Friday, August 28, 2009

Getting the food on the table

Before the baby came along, my husband was getting a lot of overtime. I would get home before him and cook an entire meal start to finish before he got home. Now, he gets home before me (no overtime for him and a bit of a later schedule for me). He is no help whatsoever in the kitchen. So it's up to me to get dinner on the table almost every night (he can pick up take-out on Fridays).

I try to do as much as I can on Sunday without completely overwhelming my Sunday. Sometimes I bite off more than I can chew. I often bake for coworkers on Sunday too. When planning for the week I try to make sure I don't have too many tasks that will need to get done ahead of time. It is a sacrifice to spend more time in the kitchen on Sunday but I usually enjoy it. The pay-off is worth it.

Anything requiring a long cooking time must get cooked on Sunday. I'm gone too long during the week to leave the crockpot on all day (10-11 hours). Most long, slow-cooked food reheats just fine.

I cook rice ahead of time (especially brown rice). I even cook pasta ahead of time but I keep it separate from the sauce until serving. Not that pasta takes that long to cook but when I tell you that I want to spend as little time cooking during the week as possible, I mean it.

I will pre-prepare any component of a dish that I can. If I can sauté vegetables, I'll do it. If I can prepare a sauce, I'll do it. I'll cut up veggies and slice and marinate meats. Basically, the less I have to do after work, the better.

Sometimes I might leave a chore for mornings before the kids get up. Small things like chopping veggies, marinating meats or putting together fancy burger patties.

The first thing I do when I come home from work is put on an Elmo DVD (crack for babies). The older boy will usually go out to the 'shop' (i.e. garage) or outside with his daddy. If the baby fusses I either put him in his high chair or send him out with Daddy too.

I then start with the item that needs to cook the longest. If I'm making a stir-fry, I put the egg rolls in the toaster oven first. If I'm baking frozen french fries to go along with something, I turn the oven on first. If I haven't cooked the pasta ahead of time, I get the water on to boil first.

I then work my way through the rest of the meal based on a plan I've formulated in my head during the commute home. It varies from meal to meal.

How do I reheat food? It depends. My last resort is the microwave but some things like thick casseroles just take too long any other way. We plate those up invidually and heat them up. Otherwise, I prefer the oven, stove top or, for meat loaf, the Griddler.

About feeding the kids, I do try to feed them what we're having. It just doesn't always work out that I'm making something that they'll eat. I don't mind keeping a few kid 'backup' foods on hand for them - chicken nuggets, frozen turkey burgers, deli meats, SpaghettiOs, or leftovers in the freezer of something they will eat. As long as they keep eating what I'm making the majority of the time, I'm okay with making them something else some of the time. So far it hasn't been a problem. I can tell when my son is asking for SpaghettiOs because he just wants SpaghettiOs (not acceptable) and when he truly doesn't want to eat what I've made (acceptable - no one should have to eat food they don't want to eat).

The best part about cooking ahead is less clean up. There are fewer dishes, pans, etc. to clean up during the week. That saves me even more time.

So that's how it's working right now. I'll make adjustments as necessary. I'm spoiled now during the week. It's great to have dinner basically ready every night. I have been frustrated on Sundays occasionally when the weather is gorgeous and I'm inside cooking but I'll probably experience that less during the fall and winter months.


Noel said...

Great ideas here, thanks for sharing :)

Anonymous said...

Hilarious! My guy is not so helpful in the kitchen either! The first time I made your glazed chocolate chip brownies, hubby "helped" by being responsible for measuring the dry ingredients... he added a 1/4 cup of salt instead of 1/4 tsp! Can you say salty! Glad we didn't share them with anyone before tasting them. We got a good laugh out of it. Also, what is it with Elmo? My little one loves him. Don't have an Elmo DVD though, will have to work on that one.

So many great tips that I will use; from thinking through dinner on the way home from work, preping on Sunday and using our high chair more often. Thank you so much for sharing. I feel less worried with a plan.

MommyProf said...

I would be interested to know how you handle storing food in various stages of prep...the plethora of poorly stacking containers in the fridge is a problem for us when I am this organized.

I have a Holly Clegg freezer meal cookbook coming - very excited about that!

The Cookbook Junkie said...

I don't really get overwhelmed with containers. My fridge is roomy enough. Sometimes I will freeze something that I'm not serving until Thursday, just to be safe, if I think it will freeze well.

Tracy said...

I'm terrible about planning meals. I give you a lot of credit. You're good inspiration.

Annie Jones said...

I used to be better about doing the little preps ahead of time when I worked outside the home. I don't do it as much now that I stay home, but I should. I could still use the time savings.

We have a rule that Kat must take a bite (a real bite, not just a nibble) of everything I make, and if she still doesn't like it, then she can have either just not eat that particular part of the meal or she can have an alternative (usually a peanut butter sandwich). That way she tries new things and once in a while she even surprises herself by liking them. :)

Mrs. L said...

Love reading about how you plan and get dinner on the table every week. I keep saying I need to be home on Sundays to prepare stuff for the week so that when Thursday arrives I have something to put on the table that doesn't take a lot of planning.

Kim said...

I have the problem of being gone 10-12 hours a day too. My bf and I love using the crock pot, and the simple investment of a plug-in timer ($12.99 at Target) allows us to do so. I get around the food safety issue by leaving meats partially frozen when I put them in the crock pot, then set the timer to turn the crock on at the appropriate time. Works like a charm! You might try's really changed how I cook.