Beating those 5pm “what’s for dinner?” blues

5 pm has become an hour that I dread. It is about at that time that I peer inside our refrigerator and frantically start clicking around Epicurious for dinner ideas. Based on the dismal ingredients inside the fridge, I usually assess that I could maybe patch together that one chicken tortilla corn soup – but without the chicken or corn. It’s not that the fridge is completely empty, it’s just that I don’t have all the ingredients to make any decent recipe. And if you know us at all, you know we love to cook and enjoy delicious food. Spaghetti bolognese, grilled cheese sandwiches or peanut butter & jelly (a USA special) only come out on the dreariest of rainy days. I secretly hope for gourmet frozen dinners to miraculously appear as I crack open the freezer door, only to find a few frost-bitten bananas and some ancient homemade juice popsicles, evidence of some good times long past. Inevitably, I invite my family into my poor planning when 5pm becomes our family food shopping hour. Gah.

Thankfully, Tall Mountain and I do food shop for a hobby. We even fondly refer to such evenings as “date nights at the grocery store”. But even if we do enjoy shopping for fresh ingredients and usually find an acceptable dinner compromise, the habit eats away (pun intended) at our precious evenings and also at our budget, because we’re so hungry we get ingredients for approximately…1.5 meals at a time. I remember writing out the breakfast, lunch and dinner menu for the whole week on the fridge when we lived in China to avoid that problem. Also, to avoid having to face the mobs of shoppers and clerks shouting into megaphones at the end of a day. Haha!

Fast forward to life in the States. Tall Mountain and I do have pretty healthy eating habits and TM is also a fantastic cook (when he has ingredients to work with). However, as we slowly introduce Ayo to solids and thereafter to the food we eat, I know I need to start planning ahead a bit more if we want him to eat healthy, balanced meals at regular mealtimes. I realize this problem is not exactly going to get easier when Ayo has siblings.

So, this week, to beat the dreaded 5pm blues, I used one of Ayo’s sacred nap times to figure out the bulk of this week’s menu.  (Sadly for me, there is a growing aversion to “boring” ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch in our household as well. So the menu had to include a few exciting lunches too.) Since I love finding simple or delicious meal ideas on other mama and foodie blogs, I’ll list the main course ideas I came up with this week:

  • Soupe de ravioles aux poireaux caramélisés (a tasty looking ravioli soup with caramelized leeks and turmeric that I found in Gourmand magazine – thanks maman for sending this magazine to me!). New recipe.
  • Third Culture Kid Rachel Khoo‘s Third Culture croque madame muffins (gourmet grilled cheese with egg and béchamel meets the muffin pan)
  • Grill/BBQ with the homemade burgers and brats in the freezer, zucchini with herbes de provence and homemade creamy garlic mashed potatoes
  • Parmigiana de grenailles (a decadent cheesy, fingerling potato and breadcrumb dish, also from Gourmand magazine). New recipe.
  • Halibut something (we need to use up the halibut in the freezer, but not quite sure how to prepare it yet)
  • Bouchées à la reine (a succulent fresh chicken, mushroom and vegetable mix in béchamel sauce inside a round puff pastry)
  • Chicken giardiniera salad sandwiches, found here. New recipe for lunchtime, because I already bought a chicken for the previous recipe.
  • Light salads as sides: use up the cucumber, carrot, lettuce, tomato/mozzarella
  • leftovers of the above

As always, if any of the new recipes end up being good, they get to be added to our regular rotation and printed out in our growing recipe book. I’m really hoping that this practice will eventually end up saving the research time. At the moment, though, the 20-30 recipes aren’t varied enough to beat my 5pm “what’s for dinner?” blues.

So far, this week, we’ve already had some of the dinners listed above as well as two quite successful yet simple lunches:

Rachel Khoo’s croque madame muffins:


And the chicken giardiniera salad with basil on bed of our garden black krim tomatoes and lettuce, on a lemon-basil baguette (tasted way better than it looks here):

Chicken giardiniera
Do you get the 5pm “what’s for dinner” blues? How do you plan ahead to avoid them? What’s for dinner tonight at your home? And what are some delicious non casserole dishes you know that make great leftovers? Feel free to share some of your favorite week night or go-to recipes. I’ll post some of my winners in the weeks and months to come in a “Meal ideas” category of this blog.

11 thoughts on “Beating those 5pm “what’s for dinner?” blues

  1. I get the dinner blues all the time! Sometimes, I load up all of my kids and go to the grocery store before L gets home- so you know that’s pretty bad : ) But, it’s something I am working on. I am not the culinary expert that you are, but one of my favorite meals is really simple: roast some thyme and lemon zest with olive oil in the oven for a few minutes. Add garlic and shrimp and roast with salt and pepper to taste. Once the shrimp is done, toss it with some linguine or spaghetti and serve it with bruschetta. Also, I love making roasted chicken when it’s dreary out. I make it with homemade herbed brown rice and roasted cauliflower and brussel sprouts tossed in parmesan. So simple but delicious. In the summer, I keep cooked quinoa and grilled chicken from dinner’s leftovers and make kale/spinach salads with the quinoa and chicken. Very nutritious and delicious.

  2. I love these ideas. Thank you for posting them!! I don’t cook with shrimp much since we left France with all its fresh seafood..but I want to cook with it more.

    Good to know that veteran mamas and great cooks (TM remembers you being an amazing cook) have this issue at times too. I just breathed in a bit deeper.

  3. blah! the 5 pm blues!! happens at the buds all the time. once i figure out how to cook and shop with two, i promised papabud that we would no longer be eating cous cous, baked beans, and edamame for lunch (glad you weren’t at my place for lunch today?)

    1. That actually sounds quite good to me!

      I have never seen you have a 5pm crisis – you are one of two people I know who can magically cook a really good meal with little to no notice and in no time. The other one is mum! 🙂

  4. oh… and something we do is always grill some extra chicken when the grill is fired up- then you can have some exciting possibilities for lunches during the week. add it to a nice salad, make a fun grilled chicken sandwich, or try making your own friend rice…

    1. Great idea. Not sure what friend rice is but googled it and it said: “do you mean: fried rice?” I don’t know, did you mean fried rice? 🙂

  5. yes for the meal ideas category!!
    I get that what’s for dinner often, and I don’t like it but I often repet meals 🙁 !
    For evenings we love Cake au Thon, Tarte à la tomates, crêpe au saumon often served with a feuille de chêne.
    C’est peut être la honte but I had never heard of all the different types of basil, c’est trop bien j’aimerai essayer! The chicken Giardinera looks delicious!

    1. Great ideas, Ruby! Thanks for sharing! I’ll post more as I gather ideas. It seems to be a common conundrum, this “what’s for dinner?” question.

      1. by the way I made the croque mme muffins 2 weeks ago et ct un délice! Thanks for the recipe.
        Parcontre did your bread once flattened tear while putting it in the muffin tin?
        and did you let it rest a lil before taking it out, two of mine fell apart. But still super good.

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    to Talk Minnesotan, Norwegians like white food. Fiskeballer (fish balls) and fiish soup can contain almost
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