Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cooking Concerns

I like to cook. I like preparing food. I like feeding my family. I like eating the food I've cooked. The problem? Cooking takes time. I look for fast fix meals and casseroles and slow cooker recipes. I have enough base knowledge that I can throw together meals with whatever ingredients I have at home. But time... I can't get more time. On a good day, I can get home from work around 5:30. On an average day, I get home around- and usually after- 6:00. Bedtime routine starts no later than 7:00... usually 6:45. Bath, pj's, books, talking, etc. A good 30 minutes. Kids are in bed around 7:30. I prefer to get everyone home and we all get to spend our time being together. That's a challenge when I'm rushing in the door and then spending 20 minutes in the kitchen, rushing to get a meal together. That also delays when the kids get food- and that means giving out lots of snacks, ruining dinner appetites, or having cranky kids. So what to do? We recently went through a span of about 2 solid weeks where we brought food home every single weeknight. I don't like that. It's expensive, it's not healthy, and it sends a bad message to the kids. Last week, I did a lot more cooking but it also meant a lot less face time at Teagan's school. For me to make dinner means that Jeff takes on more of the transportation of children. Last night, I dug out a bunch of cookbooks and those little cooking magazines. I want to re-up my collection of go-to recipes. I want to whet my appetite with new ideas or forgotten ideas. But how to solve the problem of time? I am very fortunate to have a husband who is willing to help out in any capacity. So I suppose that I could have a casserole put together the night before and he would just pop it in the oven at a certain time (he gets home well before I do 95% of the time). The slow cooker isn't always the best option because it tends to cook for too long... we are out of the house for 10 hours of the day some days. So I turn to you, gentle readers, to help me! Give me your most detailed organizational tips. Help me plan weekly menus. Give me tried and true recipes. Tell me what the essential items are for my kitchen to make this work. Help me feed my family!


Cajoh said...

OK, the first thing you need to do is figure out how long certain things take to do and plan your meals accordingly.

I would focus on those things that are easy to prep and don't require a lot of cooking time.

Write up a list of staple meals that you always like to keep on hand and keep your pantry and fridge stocked with those common ingredients. For example; I typically have ground meat on hand because so many of the meals I prepare use ground meat in them.

Not to sound like I'm plugging, but you may want to look at some of those 30 minute meal cook books. I think that they focus on people such as yourself who are strapped for time and need to get something on the table quickly.

I hope this is helpful.

Unknown said...

Keep cooked and drained ground beef, cooked stew meat, and cooked chicken breasts in the freezer; then you just add your vegetables and sauce for a healthy meal. Rinse your canned vegetables before you cook them to remove excess salt. Powdered soup base plus corn starch make easy sauces/gravy.

Garret said...

2 awesome ideas by CaJoh and Ruth.

What about making double batches on the weekend? I'm all for the precooking of meats. On weekends prepare extra meatloaf, lasagna, stew, etc. Buy some extra pans. Maybe foil pans?

Maybe it's time for a new crockpot? Ours can be programmed for so many hours on low or high and then switch to "warm".

Garret said...

Oh and I bake ground beef on a rack (a roasting pan?) so that the grease falls to the pan below. I also used to bake meatballs and freeze them. Much healthier than frozen store-boughts. Whole wheat pasta, tomato sauce, meatballs and a side salad.

Chili can be made in the crockpot and frozen. You can make it mild like I do, and then I add hot sauce to it and a little shredded cheese.

Alison said...

Garrett has great ideas--Miss Chef and I often work 12-hour days, so we try to cook 2 or 3 different things on the weekend to last through the week--I'll do something Saturday, she'll do something Sunday, and sometimes Monday. Since there's more than one option, we don't get bored with the same leftovers all week, and don't have to make as much of each thing.

A fast and healthy option is stir fries (if the kids'll eat 'em). Mix up your sauce, and chop up your veggies ahead of time. They'll keep for a week or more in sealed containers in the fridge. You can even make the rice ahead of time. Then it should take 15 or 20 minutes to cook it off; fresh-cooked veggies with bright colors and good snap. Even I like stir-fried veggies!

And don't rule out the crockpot! Miss Chef's lamb roast was in ours for about 16 hours, and it was fine. Not that you can do that with every meal, but 10 hours isn't necessarily a deal-breaker.

bttrflybabydoll said...


This crock pot recipe is supposed to cook for 10-18 hours on low. It's a really good recipe. I did not add the bread to the crock pot, and I think it needed a bit less onion and quite a bit more broth. I also used beef broth instead of chicken. Add french bread to the bowls and mozzarella or provolone cheese, and super yummy meal!

Heather said...

Have you tried any freezer cooking? It is a lot of work - as in, almost a full weekend - but you get 30 meals out of it to pop into the oven when you return home.

