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Cooking strategies for working parents of young children

I know this has been covered a hundred different times, so sorry in advance about that.

Nevertheless, I'm looking for some concrete strategies for how to find the time to do more scratch cooking. I've started to fall back on making some compromises --buying precut or frozen vegetables, for instance. I'm also relying on my crockpot more. Still, all I seem to be able to pull off more than once a week or so are very simple meals. Usually a broiled or grilled piece of chicken, meat or poultry with steamed or grilled veggies. And a side of a steamed grain of some sort or a piece of toast or a tortilla.

I'd really like to kick it up a notch and be able to produce some more ambitious, globally-inspired and healthful food, but I just can't seem to figure out how to squeeze it all in. I used to be a regular participant in the Cookbook of the Month threads and am almost never able to pull that off anymore. I don't want to become a meat and potatoes and mac and cheese family because I think I'd die of boredom.

Any suggestions for me? Resources or recipes or cookbooks that you recommend? Thank you.

I was thinking I might pick up a copy of Bayless Mexican Everyday. Maybe Bittman's Best Recipes in the World for easy inspiration?


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  1. Slow cookers!
    Also, using frozen vegetables is not a "compromise." Many frozen vegetables are are "fresher" than the stuff that sits on the truck, being shipped for several days. So, stock up on frozen vegetables!
    Make brown rice in a big rice cooker on the weekends, then portion it out into containers for individual meals throughout the week, put them in the freezer. if in bags, they are very easy to thaw quickly.
    Cook proteins, like chicken breasts on the weekends as well, then put in the fridge for use during the week.
    For breakfasts, we precook sausage, crumbled one week, with the stuff for burritos handy, preshredded cheese (you can do that yourself), and tortillas. Then just portion out your sausage, toss in an egg, wrap and go! Some weeks, we precook the sausage into patties (or have canadian bacon), and tender layer flaky biscuits. Then in the mornings, just grab a biscuit, zap your sausage, put on a slice of cheese, put into biscuit. My husband wraps these (tortillas and sandwiches, in foil and takes them to work.
    Prep on the weekends, plan your week. Portion out cereal, precut veggies, have containers ready.

    4 Replies
    1. re: wyogal

      All good tips, thank you. I admit, though, that I feel guilty about my frozen veg when it was only a year-ago that I was all about my CSA and farmers markets...


      1. re: The Dairy Queen

        I think this statement really depends on where you live. We have fresh veg all year round and frozen veg tastes nothing, nothing like fresh veg.

        Meal planning + prepping veg and fruit to the extent possible are really healthful. Batch cooking + extra freezer is a life-saver. Complicated and shopping dependent meals take place on the weekend (fresh fish etc).

        1. re: JudiAU

          Yes, I suppose. We live in the middle of nowhere, and have little in the way of local, fresh fruit or vegetables.
          Still, a busy family can thrive using frozen vegetables.

        2. re: The Dairy Queen

          Some frozen or pre-prepped veggies are better than what you can get fresh. Costco fresh haricot vert, pre cut broccoli, frozen string beans are all regulars in my kitchen.

          Wegmans has good stir fry blends, roasted red peppers, roasted poblanos.

          It's about allocating time. Sometimes I would rather throw in half a bag of frozen chopped onions and spend a few min on something else.

      2. Have you looked at The Indian Slowcooker? I found that book, as well as her website, to be a good source of easy indian dishes you can do in advance. First I had to do a major shop to get all of the spices she uses but after that, dishes were really easy and tasty. I try to do some of the prep the night before or very early, while coffee water boils.

        I know what you mean, though. It is too easy to fall back on fairly bland flavors and known family favorites.

        2 Replies
        1. re: tcamp

          I have to admit, my husband isn't a huge fan of Indian food, so I avoid cooking it. Still, we don't have to cook Indian every night, right? Maybe trying her website would be an easy, noncommittal way to see if some of her recipes work for my family.


          1. re: The Dairy Queen

            Dairy Queen, I had success with this recipe of hers (Dad's Rajmah, above) and would recommend it: http://books.google.com/books?id=7OJP...

            I cut way back on the amount of hot peppers--and we LIKE spicy food! Garnish with plain yogurt or raita if you're feeling fancy. It's been a while since I've made the recipe, but I seem to recall it being a tad watery---you might want to cut back a bit on the water.

