I have a secret fantasy that I’m able to pull off home cooked meals five nights a week. But somehow, putting together a meal has proved as challenging as anything I have ever faced at work. The one night I do cook, I end up making the same basic meals time and again. I want dinner to be a family time, especially since all of our kids are in grade school and not as dependant as they used to be, but right now I spend the evening in the kitchen while my family waits patiently in other rooms. How can I make time-to-make-dinner time less overwhelming?
Getting dinner together every night is a problem that every working mom faces. Kudos to you for thinking of this as the next phase and throwing yourself into it. But since you have just started, you need to ditch the idea that all of sudden you are going to be able to cook dinner every night. Start by planning a couple of meals for the week. And family leftover night still counts as a home cooked meal. As to your goal, don’t worry: practice makes perfect and as you cook more frequently it will go faster. However, life is not perfect and you need to understand that ordering in or picking up a pizza on the way home (or having your husband do one of those) will, and should, always be a component of the weekday meal plan.
Do What the Chefs Do. When restaurants put menus together, they try to plan for multiple meals that use the same ingredients. You should do the same. Make meatloaf the same week that you make tacos. Or, make Cobb salads the same week you make chicken sandwiches. And think it terms of combinations. You have salad fixings and left over taco meat: taco salads. You got leftover meatloaf: pseudo-hamburgers (just pop some veggies on the broiler for a side et viola).
Do What the Chefs Do, part deux. The key to ensuring dinner does not become boring is not in the basic ingredients but in the spices. Let’s say that you make a meatloaf once a month. It is a hardy meal that provides leftovers. The first time, make it normally (please, use ketchup, not just tomato sauce). The next month, add a liberal amount of Tarragon; same basic meal with a unique flavor. Next time, add Curry powder. Stop spinning your wheels about finding new recipes and start spinning your spice rack to make new twists on existing recipes.
Do What Chefs Do, Part Tois: Delegate (find sous-chefs). Enlist members of the family to help cut down your time. Many kids get home from school before their parents. Leave a list of the ingredients that can be pulled out before you get home. This is actually one of the most time-consuming parts of preparing a meal so the benefits will be great. Depending on their ages, you can (eventually) teach them to prepare some of these items like rinsing the lettuce, chopping the onions, forming the meatballs, etc.