Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The evening scramble

Rush from work to daycare and from daycare to home; cook dinner, eat dinner, put child(ren) to bed -- do you recognize this scramble? In our house the whole routine starts when I leave work at 5-5:15 (I usually do daycare pickup) and ends when H is in bed at 7pm. H and I get home between 5:30 and 5:45, Dorea is home by 6pm, and we try to have dinner on the table by 6:15 in order to start our bedtime routine between 6:30 and 6:45. How is it possible to make dinner and eat it in just one hour with a toddler underfoot? And can you do it eating food that is cheap, homemade, and healthy?

We have three main strategies.
  1. We often start meals the morning or night before so they are half-made when we hit our nighttime rush. This takes advanced planning, and we almost never arrive home in the evening without knowing what's for dinner.
  2. Inspired by the folks over at Addition Problems, we have prepared a "master list" of two weeks worth of meals. This saves us time shopping, but it also saves time in preparation. When you make a meal over and over, you get better at it. As we cook our two-week repertoire repeatedly, we've alter meals so that they are easier to prepare, and we get faster at preparation. We are also able to reduce food waste because we know how much of each dish we need.
  3. We use time saving devices. Our pressure cooker allows us to make brown rice in 25 minutes and vegetable broth from scraps in a half-hour. We use a crock pot to cook beans from scratch painlessly (soak-em the night before, then put them on low during the day). Our baked potato night always features microwaved potatoes.
We are also trying to get in the habit of cooking a big meal on Sunday that gets used for leftovers or stuck in the freezer, but we often don't end up cooking quite enough. Sunday is our time to test out new recipes or make some old favorites. This Sunday we made a lentil loaf from Laurel's kitchen, and then we discussed ways that the preparation could be streamlined. It may go into our regular rotation at some point.

In case you are interested in our two-week meal plan, here it is. Another note about our particular meal plan: Dorea is home on Tuesdays and I'm home on Thursdays. On Tuesday's, Dorea cooks a somewhat more intensive meal, and on Thursdays I prepare food for Shabbat (for Friday night and Saturday).

What do you do to save time in the kitchen? Any other two-week food planners out there?


Carla said...

Thank you for posting this! I am just now starting to cook dinner, and I end up picking meals one at a time, which costs too much money and isn't terribly efficient with ingredients. You have inspired me to try to put together a plan for the week!

MamaVee said...

I love it. I always want to do a two week plan but never do.

I set my week by days.

Mon and Tues are cooked meals from my recipe booklet of saved recipes. Tried and true or sometimes a new recipe to try out. one meal hopefully has leftovers for weds

Weds my husband doesn't come home so it's kids food night. ( husband takes leftovers to work. I eat whatever leftovers are left plus a big salad. the kids get mac and cheese and chick nuggets.

Thurs- pasta night. Could be pasta and jarred sauce or a more involved pasta meal. It's always pasta- set for my daughter who could eat it everyday but if she knows thurs is def pasta she chills out. - although now weds is pasta too but whatevs

Fri- Pizza night.

Sat and Sun my husband who actually likes to cook plans elaborate Gourmet recipes for the family which only he and I eat.

my caveat- is I am home, but I still choose Mon and Tues meals to be pretty quick and easy. Often slow cooking that can be prepped during nap.

And that's how I do it. :-)

Dorea said...

Thanks Carla and MamaVee (your weekly plan sounds delightfully simple). Our primary resistance to the "two-week-plan" was that we thought the meals would be too repetitive. Then we sat down with our old meal planning notes, and realized we only really ate 10-14 different meals anyway, and just spent way too much time rearranging them every week.

We've been doing this plan for a couple months now, and truly, the savings are quite profound. Going to the store less means spending less, and having a week when the cupboard feels a little bare forces us to eat foods we might otherwise skip.

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