There’s a reason they call it the “witching hour”. At the end of the day we’re tired and hungry and deciding what to cook is usually the last thing we want to do. Fortunately, a little planning on our part can eliminate these typical dinner mistakes that are costing us time, money, and frustration.
So what are the most common mistakes people make when it comes to cooking and getting everyone fed? Read on for the most common mistakes and how you can avoid them in the future.
Mistake #1: Waiting till the end of the day to decide what to cook
Research shows that we can only make so many (good) decisions a day. The longer the day goes on the more “decision fatigue” sets in. This is just a fancy way to say that by the end of the day, you’ve made so many decisions that you just can’t make any more….or at least you won’t make good ones (hmmm, this might explain why I often eat so well during the day only to end up snacking at night).
Here’s how this scenario plays out…you walk into the kitchen at the end of the day and your stomach is already rumbling. You’re already hungry and you haven’t even started cooking yet. This may be when you reach for a snack to tide you over until you can get something ready to serve.
But you’re also tired. Your feet may hurt and you’d really like to just go sit down and relax. The thought of standing over the stove…or even standing upright long enough to get something ready to put in the oven is almost more than you can stand.
So you begin looking in the refrigerator and freezer to see if there’s anything you can just pop into the microwave that will be ready in a hurry.
And some evenings you may get lucky. Maybe there are some leftovers in the fridge or perhaps you had a dish prepared and in the freezer. But some nights you’re not so lucky and the only options that are readily available are pretty low in the nutrition department…but they will fill your stomach and get you out of the kitchen quickly.
The problem with taking this approach too often is that it’s bad for both your body and your bank account.
Mistake #2: Not having a weekly meal plan
The scenario above can be avoided by making a weekly meal plan so that you aren’t faced with the “What’s for dinner?” question in the first place.
Meal planning isn’t hard and if you’ll schedule a regular time for it each week, you’ll get to where you can plan out meals for the week in less than 30 minutes.
Additionally, once you’ve got several weeks of meal plans (and kept them) then you can begin to recycle them to make the process even easier. Be sure to check out my meal planner for all the forms you’ll need to make meal planning super easy.
Here are the basics of meal planning:
- Decide whether you want to plan for a week or a month. Also decide what meals you want to plan for. Do you want to plan dinners only or do you want to plan for three meals a day?
- Sit down with either a paper or digital planner and think about what events/activities you have coming up during the next week. Mark out days you know you won’t be home for a meal so that you don’t plan for meals you won’t need.
- Thinking about foods you have in your pantry, refrigerator, or freezer, plan your entree for each evening you’ll need to cook.
- Be purposeful in your use of meats. For example, if you plan to bake a chicken, you can plan to use any leftover meats in meals like chicken salad or quesadillas.
- Plan for side dishes and salads.
- Determine what ingredients you’ll need to pick up at the grocery store and create your shopping list.
- Post the meal plan where you and other family members can see it. Be sure to consult it daily to see what you need to pull out of the freezer ahead of time to begin thawing.
Those are the basics. It helps to have forms to track your inventory but you can also keep track in a spiral notebook or a digital app.
Mistake #3: Not buying in bulk so you always have staples on hand
If you’ve been to the grocery store lately you’ve likely experienced the same sticker shock that everyone else has. Grocery prices have definitely been skyrocketing.
Now you’ve got two choices when it comes to high grocery prices: pay full price every week, or become vigilant about shopping sales and purchasing when items are at the best price you can find.
Personally, I am a fan or the second option and I make it a goal to shop for and buy at the lowest prices possible. This is where a grocery price book is a real lifesaver and I walk you through how to create one in this post.
However, here are the basics:
- Know what you already have on hand in your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer
- Become religious about checking store sales. I check the online flyer from our stores each week when they come out and take note of good prices on things we use regularly.
- Create your shopping list and stock up on items you know you’re going to use. Purchase as much as you can afford to in order to get through until the next sale.
- Be sure to take any coupons or store loyalty cards to the store with you.
- When you get home, divide any large packages of meat into smaller, meal-sized portions to put in the freezer and put pantry items into your stockpile so that you’ll use older products first
Mistake #4: Only buying what you need for the next week
This one goes along with mistake #3, but when you only buy what you need for one week at a time you end up spending more money at the grocery store. You also can get caught short if your plans change or if you decide to cook a different recipe.
And I’ll admit that I’ve made this mistake in the past. But I learned pretty quickly that getting in the middle of preparing a dish and realizing that I’m missing some critical ingredient is a lousy way to operate. Because when this is the case you’ve got three choices:
- run to the store or send someone else
- scrap what you’re making and come up with something else
- order pizza…again