming up. I believe the holiday justification was used for Groundhog Day, too. Evidence that even at a young age, our human nature loves a good excuse for sweets.
I’m a firm believer our health is better served by practicing moderation than restriction. So, I give my daughter the go-ahead to plan a Valentine’s Day dessert.
Regardless of what she decides to make, I can count on her including chocolate chips. Apparently, they make everything fancier. Because I’ve been diving into the research behind the health benefits of chocolate, I’ve got my own science-based excuse to enjoy the final product. Great news for me! However, what I still don’t have is a meal plan.
I find that one of the best ways to stir up creativity is to do something active. Besides that, a little fresh air will help us all calm the mid-winter crazies.
Bundled up, we head out for a walk. The chill brings instant inspiration. One night, we’ll be making chicken noodle soup. Good for two meals, and better the next day.
As we round the corner, and head up a hill, I begin to warm up. I start thinking about warming spices, such as nutmeg and cayenne. Together, in a cream sauce, they complement each other beautifully. Bingo, meal No. 2. That sauce will go on top of steak or chicken, with sauteed mushrooms and roasted broccoli.
For our weekly spice fix, extra meat and mushrooms will fill tacos. Just add beans and a side of cucumbers.
Returning home, I am smiling from the inside out as my girls laugh and stomp on delicate ice all the way back. While the weekly meal plan is almost complete, I still need something for Valentine’s Day, something other than dessert.
Inspired by the way children think, I realize it doesn’t matter what I make, as long as it can be in the shape of a heart. A grilled cheese sandwich sounds like a perfect candidate. And, what goes better with a grilled cheese sandwich than tomato soup? I can’t think of anything, except maybe a pickle.
Alas, another week of meal planning is complete. It’s a harder task than it should be, but gets easier with practice, and a good long walk.
Nicole Clark is the family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 382-6461.Nicole Clark