        2. Dairy Queen, you've probably seen this post from poster "mamachef" already:


          If a person could do this for each cuisine they enjoy, it would be a giant step toward what you want to do?

          But I don't think it takes cookbooks or appliances, I think it takes *organization*.

          15 Replies
          1. re: blue room

            Agree, organization is the key. I think about the week's meals ahead of time, shop Saturday, and generally don't plan anything that isn't a completely done meal in less than an hour, which is about my window after work/school/afterschool activities. If I'm really ambitious I might make beans or grains or slow roast some veg or something on Sunday, for the coming week. We have fish at least once a week, which is quick, probably a pasta another night, chicken or other meat saute something, and maybe a grain- or egg-based dish.

            But one piece of equipment that is a huge boost to those without lots of time is the pressure cooker! And there are good pressure cooker cookbooks out there, with lots of great recipes. I started using mine more regularly this past year, and it has really opened up a whole new area of dinner!

            1. re: Splendid Spatula

              I bought a presto pressure cooker about 4-5 years ago and I have to admit: I'm completely intimidated by it. I wonder if I need a higher-end, more user-friendly pressure cooker?

              Also, if you wouldn't mind and it's not too much trouble, I'd love it if you would share your menu plan for this week (or any other week)! Even your shopping list if you wouldn't mind. I'm not too proud to cheat off of someone else's plan if it will jump-start me.


              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                DQ, go here: http://missvickie.com/

                I have an entry-level pressure cooker, too -- and I use it all the time in the winter -- it allows you to get a "slow-cooked" dinner on the table in an hour or less. I do all kinds of casseroles and soups in mine.

                Find an easy recipe -- something like pot roast -- and try it...you'll be off to the races.

                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                  I never replied to this - want to know what's on for this week? I hope that late is better than never.

                  Sunday was a somewhat complicated roast chicken from Simca Cooks, salad, boiled potatoes. And a totally awesome pudding from food52.com, Kick Butt-erschotch pudding.
                  Monday was cooked down savoy cabbage (evoo, garlic, S&P), tossed with cavatappi, and lots of parm cheese.
                  Tonight the plan is for miso salmon (marinating since Sunday), broccoli, rice in the rice cooker. Tonight is the shortest night, since we don't get home until 6:30.
                  Wednesday I'm thinking about shakshuka, eggs poached in tomato-pepper sauce-ish stuff (from Ottolenghi Plenty), with some bread. I have more time to cook on Wednesdays, so something that needs some simmer time works here.
                  Thursday is lamb patties (just ground lamb seasoned somehow), and I think there are some green beans in the fridge. The goal with the lamb patties is to use some of the mint jelly I made this summer which is really nice but which we NEVER USE.
                  Friday, again, a little more time to cook, I thought I'd try two-potato vindaloo from Plenty again, with some rice or bread, and probably a salad if I'm feeling a lack of greens.

                  I hope this is helpful!

                    1. re: Splendid Spatula

                      Just discovered this thread - we time challenged should share our meal plans. I've been trying to cook more on the weekends in preparation for the week. It does make things easier!
                      My week begins on Fridays since I don't work Fridays, so I try to get my shopping in while Thing 1 is at school. This week is as follows:

                      Friday: Chicken in basil red pepper cream sauce and cold roasted Brussels sprouts. (this was a pinterest recipe, not my favorite)
                      Saturday: a sweet potato dish I made in the afternoon for my blog, pork chops with apple cider sauce ( a pan sauce is the quick cooker's best friend), salad with some doctored bottled dressing (added buttermilk and fresh dill to ranch)
                      Sunday: roast chicken, roast parsnips, salad again, pie (again, for the blog)
                      Monday: meatloaf (going to make this afternoon and reheat, roasted broccoli (roasted yesterday)
                      Tuesday: middle eastern garlic chicken (I'm going to pressure cook today and with pita, lettuce, tomatoes
                      Wednesday: chicken thighs with artichokes and mustard cream sauce (this is a new recipe - I'm getting home early Wed for Halloween. It's promised as a quickie, but this gives wiggle room)
                      Thursday: Cauliflower soup with cheddar (using cauliflower I roasted this weekend. ) probably a salad (I bought a few heads of romaine).

