Most of the working parents I know are completely overtaxed. A lot of non-parents too. The sheer number of things to remember, stay on top of, clean, organize, send back to school, finish for work, do around the house…it’s sometimes amazing any of us manage to sleep at all. And sleep we don’t – 30-and-40-somethings are some of the most sleep deprived people in history.
So it’s not surprising that one of the first things to go by the wayside is homemade food. Cooking is something I personally find pleasurable, but it’s not for everyone, and often the food you see on blogs and in cookbooks is full of expensive, single-use ingredients. For someone who might get home at 6 and need to get food on the table for hungry kids, Frozen Pizza, Trader Joe’s Orange Chicken, take-out and all the simple things rule. And even I, who loves to try new things, has to look askance at some things – who the hell wants squid ink on their pasta anyway? Even if my kids would eat it (they won’t) I see no reason to, and I’m a cheerful consumer of calamari.
But here’s the thing, you can actually do healthy, homemade dinners at home and be a busy working parent. You laugh, but it’s true. Here’s the tricks of the trade:
- You prep food in bulk. On a given Sunday afternoon, I might make 80 meatballs, and portion them out in meal-sized bags before I pop them in the freezer. Beef Bulgogi is tasty and a huge hit amongst kids as well as adults, gets put in the freezer to marinate as it thaws, and when we grill it, we might eat 2-3 meals off of the makings. Whatever ‘it’ is, make a lot of it, and use your freezer.
- You meal plan. Honestly, this is one of the things that will make your life so much easier, because part of the mental load at night is ‘what’s for dinner?’. This way, you know what’s for dinner and you can do #3 to be ready.
- Prep the food in advance. Early, early in the morning or the night before is your absolute best friend. Screw cooking when you are tired, stressed from your day and everybody is eating Goldfish to fill the gap. Put soup makings in the crockpot first thing in the morning and come home to dinner – just add bread. If you don’t have a crockpot, you need one. Trust me on this – even if you have only 5 recipes you know everyone will eat, that’s 5 times a month you aren’t stressed about dinner.
Put a pot roast in there with some broth and seasonings as well as some root veggies, come home and make noodles with a little butter on them, and dinner is ready.
Plus your house smells amazing, and most importantly, you don’t have to think at the end of your day. Brilliant you did the thinking in advance.
- Keep it simple. Eggs and toast are great for dinner. If you have an instant pot, try this amazing Macaroni and Cheese recipe that gives any restaurant a run for it’s money. And it’s going to be on the table in about 12 minutes from the point you prep it. Cook time is, no joke, 4 minutes. You can’t get through a take out line that fast, Mama. And I promise, even your picky eaters will eat it. And hey look, if you throw in some hot dogs or kielbasa for extra measure – we all do what we gotta do. Quesadillas – tortillas and cheese – are very popular amongst the kid set. Add some cooked chicken or something. All done!
- Do keep some pre-made food on hand. Trader Joe’s Orange Chicken is a staple here – add rice, a little broccoli, and dinner is served. I got a rice cooker as a gift over 14 years ago and it’s still going strong, I put the rice in, add water, press a button and….I don’t burn the pot any more. Put out the word, I bet someone has one they don’t use.
- You can honestly freeze almost anything. Homemade pizza dough. Homemade cookie dough. Broth. Leftovers put aside for another meal. Even bread. The key here is to have a bunch of things you can pull out and eat.
What you do have to do is some advance planning. But a little bit of it goes a long way.
What are your tips and tricks for getting dinner on the table?