The Heart of New England
"What’s For Dinner?"
By Jennifer Wojenski

We’ve all heard it: It’s 4 p.m.
and everyone wants to know:
what’s for dinner?

Of course, that is the question you -- as chief cook and bottle washer -- would
like to have answered as well.  In fact, the more people I talk to the more I hear,
“… if someone would just tell me what to make I’d be happy.” Many moms
(and dads) don’t mind the actual cooking -- it’s the planning and shopping that
they loathe!

If you think you’re alone in the 4 p.m. panic, consider this statistic I recently
heard: 80% of families don’t know what they are having for dinner by 4 p.m. If
people don’t know what they are having for dinner at 4 in the afternoon you can
bet they end up going to the drive-thru, ordering take-out, or eating TV
dinners.  And I won't get into the problems caused by these habits in this article
because that is another whole issue in itself!

Two years ago I solved my “What’s for Dinner” problem. The breakfast idea
actually came first. My oldest daughter was going to kindergarten and we were
always late. She was a huge dilly-dallier and breakfast was no exception. A
friend had mentioned that her family used a breakfast menu to help the
morning routine.  

No, I did not set up a restaurant and hire a short order cook!  But what I did was
to sit down with my two children and together we listed the breakfast items that
we would like to see on our “menu.”

We agreed on five healthy breakfasts –- ground rules were that there were no
sugary cold cereals or processed food like Pop Tarts on the menu. (Saturday
and Sunday, however, were open for discussion: waffles, pancakes, bagels,
donuts –- whatever I can be coerced into!) I listed the days of the week on a
pretty piece of paper and then wrote what the breakfast was for each morning
and posted it on the refrigerator.

After much discussion, we came up with 5 items on our rotating “menu”:

Monday: eggs,
Tuesday: oatmeal
Wednesday: fruit smoothie and toast
Thursday: eggs
Friday: French toast.

(I also hard boil about 1 dozen eggs at the beginning of the week and if I don’t
have time to make a fried egg then they are always ready to eat on the run.)

This whole idea worked like a charm and even started getting the kids to school
on time!  

After about one year of the set breakfast menu I decided to try it with our
dinners. I have to say this has helped our family even more than the breakfast

I no longer make spaghetti three times a week just because I don’t know what to
make or I don’t have the ingredients for what I want to make. I planned our set
menu for every week. (By the way:  I didn’t involve the kids on this one.  I
figured … I’m cooking, I’m shopping, I’m in charge of their health,  I decide!)

Ours dinner menu looks something like this:

Monday –- pork
Tuesday –- egg/ chicken
Wednesday  --  fish or vegetarian
Thursday  –- beef
Friday –- pizza
Saturday –- chicken
Sunday –- beef

Every Sunday I decide specifically what recipe I will use to fulfill the day’s
featured meat/protein.  Each meal is accompanies by vegetables and side
dishes which I write down on a wipe-off board –- like a restaurant –- for the
whole family to see. When I go shopping, I know what I’m cooking and I make
sure I have the ingredients needed for the dinners that week.

People ask if we get bored with this and I have to say that we really don’t. I
have allowed for some flexibility in our set menu. For instance, on Tuesday we
have either egg or chicken. So one week I may make a quiche and the next week
I will roast a chicken. Variations are always okay too –- ham or sausage fall
under the pork category and turkey works as a substitute for chicken.

Being a true New Englander I don’t like to waste.  After a couple of nights of
meals I may opt to forget the “fish” night and do a hodge-podge of leftovers. A
little bit of this and a little bit of that with a lot of salad always works! I never let
my children’s cry of “I don’t like that” force me to stray from our set menu. I
always let them know that whatever is on the menu is what I am making. If they
truly don’t like what I have made and they have forced down two “no thank
you” bites then they are welcome to help themselves to some yogurt
or deli meat.

I challenge all of you out there (carnivores, vegetarians, whole food-ists alike) to
try a set menu and see how it works for your family. I can guarantee it will
answer the question: “What’s for Dinner?” at your house.

About the author: Jenny Wojenski, a freelance  writer, is owner of Hors D’Oeuvres
Unlimited, a catering service based in Keene, New Hampshire.  To contact her, drop her a
line at
The author's daughters show of the family's weekly menu
The Heart of New England
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