I'm a mama of 3 (15, 6, 3) and I work 5 days/wk. I strive to feed my family quality, homemade food as much as possible. Lately, I've been struggling with this. I feel like I spend way too much time on food prep, cooking, and clean up. My kids are constantly trying to get me to do something else with them while I'm trying to make them a good meal. It's making me rethink how I do things. Our budget doesn't allow for much eating out but I would like to invest less time in the overall supper process. Any suggestions? What are any of you doing for the evening meal (esp weeknights)?
FT working moms...what does your evening meal look like?
Weeknights, I do quick, simple meals. This week for example, we've had finger steaks and fries, hamburgers, pasta, fish and chips and we'll do pizza on Friday.
Weekends are when I do more involved meals. I also try to make sure we have plenty of lunch and snack stuff. I'll do as much as I can to prep meals then, when I have more time and the kids are busy doing stuff they get to do during the week.
One thing that helps is getting my kids in there with me. Have one night a week as leftover night. Our meals are really simple, basic things which seem kind of boring sometimes, but they're healthy (mostly), the kids love them and I don't spend hours in the kitchen after I've worked all day.
This is so hard for working moms. I only work part time, but I work 3 eight hour days a week, and I have a long commute so I'm gone 10 hours on those days. It makes it even harder since my 6 mth old still nurses, so right when I get home I can't even do anything else until I nurse him. Then my 2yr old wants me to play and wants all my attention, so getting dinner ready is so hard, and usually ends up being quite late on days I work. My DH is usually home those days, but not always as he works two jobs.
We are vegetarians and try to cut out HFCS, modified foods, etc and try to go organic when I can. However, with gas prices the way they are and the fact that we are behind on some bills, I sadly have had to compromise on my foods. I have started buying some frozen meals for those days, but I do try to get all natural frozen meals. I just bought some frozen stuffed rigatoni that my family loves and some frozen veggie stir frys. We have breakfast for dinner sometimes which is usually quick and easy. If I know I need to make something less healthy than usual (like fishsticks or chikin nuggets) I always try to have a big salad and fruit to go with it to make it more healthy. Sometimes my DH will make fruit smoothies to go with our dinner to help make it healthy.
Also, since I know that making dinner can be a pain doing it as soon as I get home from work, I will make some meals the night before once my kids go to sleep. Then my DH just pops it in the oven when he gets home from work. But even that can get tough as I'm so tired in the evening from my little one being up at night. Some meals I make the night before are: enchiladas, veggie pot pie, spinach & egg fritattas. Also, sometimes I won't make the whole meal the night before, but just cut up the veggies or something. Like if we're having tacos, I'll cut up the lettuce, tomatos, and onions the night before so I don't have to do it when I get home.
A crock pot helps out tons too, as dinner will pretty much be ready when you get home.
This is a problem for me too. By the time I get home it is almost 7pm and I have to nurse my baby before anything else. DH gets home earlier so he has been in charge of dinner once I get home and take the baby from him. Some quick but pretty healthy ideas we do are veggie burgers with a side of frozen veggies or a pasta with veggies in the sauce. We use a lot of frozen veggies because you can buy organic without spending too much, and they are quick to prepare. Another thing we like to make that creates tons of leftovers is a big crock-pot of beans for beans and rice. You can add anything to this: veggies, spices, meat.
My co-worker also works 40/week and she has a 13yo and a 6yo. She has them help her prepare dinner every night. They each get one pretty simple, age appropriate task, but they are involved in the cooking every night. I love this idea and hope to do it with my son when he is older. You get that bonding time and they learn to be comfortable cooking. One day the older ones may even surprise you by making dinner for you!
It sounds like your older two could get in on the cooking.
A few things we do...
1) Meal plan - that way you know what to expect. Meal planning often involves an idea of where the leftovers will end up, too
2) Cook up diced chicken with different spices thrown in on the weekend and then throw it in stir-fry, burritos, curry dishes, etc. during the week.
3) Make a pot of some bean dish on the weekend (lentils and rice or black beans, etc.) that can be eaten later on (plus used in lunches)
4) Pull something out of the freezer one night a week (frozen raviolis, shrimps to saute with garlic, homemade chili, lasagna, etc.)
5) Realize it's ok to have pasta, quesadillas, oatmeal, or whatever is easy, when I'm too tired to cook. Sometimes, you need easy food.
6) Have my dh cook dinner (actually, he usually cooks dinner, but when he's out of town, the other suggestions work)
I agree with a PP that your kids can help, too. My 7-yr-old can now do a decent job cutting up veggies.
Unfortunately, my kids are too young to help at this point and since I get home hours before dh (and dh does NOT cook), cooking is all me. I cook mainly because I like my food better than take out/pre-prepared ;) Otherwise, I wouldn't!
