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Everyday Cheapskate: Simple menu rotation can help busy families cope

If money is leaking out of your household and you aren’t quite sure where it’s going, I have an idea: fast food.

Busy households mean tired parents, and that can easily result in getting takeout two or three times a week. Does anything about this sound familiar?

The last thing you need is for someone to tell you to get a grip and plan ahead! So I won’t. Instead, I’m going to tell you what worked for me when I was in somewhat your situation (two boys 17 months apart) and a few things I’ve learned since.

Five-menu rotation. Come up with five simple menus you know your family will eat, one for each night of the week. These don’t have to be gourmet or anything fancy at all. For example, Monday: Spaghetti, salad and bread. Tuesday: Meatloaf, baked potatoes, green beans and so on. Ask your spouse to handle one weekend dinner and give it a name like Daddy’s Delicious Dinner or let the kids give it a title. That leaves one Family Fun Night or some other reason to order in pizza. Post your weekly menu on the refrigerator. Now everyone knows what to expect, including you. This will simplify your grocery shopping, too. As the children get older and you get more courageous, you can expand your repertoire, but for now stick to the five-menu rotation.

Set the table. I know you’re going to think this is nutty, but it really works. Set the dinner table for the next day before you go to bed at night. I learned this from Emilie Barnes, author of “More Hours in My Day” (Harvest House). Waking up to a nicely set table sends a silent message that dinner is important; we eat around a table, not in front of the TV. And it will help you to start thinking about dinner long before you run out of steam. Hint: Even a five-year old can learn to set a table, so delegate.

Shine the sink. I learned this from Marla Cilley, author of “Sink Reflections” (Bantam), Before you go to bed, clear out the sink of everything (either wash the dishes or load them in the dishwasher), scrub, rinse well and then shine it with a towel. Five minutes to a new attitude.

Make dinnertime an anchor in your day now while your kids are young, and the tradition will come back to bless you as they get older.

Mary Hunt is founder of, a personal finance member website. You can email her at mary@everyday, or write to Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2099, Cypress, CA 90630.


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