Following that thread, I thought I would share a few of the strategies that have helped me eat a healthful diet, keep my sanity, and maintain my enjoyment of cooking…and my family.
1. Cook Big
I almost always make at least double what I need for a meal so that I have either an additional meal or some delicious lunches ready to go. Most of the time it is the same clean-up and same cooking time for 8 portions as it is for 4. A few extra minutes of chopping can result in a night off!
If I can manage it, I set aside some time and batch cook meals for the freezer…this is where the glass of wine & awesome radio noted above come into play.
2. Enlist help
I am a firm believer that if you eat you should learn how to cook, to that end almost everyone who eats at my house pitches in - even guests! I have found that almost anyone can help in the kitchen: using knives and ovens are for more practiced cooks (I have no shame about taking knives away from adult helpers that are a menace to themselves and others!), but there are always things to wash, scrub, peel, measure, stir, toss, etc. I don’t expect too much from my new/young helpers at first, but even a little help is helpful, and skills are cumulative so I start by assigning small, safe, easy jobs and go from there.
3. Head Start Cooking
As I got busier I noticed that I shifted from preparing one meal at a time to preparing ‘extras’ of various meal components that I could keep for meal assembly at a later time. By ‘extras’ I don’t mean leftovers (see Cook Big above), I mean ready-to-eat basic ingredients like grains, veggies, proteins, sauces, etc.
For me it works like this:
- Flexibility: when I have more time I cook more ‘extras’, rushed nights are just assembly
- Meal prep can be done at anytime, e.g. cook up a whole grain after dinner while watching your favourite show
- Other cooks in the house can help anytime by making their favourite ‘extra’ or just cleaning & prepping veggies
- 90% of the time there is something ready-to-eat in the fridge
- Multiple meal times are a breeze
- Accommodates all dietary choices & requirements – vegan, gluten free, grain free, allergies, etc.
- Fussy eaters can assemble their own meals…within healthy parameters of course
- This is a great way experiment with new flavours, local & seasonal produce and/or unfamiliar cooking techniques – e.g. fennel & apple slaw or ginger roasted squash
- Planning is optional, planning in advance would help, but I often just wing it and cook ‘extra’ of what I like when I have the time
- Flexibility is required – especially because I don’t plan…sometimes I am not quite sure what is for dinner until it is on my plate! Luckily, I have found that when I start with a collection of ‘extras’ I like, I end up with a meal I like
- Be prepared for more containers in the fridge and more fridge rotation so that mystery jars don’t accumulate – clear glass containers help
- 90% of the time there is something ready-to-eat in the fridge…5% of the time it needs to be eaten and I don’t really want to eat it
- Ready-to-eat food gets eaten – I keep at least a few meal options in the pantry/freezer (e.g. frozen veggies, tomato sauce, bag of lentils, tin of fish, etc.) for the days when the fridge contents have vanished!
I hope that my strategies can help reduce weekday meal stress, and if you are new to Head Start Cooking give it a try - you may like it!