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Taming the Cooking Monster

Meal Organization Tips for the Single Dad

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One of the things many single fathers I know struggle with is planning and executing mealtime. A friend who is a single widowed dad with four children reminds me that his four basic food groups are cereal, peanut butter, toaster waffles and fast food.

Home management and organization specialist Marie Calder Ricks has put together some recommendations for making shopping and mealtime an easier process. I have taken some of her ideas and tailored them to the needs of single dads. Following these suggestions will help you tame the cooking monster (and the shopping monster) for good.

Set Up a Master Menu

Marie recommends that you sit down with your kids and plan out twenty-eight favorite dinner meals (i.e., four dinner meals for each day of the week). Now you don't have to eat these meals in the evenings. For example, on weekends you could eat the main meal in the afternoon with a smaller meal later in the day. Make sure you include vegetables, fruits, and breads. In our house for example, some of these favorite meals might be spaghetti, tacos, grilled pork chops, chef salad and grilled cheese sandwiches and soup.

Get yourself a 4' by 6" index card box with seven dividers, one for each day of the week, and some index cards to fit. Then write up recipe cards for all 28 meals and lay them out on the table. Then prepare a four-week master menu indicating these main meals and side dishes. You can even use our handy Master Menu sheet for planning on a four week basis. Remember to note special days during the 4 week cycle like birthday parties, nights when dad might not be home, etc. and plan accordingly.

After you have your master menu done, then take the cards and store them in the card box in order behind the appropriate Sunday through Saturday card dividers. When you are done, there will be four recipes behind each divider. As you finish each meal, move the card to the back of the box to be used for the next four week cycle. Then when it is time to prepare the meal, you just open the box, flip to the day of the week, and use the card on the top.

For breakfast and lunch, it's helpful to list them on the master menu as well, but they generally don't need a recipe card. But it does take some of the arguing out if you want the kids to eat oatmeal occasionally instead of Fruit Loops if it is on the master menu.

Shopping for Food

A Master Grocery List. Marie recommends that dads prepare a master grocery list on the computer which lists all the items which you regularly buy at the store. Include both food and non food items. Take some time to develop the master list so you get it right. Take a look at some of your recent grocery receipts and take a look through pantries and the refrigerator and freezer to get ideas. Then print out the master list each week before you shop. Look at our sample master grocery list, or use it as your own.

Complete a Weekly Grocery List. Using a printed Master Grocery List, note which items to purchase that week. Include amount to purchase, price each, and total budget. Setting a budget for your shopping trip will help you be disciplined at the store and will save you money each time. Make sure and include the ingredients for the meals on this week's portion of the master menu.

Have a place in the house where you make note of the things you are out of, or running low on. We use a white board in the kitchen for this purpose. Then add these items to your grocery list.

Hints for Effective Shopping

  • Shop early in the day, try to shop alone, and shop on a full stomach. You'll save quite a bit of money if you aren't hungry.
  • Take a calculator with you so you can compare unit prices. As Marie says, "Bigger is not always cheaper; name brands aren't always better; and end cap items at the store are not always a good buy." So make informed buying decisions.

With a little bit of planning and organizing, single fathers can master the art of shopping and cooking good meals for their families, without the stress every day of deciding what you have in the house to cook.

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