- I work about 50-55 hrs/week, M-F, arriving home w/kids from daycare about 4-4:30p each day. And like to have dinner ready by 6p.I cook only 1-2 week nights each week, usually T/R, + week ends if I feel like it. Other nights are left overs. I hate pre-prepping, like deciding spur of the moment what's for dinner.
- Soups freeze easy and can be leftovers weeks later
- Almost instant foods such as scrambled or deviled eggs, spaghetti (I like making my own sauce and it only takes 10 min but love TJ's arabiatta too), quesadillas, hot dogs, frozen fish, hummus+bread+cheese+crackers+veggies+olives+etc are no strangers to our table
- I have a handful of stand by recipes that take less than 30 min to prep + 45 min to cook: bean soup, lentil soup, stir fry, enchiladas, crustless quiche + green salad, fish tacos, salads w/protein, huevos rancheros, peanut noodles ... I"m sure are more ...
- I do NOT clean up. That's dh. Lunches too.
Two of my favorite fast dinner cookbooks are Lynn Rosetto Casper's How to Cook Supper and Cooks Illustrated Best 30-Minute Recipes.
I also love smittenkitchen.com for inspiration.
Good question. We're a "main meal at lunch" kinda family. I pack DD a substantial lunch (usually pasta, veggies, protein, etc.) and DH and I either take/buy salad, rice and veggies, etc. Honestly, I spend probably about an hour in the late evening preparing lunches for the next day, but it works better for us than scrambling to fix a dinner for starving people when we get home.
Our dinner consists of the one pot of mush that we fix on Sundays (varies from curried veggies, lentils, chili, large soup, beans for rice, etc.). It lasts us until Thursday night and then we eat a big salad on Friday nights. We keep plenty of raw veggies, hummous and homemade dressings in the fridge for dipping and grazing in the evening.
Because we live in a small apartment with a small kitchen, we don't have a lot of room for storage so we generally have to meal plan for the following week and buy only enough groceries to last a week. Our diet may not have the variety that people tend to like, but eliminating the stressor of making full-fledged meals at night has really contributed to our happiness and sanity!
Great thread. I like the ideas on here! I work 4 - 10 hour days. I start working at 7am and don't get home until 6:00. DH doesn't get home until 7 so we usually eat late. I spend way too much time in the kitchen getting the meals ready. DS is always wanting to talk or play and I'm in the kitchen working. What I think I need to do is pick up some of your wonderful ideas! So, I'm forming a plan to get DS in the kitchen so we have time together, dice up some meat on the weekends and cook it for pasta dishes, tacos, etc. I also like the idea of making sure the side dishes are simple, healthy things, especially when we end up serving burgers or something.
We do have breakfast for dinner now and then. DS loves tortillas with refried beans and cheese, so that always makes it on the menu. And we usually have a night where DH cooks out on the grill and I make some Annie's Mac and Cheese. I try to cook more on the weekend, the fancier meals, and basics during the week. I love my crockpot too.
It's a struggle, isn't it mamas, to get it all together and find time in the evening to relax or play with the kiddos?! In my head, I dream about working part-time so I can balance all this better. In the meantime, I'm taking your suggestions!
Usually I do Pasta with veggies and cheese or I make breaded chicken tenders and freeze a big bunch in a giant zip lock and then toss them in the oven for a quick meal the kids like, or throw rice and veggies in the steamer, or DH cooks, or we eat whatever our crazy housekeeper, who will not NOT cook if she can find something to cook, has cooked. When I have a long weekend I usually cook and portion out several larger meals like lasagna, curries, pizza bases etc and then heat them up as needed. I tend to walk in the door at 4 or 5 and throw in dinner for the kids right away so they are fed by 6 and I can relax about my own meal later.
I would guess that we order in about 2 X a month, either pizza or chinese take out.
Like this spreadsheet (I haven't been writing them up online since) - let me know if you can't see it. :)
I keep on meaning to get a crockpot...I like the idea of throwing together something the night before and coming home to dinner ready. It's just me and three year old DS, so we do a lot of super simple stuff ... scrambled eggs, baked fish, pasta and ready-made pesto. He eats more mac n cheese than I would like.
My boyfriend is a really solid cook, and we've been cooking together once or twice per week...it really is nice having a second set of hands on deck.
GuildJen- I can see it and I love it. I like the work plan part of it. It's very organized and spelled out. I get stuck sometimes being overwhelmed and wondering what comes next, what I need to do. So, I love your plan that breaks it down into smaller, manageable steps. I need to do this as well. Thanks for sharing!
We've done different things. The thing that works best is for me NOT to be cooking a big meal every night when I walk in the door. That means either our nanny has just fed them when I walk in the door, or we quickly reheat leftovers when I walk in the door, or if DH has a flexible day, he cooks dinner before I walk in the door.
The best possible day is that they are fed and going straight to bath when I walk in and then we have an hour to play before bed time. We always eat breakfast together.