                      1. re: Savour

                        Sounds delicious! Thanks for sharing.


                        1. re: Savour

                          OK, here's what we've got going this week. I'm a little off my game because we have company with some special dietary needs, but nevertheless, here we go:

                          Monday: Catfish sloppy Joe (From Fish Without a Doubt) http://www.esquire.com/features/guy-f...

                          Tuesday: Slow Cooker Chicken Paprikash http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                          Weds: Slow Cooker Char Siu Roast Pork: http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/slow-...

                          Thurs: pizza night

                          Fri: Roasted Broccoli with Shrimp (from In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite) http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/14/din...


                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                            I love that Roasted Broccoli and Shrimp recipe. It takes NO prep time and is so healthy.

                            1. re: Savour

                              bingo on the shrimp with broccoli. I love that one too, and it is on my list of "oh my goodness, only 15 minutes to make dinner" meals. Good luck!

                          2. re: Savour

                            I've started a new thread "Harried 'hounds: what's your get-dinner-on-the-table-FAST meal plan for this week?" where we can post our weekly menus so we don't bog this thread down. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8755...

                            Please join me over there all of you meal planner types!


                    2. re: blue room

                      I saw that post of MamaChefs and LOVE it. And, yes, you're right, I think it's the planning and organization that I'm not able to get my arms around...


                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                        For me, organization is a huge help. I have a bunch of recipes that I know are fairly quick and easy to put together, and still have lots of flavor and healthfulness. I make up a dinner plan for the week a week ahead of time, and then make my shopping list (and I'm so OCD that I put notations about which aisle each item is in ... I'd really be embarrassed if most people saw my lists!). Each morning after breakfast I do whatever chopping/prep work I can and put it in the fridge. This helps a lot, but I understand that you don't really have that much time for this kind of thing. But overall I think the key is being organized, and having a plan. Good luck!

                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                          I was better organized when I didn't have the CSA I usually scratch cook M-TH but CDA comes on Tuesday and throws off my schedule.

                          I used to shop the circular and look at what I wanted to use up at home and them plan my meals around that. I would shop once a week. I actually was making something new every night for a while.

                        2. re: blue room

                          Such a great post by MamaChef. I wonder if she has a "formula" for other cuisines?


                        3. For me, it's all about freezer management and lowered expectations! I don't have enough freezer space for lots of whole meals, so I freeze things like cubes of concentrated homemade broth, small tubs of "curry starter" (which is caramelized onions, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, curry powder), really good frozen food (I've found great quality haricots verts, broccoli, shrimp, peas, and corn). On weekends, I try to make a big vat of something that will freeze well (braised short ribs or pork shoulder, chili, hearty soup, chicken broth, etc) then I divide, label, and freeze-- usually three or four dinners worth, plus a meal to eat right away.

                          In the summer, I try to prep all my vegetables on the weekend, grilling a bunch of veg, washing all my salad greens, blanching and chopping. If I'm good, I'll also make a pot of french lentils and or quinoa or barley for salads and sides during the week.

                          I also get groceries that will keep well-- grape tomatoes, vacuum sealed ham steaks, giant bags of carrots, red peppers, heads of cabbage, fresh marinated anchovies in oil (vacuum sealed, they keep well in the fridge). I rationalize expensive pantry items (Rao's sauce, fancy tuna, great oil and vinegar) by comparing the cost of a crappy take-out meal.

                          As far as simple recipes, I've stripped down some old favorites by eliminating steps and ingredients that seem unnecessary, which sometimes work great, sometimes not. But I think I'm a better cook now, and I spend less time cooking!

                          That said, I do have a file of take out menus, and I'm not afraid to use it. Sometimes, it's the price of sanity.

                          9 Replies
                          1. re: Tartinet

                            Heh, lowered expectations.... How much time would you estimate you spend on weekends doing all your prep?


                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                              It really depends on the family schedule-- at least one afternoon, plus cooking time. I usually intersperse it with other activities, so I'm not working flat out in the kitchen. Another tip is to plan your next meal as you put away leftovers, so I often shred chicken or slice meat or dice roasted veg before I put away the night's leftovers, then they're easier to take for lunch the next day, or turn into the next night's dinner.

