Chef Heidi Rae Talks Game Plan 101 and the ABCs of Dinnertime!

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True Confession: I love grocery stores. They are my second home.Truly. I must spend an average of ten hours a week in the market. Being a personal chef, I have several very close relationships with my local supermarkets. I am not a monogamist. I can’t be. Each individual store offers things that the others can’t. And with that being said, I go to about three different food outlets almost everyday! I have a local grocer where I get my meats, poultry, and seafood. I go to Trader Joe’s for dairy products, produce, and pantry staples. And then there is the local farm stand that offers seasonal produce. That’s my favorite because of all the beautiful colors and fresh smells. It inspires me. It makes me want to cook.

That’s my world. Now let’s figure out your relationship to your food world.

My first question is…

How well do you know your grocery store?

Can you walk into it on any given day without a shopping list and successfully navigate the aisles? Or do you need a list in hand and you are constantly asking a store clerk to help you find stuff? Knowing how to navigate the market is critical on many levels. Staying on the perimeter of the store will help you make the healthiest choices because that’s where all the fresh food departments are. The aisles are where the packaged sustainable items are. It makes sense, right?

Here’s a tip: Bring a sweater; it’s always colder on the perimeter. It might be 95 degrees outside, but your tank top shorts and flip-flops will keep you from successfully navigating inside a 50-degree store. And think about your kid who will be sitting in that cold metal shopping cart. Try and make their shopping experience comfortable and enjoyable so yours can be too.

My second question is:

How well do you know your family’s food likes and dislikes?

Can you prepare a home-cooked meal that everyone will eat?

Or, do you experience complete and utter melt down from your kids after slaving away in the kitchen?

Creating the awareness is key for success. Sometimes we bite off more than we can chew (no pun intended) when executing recipes. Baby steps. Be realistic. Just because it looked easy on that food TV show or pretty in the magazine pictures, you should know what you are getting into before you jump into that recipe. The best recipes to execute for weekly dinnertime have 5 or fewer ingredients. Google them--there are lots of options!

And then my last question:

How well do you know your kitchen?

Can you prepare a meal with all your ingredients and cookware easily accessible? Is your pantry and refrigerator well stocked to get you through the week? Do you make something and are always missing one key ingredient? Is your baking powder expired, again?

These three questions are pertinent in creating a successful game plan to make dinner time a success.

I was featured in Redbook Magazine highlighting my platform of “Getting the American Family Back to the Dinner Table.”

Ironically, it was a very hot topic, and at the same time a few best selling books were published that created menu ideas and behavioral tips to making dinner time a success. So I knew I was on to something trending!

I formulated the ABC’s of successful dinnertime.

A = Awareness. B = Blueprint. C = Creating

Being aware of your family’s likes and dislikes is key to planning a menu. You are honing in on key sensibilities that will not backfire on you when it’s time to sit down and eat.

Also, being aware of your family’s schedule and working towards creating times that your family members can all be present for a home-cooked meal is also paramount.

Finally, it’s important to be aware of the resources that are available to you for menu planning. Pinterest is pretty hot right now for crowd sourcing recipes.

Your Blueprint is your menu and your shopping list. Create a series of weekly menus and put them into rotation. With those menus, create shopping lists that coincide with your recipes. I save my recipes to folders or bookmark them on my desktop. A lot of websites now generate your shopping list for individual recipes. It has become so easy now to create personal food databases.

With a very organized grocery list you can walk into your local market and breeze through the aisles. No guessing. No stressing.

And then you can come home with groceries in hand and Create (that’s the C) thoughtful, healthy, home-cooked food for you and your family.

My mantra is “ A well stocked pantry and refrigerator is key to creating successful family meals.” They can also help you economize time and keep you more efficient. Use an Internet delivery service to help keep your staples coming into your home if grocery shopping is too complicated. I love Instacart.com.

So let’s discuss key short cuts that can be useful when dinnertime panic ensues.

I love shopping at Trader Joe's because of all the prepped produce items that are available. Being a personal chef and needing to cook in volume, I love the pre-diced onions and all the washed and bagged salad mixes.

Many local markets are jumping on that bandwagon as well. They are taking the knife work out of the equation for you.

Another great short cut is buying rotisserie chicken. You can incorporate it into many recipes that call for roasted chicken. Think burritos, tacos, salads--you get it! All the power to you if you want to roast your own chicken. Roast two and then you can extend the protein throughout the week. I demonstrated this on the CBS talk show The Talk back in March of 2011. I showed how making a pot of chicken soup could feed you for a few extra meals through the week.

Many different proteins can be extended as well such as ground beef or turkey. Or a sirloin steak sliced for sandwiches or salads.

Plan ahead and make extra.

The newest Cooking Light Magazine Special Edition on your grocery shelves is called Make-Ahead Meals. I love the section “Cook Once, Eat Three Times.” It encourages you to be a Weekend Warrior, where you cook extra batches of grains, vegetables, and beans on Sunday for quick go-to meals during the week.

Here are few things to leave you with to think about:

Remember, It’s not that you do not have the time to create family meals, it’s just that you do not have a plan! Game plan is key.

Create a series of meal plans ahead of time. Enlist your family to help you.

Maybe they want to help you shop. Divide and conquer. Teamwork is an excellent way to empower your kids. #lifeskill.

Create a cooking environment that will set up for maximum success. Organize your cookware and cooking utensils. Update or give away the things that are just cluttering up your drawers. Update and overhaul your pantry. Throw out expired condiments and seasonings. Start fresh. Stock your fridge with key staples for cooking.

Finally, know your short cuts. Less time cooking means more time with your family at the table. Remember, your game plan is as easy as ABC.

Happy Cooking!

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BIO: As a personal chef for both Hollywood celebrities and Silicon Valley families, Heidi Rae Weinstein has spent much of her career espousing the importance of family mealtime. In addition to competing on Food TV Network’s “Chopped,” her platform of “getting the American family back to the dinner table” has been featured on the CBS Daytime Talk Show “The Talk” and in Redbook Magazine.