What's cooking: How we do dinner at our house

5 years ago

Last night, I had to work late, which meant that my husband had to pick up the boys from day care, grab something for dinner and put them to bed without me. When I need to work late, I always miss seeing the boys, but there’s one thing that I definitely don’t miss: cooking dinner.

Cooking dinner with one child was challenging. I have found cooking dinner with two children to be almost impossible. And it’s not that I hate to cook. I don’t love it, but I don’t mind it so much, especially when I have time to do it right. And that’s the problem: there’s no time. When we get home, I’m always having to throw something together with a wish and a prayer, hoping that by some miracle it turns out all right.

Since my oldest was born three-and-a-half years ago, we’ve gone through many “phases” with our dinner preparations. I keep trying to find the magic formula that will enable me to cook healthy dinners in the shortest amount of time possible that my kids will actually eat. It ain’t easy. Here’s a quick look at the things we’ve tried:

-        Crock pot overload: When I first went back to work after my oldest son was born, I was exhausted. Even at three months, he was still waking up two or three times a night to nurse. The thought of cooking a full meal seemed like an insurmountable task, so I started throwing a roast in the crockpot before I left for work. It was easy, fast and tasty. The problem was that we were having a roast every night. I tried to vary it up: add a can of mushroom soup this night, a can of diced tomatoes that night, etc. Maybe my husband wouldn’t notice, I thought. But he did. Soon, even I got sick of roast. I wanted to try new crockpot recipes, but I was too tired to go through the effort.

-        Dad as chef. At that point, my husband took pity on me, and he began to take over supper duties. It was fabulous. He even did the grocery shopping. No matter what he cooked, I ate it like it was the most delicious meal I’d ever had. This phase was nice, and it lasted several weeks, but it was not sustainable, and we moved on the next phase.

-        Get it to go. After that, I tried to cook when I could, mainly casseroles and one-dish meals. But when I couldn’t cook, we picked up dinner. Picking up dinner is always so convenient – no grocery shopping, no cooking, no cleaning. It’s great. But it gets old really fast. Plus, it’s frustrating, because you know it’s costing you a lot of money, and that it’s not really good for you.

-        Midnight oil. Soon, I decided that we simply had to eat in more often. So, I started looking for recipes that I could make ahead of time, either in full or in part. I would brown hamburger meat at night for use the next day; cut of veggies ahead of time; put casseroles together; etc. But when I became pregnant with our second child, I was simply too tired to carry on with this.

-        My nine-week plan. While I was on maternity leave with our second son, I put together a spreadsheet that I was sure was going to change my life. It was a nine-week meal planner (download from www.TheIntrospectiveMom.com). Finally, I wouldn’t have to spend time planning meals for the week. Instead, they were all laid out for me in the spreadsheet. And many of them had components that I could make ahead. This spreadsheet worked for quite a while, until my husband went on a diet.

-        Low carbs. When my husband decided to forego carbs as part of his new diet plan, I pretty much had to scratch most of my spreadsheet. So, I had to start planning new meals, usually with a  simple meat, one fresh vegetable and one frozen or canned vegetable. This was easier, in a way, than compiling the huge casseroles, but it was still labor intensive.

-        Full circle. Today, I am back on the crockpot, but I’ve branched out. Now that I have had some time to do research, I’ve found that there are actually quite a lot of things that you can cook in a crockpot besides roast. You can even cook vegetables! So now I try to throw something in the crockpot each morning before I go to work, and I add the vegetables when I get home. This doesn’t always work, but so far, so good.

How long will this newest phase last? Who knows. I’m sure it will change as our family and our needs continue to change. But for now, we’ll keep forging ahead, one meal at a time.

Do you have a go-to recipe for quick, easy meals? If so, please share!

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