                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                Check out the nap time chef. Granted, you're working, but theres lots of great ideas. When my daughter naps, I prepare items that can be frozen. Also, in an hour or two on the weekends, you can have several meals prepared and ready to go.

                                Another thing to consider is where you're short on time. Are you limited on prep time or is your cook time short?

                                1. re: cheesecake17

                                  Good question. My prep time is limited. My cook time is short if the food has to be served immediately. If I could cook the meal, say, the night before, and then re-heat it and serve it the next day, then my cook time does not necessarily need to be short.

                                  I will have to check out nap time chef! Nap times on weekends are my primary cooking time.


                                  1. re: cheesecake17

                                    That is a GREAT site! Thank you! I struggle to turn out a delicious, healthy meal after brutal, long hours at work and like to plan ahead.

                                2. re: Tartinet

                                  Ha. Seriously. Rao's and fancy tuna are totally worth the money in the quick dinner olympics.

                                  1. re: Tartinet

                                    The San Francisco Chronicle for many years had a feature called "The Weekend Cook" which included a "master recipe" to make on the weekend and then recipes (or sometimes just suggestions) for using the planned-for leftovers. You can search "weekend cook" on their site and come up with dozens of suggestions. One simple one: it doesn't take any more time to roast two chickens than to roast one. Leftover roast chicken can be used as the basis for a quick meal in lots of ways. Chicken tacos, chicken salad, tossed with some sauce and pasta, etc. The same for roasted vegetables.


                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                      Funny! I have Tara Duggan's "The Working Cook" book (and like it). Also, there's an article of hers I love where she tested a whole bunch of recipes from magazines that claim their meals are "quick" cooking and then rated the publications for whether the recipes were tasty, whether the recipes were logically written, whether the published time estimates were reliable, and whether the recipes were full of unnecessary steps that didn't seem to contribute anything to the meal. I recall she gave thumbs up to Gourmet (RIP), Bon Appetit, and Real Simple. One other, I think, but I can't remember it.

                                      Nevertheless, the book was published in 2006. It appears she didn't add the "Sunday supper" concept until 2009 or so. I should have a peek at some of her more recent columns...


                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                        I forgot my own favorite strategy for quick meals: sausages! They're already cooked, so they don't take much time, and they're incredibly versatile. Slice them up and saute them with onions and peppers (Italian); simmer them with sauerkraut (German); dice them, saute with some onions and herbs and top a "baked" (aka nuked) potato (American). Buy some merguez or chorizo for Moroccan or Spanish or Mexican. There are so many interesting sausages available now, they're inexpensive and they freeze beautifully.

                                    2. Agreed. Preplanning, and precut and/or frozen foods are your friends. If you're using fresh ingredients, do all or most of your chopping and pre-measuring the night before.
                                      Roast a chicken or some cornish game hen (I like CGHs; they're quicker and you don't have to deal with giblets), or slowly braise a brisket or pork shoulder in a slow cooker or in the oven for a couple hours. These will give you meat to make soft tacos, bbq sandwiches, throw into broth with spinach and some pasta (tweak the herbs/spices/garlic/onion appropriately), and can work for at least 2-3 meals.

                                      Buy ground meat on sale, make meatballs, and freeze. Broil or fry and add to soup, jarred spaghetti sauce, eggs, pizzas (from refrigerated pizza dough), etc.

                                      Whatever you do, don't go too fancy. There were a number of times when I made a fairly complex meal only to have the little one request mac and cheese. Kids like simple stuff, and YOU need simple stuff. And allow yourself at least one night a week when it's something like prefrozen coconut shrimp; mix honey and a little white vinegar for the sauce, and nuke frozen peas or frozen fried rice.
                                      A lot of frozen, canned, and prepackaged stuff can be tweaked with onion, garlic, herbs, spices, nuts, fresh or dried fruit, etc. Trader Joe's has a lot of things like pre-crusted eggplant, potstickers, and cooked meats that you can add your own sauce and fresh veggies to and save yourself some time while feeding the short people well.
                                      Oh, also one-dish meals that provide protein, veggies, and some starch in one bowl...mac and cheese with peas and ground meat or sliced chicken sausage, quesadillas with or without precooked meat (like the pork or chicken you roasted earlier) and spinach or greens from a bag, garbage soup (throw in anything and everything that you have leftover, adjusting broth by adding tomatoes/tomato sauce or paste, or half-and-half ,if desired) served with store-bought rustic bread. Fried rice made from leftovers and tweaked with things like sliced scallions, toasted sesame oil, sesame seeds, quickly sauteed bell pepper strips (frozen), pineapple chunks, and/or nuts are great. Stuffed potatoes can also be low-prep.
                                      The only things I tried to keep away from was instant stuff. Mac and cheese can be fairly fast when you use pre-shredded cheese, and now that my kid's 13, she knows the difference between fresh and instant, and prefers the fresh.