It's a bit different since I only have one kid and she's a toddler, but here's our routine:
I finish work around 4, pick DD up at daycare around 4:30, and walk in the door arond 4:45. I feed DD an early dinner immediately; could be e.g. a quick piece of fish (broiled in the toaster oven); Greek salad with whole wheat pasta; eggs; sweet or regular potato (roasted in the toaster oven) with cheese and broccoli, etc. She then tools around with me in the kitchen and 'helps' while I make dinner for DH and myself. DH comes home around 7:30 and we sit down around 8. DD sits down with us and has her second dinner; after that one of us (sometimes both of us) bathes her and I put her to bed.
This is on a good day really; I'm pregnant and pretty tired lately so I definitely do not manage to cook every day (and sometimes DD doesn't get a bath either, if she isn't very dirty). On days I don't cook we eat leftovers (I always cook more than we'll eat in one meal) or DH gets takeout.
Weeknight dinner is usually some kind of vegetable- or egg-based curry and rice. We typically shop on the weekends and I'll often do a run midweek. I'll buy whatever veggies look good and that is the extent of our meal planning. I do pretty much know what I'm going to cook for dinner by the night before based on what I have in the fridge; sometimes I will wash and chop veggies the night before or in the morning before I leave for work. That way I can usually throw a curry together in about 30 minutes.
For the OP, I have two suggestions.
One would be to simplify massively. My mom WOH FT for a big part of my childhood and dinner was pretty much always some kind of meat, chicken, or fish (defrosted in the fridge during the day if necessary) and baked/broiled/roasted with minimal seasonings (think olive oil/oregano/S&P for fish, paprika/S&P for chicken, and garlic powder/S&P for meat), bread/rice/potato, and salad. This is maybe 15 minutes of work total, most of it salad-chopping, and it's quite healthy (though can get pricey) as long as the meat is high quality. (I'd be doing this now if my DH were more of a meat-eater.)
The other would definitely be to get your kids involved and make dinner prep also be family time.
1- Cooked up a pound of black beans in the pressure cooker on Sunday (15 min!). and then I have black bean soup, beans and rice, bean tacos, black bean burgers, whatever I feel like, plus I can freeze half of it for later.
2- Made 2 cups of rice, to go with beans one day and then, say, a veggie stir fry another day.
3- Put 1 lb of pork in the slow cooker. They make mean carnitas tacos, with some of the beans, and then I may have some left over to throw in soup or something.
4- put 2 (frozen) fish filets in lemon juice overnight. Tonight I'll cook them up in the skillet along with some quinoa, and that's the most work I have to do on a worknight.
We also eat a lot of bagged salad or fresh veggies like tomatoes, mushrooms, green beans, etc. that require no prep. Frozen is also easy to prep quickly.
I am extremely lucky because although I work full-time and am away from the house 10 hours a day, my DP only works 32 hours a week and works from home, so she has no commute. Most week nights she prepares dinner and it's ready for me when I get home from work. (True confessions: our DD watches a lot of videos between 5:00-6:00 pm during dinner prep time! As she gets older, we hope to incorporate her into meal prep more.)
We put a lot of thought & planning into our meals. In fact, sometimes it seems like 75% of the conversations DP & I have are about food! We're currently living without a car, so getting the grocery shopping done requires a lot of coordination. We have a bike trailer that will fit an entire week's worth of groceries in it, but we're experimenting with doing several small runs during the week to see if that's easier. We try to do our shopping during the week so that we can just focus on cooking on the weekend. During the summer we also do a lot of our shopping at local farmer's markets, and we get a CSA.
We cook 2-3 large dishes on the weekend and eat the leftovers during the week. And then on weeknights we cook another 1-2 large dishes, plus do some easy things like scrambled eggs or pizza or grilled turkey & cheese sandwiches. Thursdays are "mac & cheese" night...DD's favorite!
Some weeks we get it just right and have plenty of delicious food. Other weeks (like this one) things don't go as far as we had anticipated, and I end up having to buy lunch several days. And we get into food ruts occasionally, where we eat a lot of the same things over & over (chili, enchiladas, pasta).
OP, thanks for starting the thread, and thanks to everyone for the inspiration. Sometimes I feel like we're crazy for putting so much time & effort into our food, but I just can't imagine living any other way.
This tends to cycle in our household. Sometimes we are spot on and sometimes we have Subway once too often.
I do notice that if we make up a meal plan and shop with a list geared to that meal plan, we eat better and definitely more inexpensively.
I am a fan of plan ahead cooking. i.e. Monday no after work activities, so grill the whole package of chicken breasts then on Wednesday when I have a late class and DP is at a board meeting we can have build your own chicken tacos with the left over chicken shredded.
The slowcooker is definitely well used. And a couple times a month I try to batch cook.
I still love to cook.