What’s for dinner?

That’s a question for many folks after a long day of work. But the hard work it takes to create a meal can be made easier if you are “uber-organized” says Cynthia, our featured organizer: an editor, mom and wife. Today she provides a helpful tip on how to prepare and feed your family with fresh healthy meals.

“There is nothing more stressful than those three words at the end of a long day. The only way I combat the stress of cooking dinner every night for four while holding down a hectic day job is to be uber-organized. And this is how I pull it off.

Every Sunday morning I wake up early, make a pot of coffee, and while everyone is still asleep, I plan the meals for the week. I pour over my cooking magazines for inspiration and start working on my shopping list. I have a master shopping list with all our staples typed out with check boxes. I keep a dozen blanks in a kitchen drawer. The list is organized by the layout of the grocery store-in my case Dominick’s on Fullerton. First I list the produce, then deli and bread items, then meat and dairy. I work my way around the perimeter before I hit the main aisles. This way I fill up my cart up with the freshest, healthiest items first and then I can skip aisles if I don’t need anything down them.

Having this master shopping list is key. It means I don’t have to worry about forgetting something. During the school year I have things on the list like drinks for the kid’s lunches, snacks for the kids, green veggies (meaning any green vegetable that looks good), ketchup, Ranch dressing, butter, eggs and bread, etc. That way I only make one trip to the store a week and we never run out of essentials until next Sunday morning. Now I know this sounds compulsive, but trust me, once you make the master list in your computer and tweak it every season or so, you will never go back to shopping without it.

Once I know what we have and I have checked all the staples I need on the list, I turn to my black binder of recipes. The recipes that graduate to the black 3-ring binder are the ones that everyone likes, that are easy to make in 20-30 minutes when I get home from work, and are healthy and low-fat. If I pick a recipe from this “magic” black book, I know I can get food on the table by 6:30PM and it won’t blow my diet. So all I have to do on Sunday morning is flip through the book and pick my seven recipes for the week. Then I add any special ingredients I need to my shopping list and I am good to go.

No, it’s not quite that easy. By this point I’m on my second cup of coffee and the angels are awake. My husband sits down and I ask him what the schedule looks like that week. He’s a stay-at-home dad and musician, so the family schedule can get pretty complicated. This is when he tells me which nights he’s home for dinner and which nights he has a gig and when our daughters have late-night soccer practice or karate. Then I might switch up a few meals and write in “leftovers” or “pasta,” the quickie fall back meals. I usually try and cook a big meal on Sundays so we can have some leftovers throughout the week. I write the week’s menu on the back of the shopping list and I am off to the grocery store. Sticking to my list and planning out all the meals helps me save money and reduce stress”.

Cynthia Sherry