                                      Here's one of my One Dishes:

                                      DIRTY RICE:
                                      1 T OIL
                                      1-2 SLICES BACON, CHOPPED
                                      1/2 LB GROUND BEEF OR TURKEY
                                      1/2 GREEN BELL PEPPER. CHOPPED
                                      1/2 ONION, CHOPPED
                                      1 STALK CELERY, CHOPPED
                                      1 C RAW LONG GRAIN WHITE RICE
                                      1 1/2 C STOCK
                                      1/2 t FILE POWDER
                                      2-3 t CAJUN SEASONING
                                      2 GREEN ONIONS, SLICED
                                      1 BUNCH SPINACH, TORN
                                      JUICE OF 1/2- 1 LIME
                                      OPTIONAL ADD-INS: SL. MUSHROOMS, CHOPPED APPLE

                                      Heat oil in medium skillet over med-high heat. Add meats and cook until ground meat browns, 3-5 minutes. Add next 3 ingredients and saute until slightly softened, 2 minutes. Stir in rice, then stock. Bring to simmer, reduce heat, cover, and cook 15 minutes. Add greens and toss until wilted. Add green onion, then lime juice, tabasco, and salt and pepper to taste.

                                      (I know: it's not very low in fat, but it has everything, and you only have one pan. You can precut the onion, bell pepper and celery the night before and store them together in a ziploc bag or tupperware in the fridge.

                                      Substitute the bacon and/or beef for whatever similar meat or tofu product you want, and the spinach can be replaced by any other greens or chopped broccoli.

                                      14 Replies
                                      1. re: Michelly

                                        Lots of great tips in here, thank you. I really need to make better use of "the night before". I'm always so tired then, but we're not really talking about THAT much time and I'll bet I could convince my spouse to help out. Then it can be something we can do together instead of crashing in front of the TV...

                                        Home cooking hounds (everyone in this thread) are full of such great ideas! Thank you!


                                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                          Lots can also be done on the weekends. Sunday mornings, husband takes my daughter out for bagels and I have a hour to plan, chop, cook, organize. I was reading somewhere to plan dinners for sun, mon, tues from fresh foods, we'd, thurs, fri from the freezer, and sat give yourself a break.

                                          1. re: cheesecake17

                                            I love this as a model for a schedule...


                                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                              Ive done it several weeks. It works, but it helps to have pantry staples so you're not running like a loony to the store to pick up a can of whatever,

                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                I can't remember where I saw it, but I've seen some meal plans, too, where you cook all day one day a month and freeze it all...then you've got all those meals ready at the drop of a hat.

                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                  You know, I checked a Once a Month Cooking book out of the library and was a little overwhelmed by it. I'm not sure I could commit to that.

                                                  Also, there weren't enough whole foods for my tastes.

                                                  Here's an example of how one woman does her "once a month" cooking. Except, she divides it in two and does it twice a month. http://onceamonthmom.com/how-i-once-a... You can see that it takes her a couple of sessions (some quite short) over the course of four days! And that doesn't even include grocery shopping or planning time!

                                                  Here's their basic plan where they say to do an entire month you spend 2-3 hours shopping, time the night before prepping, and then 6-12 hours cooking. http://onceamonthmom.com/get-started-...

                                                  I'm not sure I'm willing to spend that 6-12 hour day away from my child...

                                                  They do have a whole foods plan now, though. http://onceamonthmom.com/oamm_menu_ty...

                                                  I think I need to work on a week at time and see if I can stick with that before trying a whole month. Wouldn't it be great to have a whole month in the bank?


                                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                    my sister and I did it once...we just weren't all that sold on the meals themselves, but that is heavily reliant on the recipes.

