Are you a frantic woman?

A few years ago I decided to make a meal schedule. I devised a 5 week rotating schedule of dinners that utilized leftovers, transforming them into new different meals. I had a master ingredient list to use for shopping. It worked really well while it lasted, which was one winter season.

I have thought often of going back to something similar, but what can I say other than I am inherently lazy and the effort that is required to do begin and maintain such a system is beyond my grasp right now.

So you can imagine my delight when I was offered the book The Frantic Woman’s Guide to Feeding Family and Friends. It sounded like exactly what I was trying to do on my own.

frantic woman's guide

I loved the premise of the book. I found though that it was less of a cook book and more of a guide to getting meals onto the table for your family. Joy of Cooking this ain’t. If you are looking for a way to step out of the fast food and restaurant trap, then this book might be right for you. It is chockful of tips and tricks and ideas and lists for everything kitchen and cooking related imaginable.

The book is divided into five sections. Part one offers tips for organizing your kitchen in a more efficient manner, the items you should stock in your antry, and the cooking tools you shouldn’t live without. Part Two offers Seasonal menus designed around a two week schedule. She tells you what day to shop on and when you will need to make a “pit stop” to the store for perishable goods. She even tells you if you should freeze your purchases or refrigerate them for later, and even if there is something you should hide from your family lest they eat it in advance. Part Three has special menus for guests, holidays, etc. Part Four offers some recipes for side dishes. And lastly, Part Five is a glossary of cooking terms, hints, and tips.

My complaints, which are admittedly small in the scheme of the book and what it is striving to be:

1) The meals don’t include side dishes. To me that is one of the most difficult parts of the meal, what to serve along side. She does offer suggestions of things that would go great along with the particular meal and has some recipes in Part Four of the book, but they are not included on the helpful shopping list.

2) The recipes generally say they serve 4-6 people. I don’t think we are particularly big eaters, but many of the meals seemed really skimpy. One example of this is Kid’s Mini Pizzas made from English muffins. The recipe calls for 6 English muffins and says it feeds 4-6. Four to six toddlers maybe, but not older children and certainly not adults. But the recipe did give me the inspiration to have the children make bagel pizzas for dinner one night with their own choice of toppings.

3) The over use of processed foods, such as creammed soups, macaroni and cheese, and canned bisquits.

Having said all of that, I still think that the concept of this book is a good one. It is written in a conversational tone with helpful kitchen hints sprinkled through out. The recipes that I have tried from the book were good.

As an organizational book I would give it five stars. It really gets down to the nitty gritty of being organized and the benefits of planning in advance.

As a cookbook, I would give it three stars.

27 Responses to “Are you a frantic woman?”

  1. ethan Says:

    sounds like an interesting book, i’m getting married in Dec maybe i’ll get it for my future wife :-)

  2. wookie Says:

    Neat. Then ethan can write a book called “One hobbling man: a tale of having a book stuffed somewhere very uncomfortable”

    Or maybe that’s just MY reaction to my husbands oh so delightful critique of repetition in our household meals when he doesn’t actually do any cooking.

    I know households where guys do some or all of the cooking. I just wish I lived in one of them. And the title of the book does chafe me a bit. All it would have to be is “frantic families” and it would be vastly more gender neutral.

    Chris, are your kids involved in dinner preparation/table setting/clean up at all and if so, what are some age-appropriate tasks for toddlers on up to help out?

  3. Joann Says:

    Maybe Saving Dinner http://www.savingdinner.com would be an alternative. Our family liked it - it has the week’s worth of menus and shopping lists.

  4. Lorraine Says:

    I was going to suggest http://www.Savingdinner.com But Joann beat me to it. I was on Leanne Ely’s list for a while… it worked great when I followed the program. And! She gives ideas for side dishes with each day’s recipe and includes the side dish items on the included shopping list.

    These days, I use Big Oven. It’s a windows based recipe organizer. put in your recipes (or seach the HUGE internet archive the program gives you access to), use the calendar to plan out your meals for the week (including breakfast, lunch and snacks too!), then generate a shopping list based on your week of recipes. Works great when I use it!