I tend to do a more scaled down version. I'll make meatloaf, but double the recipe. Cook several pounds of ground beef at once to put into the freezer since almost every casserole starts with "brown 1-lb ground beef" anyway.

Shelly said...

I agree with having freezer meals. Maybe just start out with a week's worth (have a cooking marathon on the weekend). Or you could get together with some friends and cook meals in bulk. Each person makes one meal (enough for everyone) and then everyone leaves with several different meals. (I hope that made sense.)

One thing that helps me is to prep all my fruits and veggies the day I buy them. If I don't prep them, I never use them because it takes time that I just don't have during the week. So, prep as much as you can and bag them up so you can just grab what you need to cook with.

Nancy said...

I find that I used to have the same problem (moving has been great for us, but I know that isn't your answer). I double many of my recipes, and freeze one. Meatloaf, meatballs, lasagna, and chili are my favorite to freeze. It took me a while to build up a supply, but when I did, it was so helpful.

Having ground beef already browned, veggies prepped is also a big help to me.

Want to trade some freezer meals? I make a killer meat loaf!!

Karen M. Peterson said...

Tastefully Simple. Seriously. I went to a Tastefully Simple party a couple of weeks ago and they have all sorts of amazingly yummy stuff, with recipes and suggestions. The best part is that it's super healthy and tastes fresh. We sampled this garlic pesto thing where we swore up and down the garlic had just been minced that morning. It wasn't.

I am NOT a Tastefully Simple consultant, nor do I plan to be. But this stuff is worth checking out!

mimbles said...

Lots of good ideas there, in fact most of what I was thinking has already been said.

With freezer meals I often do more than double of a meal. Bolognese sauce gets cooked in batches of 4 serves, casseroles often do 3 meals, soups also do multiple meals. A few weekends of cooking like that and the freezer fills up pretty quickly. Which brings to mind a question, do you have much freezer space? 'Cause there's not much point in us telling you to fill your freezer with lots of meals if you haven't got the space to store them!

Given your time constraints I think you're better off with meals that can be popped on to reheat while pasta/rice cooks than stir-fry meals which, although quick, require you to be there in the kitchen. My rice cooker is one of my most favourite appliances, I can take a pre-cooked casserole out of the freezer, chuck it in the microwave, put rice on in the rice cooker and then walk away and not have to come back to the kitchen until the food is ready to serve.

Meal planning makes a huge difference for me. I reckon the decision making part of the process is sometimes the hardest bit so if that's done ahead of time then when 6pm rolls around you don't have to think, just follow instructions! I use a spreadsheet that has a list of all our tried and tested meals and I just copy and paste from the list into the weekly plan, I'll often plan 2 weeks ahead.

Have you considered switching your evening routine around a little? I've had some success in the past with baths before dinner - this works particularly well when dinner is of the walk away from the kitchen kind. But with both parents on deck one can be on bath duty while the other keeps an eye on the cooking and instead of grumpy kids underfoot you have happy kids and less to do after the meal. (Of course the success of this approach rather depends on just how messy your kids tend to end up after a meal!)

My last suggestion is one I feel a little hypocritical about, as I rarely had the patience to do it when my first two were young, but my mum always seemed to have great success with - getting the kids involved with the meal preparation. Peeling a carrot, finding the can of beans/tomatoes/corn in the pantry, setting the table, stirring the jar of sauce into the pan. And if they end up eating most of carrot the carrots and taste-testing out of the pot, well, it's all part of dinner anyway :-)

Anonymous said...

My go to, easy to do meal is "Chicken & Rice bake" The basic version is on Campbells.com.


I switch it up by using pre-packaged rices instead of white rice. They have more flavor and also make it not seem like it was the exact same thing we ate last week.

One Dish Chicken & Rice Bake
From: Campbell's Kitchen
Prep: 5 minutes
Bake: 45 minutes
Serves: 4


1 can (10 3/4 ounces) Campbell's® Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup (Regular or 98% Fat Free)
1 cup water *
3/4 cup uncooked regular long-grain white rice
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (about 1 pound)


Stir the soup, water, rice, paprika and black pepper in a 2-quart shallow baking dish. Top with the chicken. Season with additional paprika and black pepper. Cover the baking dish.

Bake at 375°F. for 45 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and the rice is tender.

*For creamier rice, increase the water to 1 1/3 cups.

Serving Suggestion: Serve with a steamed vegetable blend and crusty whole wheat rolls. For dessert serve fresh apple slices and store-bought caramel sauce for dipping.

Anonymous said...

The best advice my mother gave me when I had kids was this: Always prepare dinner in the morning. Figure out what you'll do and get everything ready before leaving the house, so that when you come home, you already know what's for dinner and most of it could already be prepared.