                                                    Just a suggestion-- I was thinking from the angle of your little one having a special day with Dad or Grandma or other favorite adult.

                                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                                      You know, month at a time cooking wouldn't be such a bad idea in winter (when I'm going to be cooped up in the house anyway) or in a month that I expect to be especially challenging. For instance, maybe I do it in November over the long Thanksgiving weekend while daddy and toddler watch football in anticipation of December craziness...

                                                      I do think it's worth checking out the "whole food" recipes they've supposedly introduced on that blog I linked to. As you say, it's recipe dependent, so all I have to do is find the right combo of recipes!

                                                      Interesting that you and your sister did it. Did it seem more fun/productive to do it as a team? I wonder if I can coax another mom in my neighborhood to join up with me.

                                                      Oh, and that reminds me, I have a dear friend who does a weekly dinner swap with a neighbor. One night my friend cooks a double meal and takes half to her neighbor and the other night the neighbor cooks a double meal and brings it over. It's hardly any extra effort to double a meal and then you get one night off. Here's a link to Real Simple Magazine's dinner swap (which is a little different. You swap freezer dinners with 3 other people.)


                                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                        It's been a really long time now, but I seem to think it came from a magazine, and it was set up to split between two families, but I can't remember the details.

                                                        You could also do the double meals and just freeze one -- building inventory for the nights you need them!

                                                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                            Speaking of Real Simple, I was leafing through in the checkout line and saw a little piece about cooking something for one night, then using it again, repurposed, the second night. There isn't anything terribly revolutionary about the concept but good to keep in mind when planning. I have two teen boys and we like leftovers for lunch so I'd really have to make alot to get two meals out of a dish, but still, good idea. I'm going to make the black bean zucchini chili this week.


                                                            1. re: tcamp

                                                              That particular recipes sounds like a great way to use up zucchini this time of year, too!

                                                              I've never been super good about repurposing leftovers, unless they were planned leftovers. We used to do something similar to what you do: use our leftovers for lunches later in the week. Except, lately, I've been making sandwiches for lunch, then freezing them in ziplock baggies. Pull them out of the freezer and toss them in your lunch with a piece of fruit or sliced veggies and by lunch time, the sandwich is thawed. (This only works if you work in a climate-controlled environment. ) So, now those leftovers really are available for dinner.


                                                      2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                        I started to read Once a Month Mum and my head is already spinning. I don't think I can do 6-12 hours of cooking in one go either, excluding the chopping and prepping. But I admire anyone who can do this marathon cooking.

                                                        1. re: lilham

                                                          Ditto. I don't think I can do a whole month the way they lay it out, but I think I might be able to use some of their recipes and/or shopping lists if there's a certain thing I want to stockpile.


                                            2. Bayless "Mexican Everyday" is a good one. He has slow cooker instructions for a lot of the recipes. That the instructions explain how to adapt the recipe to either slow cooker, or dutch oven.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: pamf

                                                I've tried several of his slow-cooker recipes off the internet, etc. and even checked Mexican Everyday book out of the library once. I've decided it's time to just take the plunge and buy a copy! Thank you!


                                              2. Don't discount basic things that you can prepare on Sunday and then turn into lots of different meals. So, get a big piece of pork or beef or a lot of boneless chicken thighs and cook them in your slow cooker until they're soft and shreddable. Don't do it in any crazy sauce - just onions, broth, garlic, wine. Portion it out into different days and the possibilities are endless: tacos, BBQ sandwiches, spring rolls, pasta, fried rice, etc.

                                                2 Replies
                                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                    I agree. I can't eat chili 3 times a week, but shredded meat can go in a tortilla, on nachos, in a quesadilla, mixed into a microwaved potato with cheese and a quick trip under the broiler, into soup, pot pie, chicken salad, etc, etc.

                                                1. Men and my wife are thinking about that situation, having a 17-month old and another one coming in a month.

                                                  There are good starting points already mentionned, like getting ahead on the weekend for the upcoming week, although that can limit your options for family time during the week-end. I am not a fan of the crock-pot, so the slow-cooker is out for me, but i use sous-vide a lot.