    I’m working a routine that allows me to use Big Oven more. I’ve got lots of recipes to import still, but so far the last two weeks have gone really well. And yup… I’m a FLYbaby… I don’t do the whole thing… just my routines. It helps.

  5. Elizabeth Says:

    It’s interesting to me that you’re getting suggestions for Saving Dinner, because I checked the book out of the library, and last night I made Balsamic Chicken. It was AWFUL. Really, really bad. I got up from the table to answer the phone and I heard my kids whisper to my husband that they hated it. I realize I can’t judge the book based on one recipe, but maybe I should try “Frantic Woman” instead.

    And I agree with wookie, what’s with the gender bias? My Dad worked a full-time job, came home at night and cooked dinner for five people. “Frantic Family” would have been a better title.

  6. Notes from the Trenches » yawn… Says:

    [...] Also, unrelated to anything here, I have a new post up over at my other blog reviewing the book, The Frantic Woman’s Guide to Feeding Friends and Family. Go on and read and tell me if you have a system for meal planning that works. Posted on October 24, 2006 by Chris @ 8:33 am   [...]

  7. chris Says:

    Elizabeth and others… I think the reason for the seeming gender bias of the title has to do with the fact that the author has written a series of books and this is just the latest. But I don’t know. I think Frantic families would be a much better title.

    Big Oven sounds interesting. Maybe I’ll check that out.

  8. Wendy Says:

    I decided to cook and eat better when my daughter started table foods. The thought of feeding her the frozen meals we were eating was unbearable. As fate would have it, I was looking for something to watch and found Rachel Ray. I bought several of her books and am generally happy with her recipes. However, I wouldnt say that they take 30 minutes with a toddler, and now infant, needing attention.

    What her books did get me to do was make a menu every week. I go through the cookbooks and decide what meals I want to make, then I make my grocery list from that. Her second book makes it real easy to find the ingredients you need, because they are in a different color text. On my menu, I put when I need to take something out of the freezer. Also, I only cook 3 days a week. I found that we didnt eat all the food even with the bulk of the recipes serving 4. We ate leftovers for the rest of the days. I dont know if that would work a family of more than 4.

    I have moved onto other cookbooks and started my collection of crockpot books. Since having my son, 9 mos ago, it has become very hard to actually devote time to the kitchen and cook. Now, I start a meal in the morning, when he is not so needy and it is ready for us by dinnertime. Because, of the crockpot meals I have started making dinner 4 nights a week. We still live off of leftovers the rest of the days.

    Another thing that has helped is shopping on the same day every week. I do my grocery shopping every Friday. Depending on what I need for perishables I may have to wait on somethings until the middle of the week. Although, my new Tupperware Fridgesmart continers have helped keep produce fresher longer. No, I dont seel Tupperware.

    As for the other meals, I do buy quick breakfast foods, like frozen waffles, instant oatmeal and grits. I do try and find the ones with the lest amount of crap in them. It is getting easier these days. My daughter is in school for lunch, so I only have to worry about myself and the baby. I eat either the leftovers or sandwiches.

    One last thing, sorry this is so long, I found 101 more Things to do with a Slow Cooker. The great thing about this book is it gives you suggestions for side dishes and it has some good side dishes. It does use some processed food, but not as much as other crockpot books I have seen. Also, the second Rachel Ray cookbook had full menus some including dessert.

  9. Bettsi Says:

    Hi Chris, I love reading your blogs. I am a Saving Dinner fan myself and a flybaby. But the one that works best for me is the system I made up myself. I created a Be All, End All list of dinners that my family likes. When it’s time to shop I pick from the list, trying to get a variety of easy meals and meals that take a little more time. I don’t plan out which meals will be eaten on which days. I make my choice in the morning and pull out what I need at that time. Works pretty well when I use it! Like all systems, I guess. No plan at all is pretty awful, especially when you work full time and your 13 yr old son greets you everyday at the door with “What’s for dinner?” Ergh!

  10. Heather Says:

    I did the rotating meal plan for awhile too, only I had 3 weeks of meals planned. It fell apart, just as yours did, after the first season. I think I know why-I need 4 seasons worth of meals. What works in the winter, doesn’t work in the spring because who wants chili when the sun is finally shining and you can start coming out of our hibernation.

    I also know people who do theme nights to help with meal planning. Monday is ground beef night, Tuesday is chicken, Wednesday is Mexican, Thursday Italian, etc.

    Right now I simply use AllRecipes.com to come up with meals by ingredient search so I can use what I already have on hande. They have a feature where you can click on serve with ideas to eliminate your sidedish problem. And, if you use it in advance instead of at 5pm like me, you’ll be able to pick up appropriate items at the grocery store to complete your meals.

  11. InterstellarLass Says:

    What a great tip! I would love for my kitchen to be better organized. If I can get my husband to stop putting medicine on the coffee-cup shelf it might help. I’ll try anything that makes sense to save time and money!

    I spent some time reading a few tips on cutting coupons and saving money that I found through a link on Mir’s Want Not. With only a few coupons and my Kroger card, I saved almost $20, or about 15% of my grocery bill, and got stuff for four meals, plus a few staples.

    I find a lot of recipes at AllRecipes.com and I’ve found a few at CleanHomeJournal.com. I actually made a bread recipe from there that I thought was good (my first bread that I made!), and tonight I made (and posted the recipe and my suggested substitutions) for an Enchilada Casserole.

  12. wanderingrose Says:

    I did not like “Saving Dinner,” there seemed to be nothing there that my family would eat. Picky eaters.

    I do like Desperation Dinners, not a meal planning system, but lots of recipes that are done in 30 minutes.

    For meal planinng I use Ann Marie Bramer’s “Meal Planner.” It is out of print but used copies are out there.

  13. theotherbear Says:

    Being a list obsessed person, I plan out our meals every week on a Saturday morning before doing the grocery shopping. In fact not 10 minutes ago someone at work made a joke along the lines of how sad it would be to have a spreadsheet in your phone/pda with your menu and shopping list on it. I had to admit this is what I do all the time. Big Oven sounds like something I could really get into - I will check this out.

  14. Izzy Says:

    I’ve resigned myself to the fact that there is nothing out there that can help me where meal preparation is concerned. I am hopeless and wish I were more like the commenter who plans meals every Saturday morning. That’s my fantasy. To be incredibly organized!

  15. Katie Says:

    I’ve tried 30 Day Gourmet ( http://www.30daygourmet.com/ ) with some success. The idea is to cook/bake a whole bunch of meals in one (or two) days and then freeze them. The set up is very nice because they expect you to make multiplies of each recipe and have all the ingredients already listed in double, triple, quadruple, etc. No extra math!

    I say some success because I kinda don’t like the whole day of cooking part. Having homemade meals right out of the freezer is awesome though!

  16. Christy Says:

    Sounds like a cool book but I’m with you - side dishes should be included with regular lists. I finally broke down & made an excel spreadsheet based on the layout of my grocery store (HEB) & I plan to get it laminated. So during the week as we run out of stuff, I can put a mark by that item, then write a grocery list in order for my shopping. I’m also making a recipe list based on our favorites so I can add the items I need to our list without dragging out the cookbooks.

  17. Kara Says:

    Looks like a good book..but I’m hopeless as well…meal preparation to me is a fly by the seat of my pants ordeal. *sigh* Wish I was more organized with my pantry and menu’s.

  18. Katherine Says:

    Chris, I don’t have exactly have a tip for meal planning, but for meal SHOPPING. Several years ago on a grocery trip with a very full list, every time I put an item in my cart, I put a number next to it on my list, indicating on which aisle I found it. Later, at home, I typed up the grocery list aisle by aisle, leaving a couple of blank lines under each aisle. I also added several things we buy often but I didn’t happen to be buying on that particular day. The list stays on the fridge at all times, and when we run out of something, a family member just circles the item on the list. If it’s not pre-printed, they write it in the blank space under the appropriate aisle. I’ve found that certain people (ahem, my husband) are more likely to add something to the list if all they have to do is circle it. And since the list is in shopping order (with the frozen and dairy aisles last, of course), there’s no zig-zagging back and forth or going back to get something I missed. I’d be happy to e-mail you my list if you’d like a starting point for your own; it works well for our family!

  19. kathy Says:

    You people make me SICK!!! What the hell is wrong with running around like a chicken with her head cut off 5 mintues to Dinner wondering what the hell will be served? Whatever happened to the magic dinner fairy? I think I MUCH prefer obsessing all day about what can be served for dinner (but actually DOING nothing) or chasing my tail at 4pm when all the kids are melting, melting, melting, to all this weirdo anal Planning.

  20. Elizabeth Says:

    Hi there, I’ve never commented before though I read both of your blogs regularly, but this one drew me out of the woodwork.
    I do three things that keep me on top of dinner (not to mention breakfast and lunch)
    1. I have 3 or 4 go to meals that I can make from non-perishable pantry items that I can make very quickly just in case. Normally this is pasta. I also always make it a point to have salad stuff around so that I can always serve a salad with dinner (saves on having to come up with side dishes).
    2. twice a month or so I make something enormous (like a roast, or big pot of chili or lentil soup, or big baked pasta dish) that will keep as leftovers for a while and that I can use for lunches.
    3. I plan what to cook once a week or so and make my shopping list based on that.

    For the actual meal planning, I have tried many different systems, but I’ve found one that has been working for me for a while is to have just the ingredients for recipes that I use alot written with the title of the recipe and the book that it’s in on a 3 x 5 card and about once a week or once every other week I go through and I plan out what I want to cook. I have days of the week magnets on the refridgerator with clips and I clip the cards of the recipe I want to make on the day I want to make it and I make my shopping list from there. I like this because it’s all laid out where I can see it when I walk by the refridgerator. this helps me to remember that there are chicken breasts in the freezer and that I need to defrost them in time to cook them, and that I am planning on making some dish that I really like and so I don’t start thinking about just getting some kind of fast food b/c I can’t be bothered to figure out what to cook. I can also easily move the card to a different day if I need to.

    I have tried storing my recipes on the computer but I’ve found that I need the substance of cards and writing down lists and cookbooks to keep me remembering what I’m going to do. If I put it in the computer, I just forget about it and order pizza. I’ve also tried the whole make a master list thing, but again, found that I need the physical act of writing stuff out each week to help me remember and think about what I’ve planned.

    I also found that this system helps me to keep control of my cooking magazine obssession. I mentally categorize meals by the days of the week–like, Mon and Tues have to be fast cooking days, Sundays are usually large roast days, Fridays are meatless or fish, etc.–so if I see a recipe in one of the too many cooking magazines that I get, I think “hey, this is the perfect Sunday dinner” and then I just cut it out and clip it straight to the fridge on that day so I can try it before I decide if I want to upgrade it to the permanent recipe file. Sometimes I have recipes stacked up on there for 4 weeks ahead of time, but at least I have ideas about what to cook.

    I just want to make clear that I am not a wierd anal planner and I am not at all organized, but, through the years, I have had to develop ways to make sure I have regular meals b/c I have issues with my blood sugar. If I don’t have regular meals with protien and complex carbs then I start coming apart mentally and literally can’t make decisions about anything. But if I can look up at the fridge and see that there’s a recipe there and know that if I look in the fridge probably the ingredients for it are in there too, I will just go on autopilot and make it.

  21. fran Says:

    I cannot rave enough about the Relish! meal plan. It has gotten my family eating more and healthier dinners at home. They also offer vegetarian options and freezer meals. You can read more about my experiences with the plan on my website:

    http://davishomenet.typepad.com/davis_family_update/2006/01/dinner_dilemmas.html

    http://davishomenet.typepad.com/davis_family_update/2006/02/so_worth_the_mo.html

    And here is there website address: http://relishrelish.com.

  22. Steve Says:

    What a terrific blog! (Even for a dad of 3, I can completely relate!)

    We at Lakefront Software appreciate the mention of BigOven (www.bigoven.com). We created BigOven a few years ago with the specific intent of trying to make this meal planning, “what do I make tonight” process easier. Specifically, you can enter all your recipes into the system (including choosing from over 160,000 shared online, importing them with a single click), then drag and drop them onto a meal calendar. When you’re ready, click a button and generate a shopping list from them. You can try it free for 30 days to evaluate it. You can also build a Netflix-like “Try Soon Queue” of recipes while you’re browsing the site, always ready for you for inspiration — for instance, you can see mine at http://www.bigoven.com/~stevemur. Good luck and thanks for the mention!

  23. annie Says:

    I’m a big Saving Dinner fan. I’ve been doing it for a few years and she has lots of choices of what kind of menus you can sign up for. Having the shopping list done for you and knowing that when you get home, you will have everything for six complete meals is a huge relief. We do have a few picky eaters, but there’s usually some way that I can make them happy with the side dishes or by leaving sauce or whatever off of their serving. I love to cook and love to eat good food and I’ve only ever had a few things that were kind of funky and lots of things that sounded weird but turned out far better than you would think. The best thing is that the recipes are not comlicated and can be prepared fairly quickly.

  24. theotherbear Says:

    I thought I was bad with my excel files and saturday morning organisation. But seriously, I bow down to those readers who have their lists organised by what aisle of the shop the food is in. Seriously. Dude. I’m impressed. And a little scared for you. :)

  25. leukothea Says:

    We like the book “A Dinner A Day: Complete Meals in Minutes for Every Weeknight of the Year,” by Sally Sondheim & Suzannah Sloan. Sure, it’s 10 years old, but Joy of Cooking is 75.

    A Dinner a Day offers :
    * five weeks per month of menus — each menu includes entree, sides, AND dessert. (I never make the dessert, but it’s there if I need it!)
    * menus are seasonal by month — winter foods in winter, fresh produce is featured when it’s in season
    * weekly shopping list with everything you need for the week
    * list of staples you should check on, with checkboxes, even!
    * shopping notes such as not buying the fish too far in advance
    * every night’s menu has a “countdown” feature, telling you what order to start the dishes. For instance, do steps 1 and 2 of dessert first because it needs to freeze, then step 1 of the pasta, then step 1 of the salad, then steps 2 and 3 of the pasta, etc.
    * most Fridays feature meat-free meals (OK, I haven’t gone through the entire book to check, but all the Fridays I’ve noticed were meat-free)
    * using up ingredients during the week — no more buying a carton of sour cream just because I needed 3 tablespoons, then having the rest go bad because I had nothing to do with it. The week’s menus will use up that entire carton one way or the other…
    * Best of all, NO RECIPE REPETITION. So if they don’t like it, they don’t have to eat it again for a whole year!!!

  26. Cathy Says:

    I bought Saving Dinner too. There are maybe a dozen recipes in there that my family will eat. The rest are just not our style. It’s really all about your family’s tastes. I had gotten into the habit of buying those meals in a box or a bag or eating frozen pizzas twice a week, and I needed something to pull me out of it. Saving Dinner got me on the road, but I needed some Rachael Ray 30-Minute Meals to really get things going. We really like the Rachael Ray meals. I make something out of one of her cookbooks at least twice a week.

    Now I need to check out Big Oven…

  27. nickel Says:

    BTW - I do have a husband who cooks - a chef in fact at one of Sydney’s top restaurants and you know what - it sux! most of the time! He’s not home to cook for ourgirls who need to eat betwee 5-6.30pm, he can’t eat dinner with us for same reason, and it is

    SO HARD TO SHARE A KITCHEN!

    in fact 99% of our “fights/disputes” revolve around this part of the house. so yeah, great if your partner cooked, even better if they shopped and organised your kitchen for you too! That said - he does sometimes cook up thigns like lasagne etc on the weekend for me to freeze and use during the week, and there is nothing like having a professional chef at your beck and call when you are confused by some stupid receipe (what the heck is folding? what can I use instead of buttermilk? etc etc)

    Grass is always greener…