                                                  My plan for the upcoming years (we'll see how that go!) is to forge a lead on the previous night by prepping ingredients as much as possible (chopping veggies, portionning meat, parcooking other stuff), leaving only the actual cooking to do coming back from work (on a normal 9-5 routine...). I think there is a lot that could be learned on that front from pro-kitchens and caterers (e.g. parcooking risotto, leaving only a few minutes to finish it upon serving time), strategies that can streamline and optimize the dinner-prep situation a lot of working parents find themselves in.

                                                  Another thing I am thinking of is to look at "quick-cooking" ethnic cuisines for meals ideas. With the scarcity and cost of fuel being an issue, a lot of cuisines have historically evolved to use the less fuel possible, which generally means rapid cooking. (e.g. wokking, grilling). Asian cuisines are the best examples. Once everything is prepped, the cooking per se is really quick (see where I am going ??? :) ), perfect for a week-night dinner. But there also a lot of other options on the same principle.

                                                  For longer-cooking things, I am looking at things differently...
                                                  1)Week-end (takes too much time to cook, cool, portion on a weeknight)
                                                  2)Batch cooking (not much more trouble to 2X the batch of stew, parmigiana eggplant or bolognese)

                                                  I feel that a Foodsaver and a chest freezer can really be an asset in that regard, leaving a lot of options open during the week (Ideally thawing the next's day meal the night before).

                                                  Thank you for the question, it gave me the opportunity to think about this a little further.

                                                  4 Replies
                                                  1. re: sir_jiffy

                                                    Can you tell me a little more about what you're doing with sous vide? What equipment are you using for that? I've never tried it. I do have a crockpot and enjoy using it for the convenience, but I'm not 100% thrilled with the results most of the time.

                                                    I really agree with your comment about learning from pro kitchens about par-cooking and prepping in advance. I need to employ those strategies more, too!

                                                    Congrats on your upcoming bundle of joy, by the way...


                                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                      I am using a FoodSaver and a rice cooker with a PID controller (sounds a lot more tech-y than it is, less complicated than a microwave in fact...), http://freshmealssolutions.com/ , . Even for traditionnal cooking, foodsaver and the likes allows for pre-marinating "grillades".

                                                      I use it mainly to precook meats right now, but looking ahead to expand my horizon. Biggest hits are duck confit (no additionnal fat required), pre-cooked steaks (just sear and serve!) and chicken breast/thighs, pork shoulder (excellent for carnitas), cooking ribs after a little smoking, home-made deli meats (turkey breast, pork loin, roast beef), pork belly, etc...

                                                      1. re: sir_jiffy

                                                        You make it sound so easy and appealing, but I am a little intimidated! But also intrigued! Do you leave the sous vide going all night? Where are you getting your recipes?


                                                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                          I've let the sous-vide go as long as 48hours(e.g. ribs, pork shoulder), but sky is the limit if you are using a closed vessel, since you wont need to add water. I havent seen anything recommended past 72h. Once you've seen it do its thing, you wont worry about leaving it unattended for long periods of time (as a reference, I wouldn't be comfortable leaving a crock pot on while I'm out of the house).

                                                          As for recipes, I have learned a lot from a couple humongous threads on egullet, but there are a lot of ressources nowadays on the internet. As for books, well there is always Modernist cuisine that really explains everything related to Sous-Vide (well, eveything about eveything when I think of it), but that's a question for another paycheck...:) If there is a library nearby that carries it, a couple of hours to peruse through the section could be some of the most interesting hours you'll spend, food wise.

                                                          With sous-vide, recipes are not really relevant. It is often more of a different take on cooking your ingredient than about building a flavor profile or an end result per se. You make the sauce on the side, or season the ingredient before or after the sous-vide part of the cooking process.

                                                  2. crock pots crock pots crock pots.....

                                                    so many things are very easy and doable in them.
                                                    everything from chicken and gravy to beef stew to chili con carne to meatballs, spaghetti and pork chops.

                                                    ex: I took boneless thickish pork chops and browned them in butter seasoned with s&p 2 min per side. opened a can of Campbell cream of chicken soup put in crocker put in chops-cooked on low 6 hrs.
                                                    the little ones ate so much we barely had enough for grown ups.

                                                    "stupid" tender :)

                                                    22 Replies
                                                    1. re: iL Divo

                                                      dawned on me what I used to do when I had restrictions on time schedules and other mom duties.

                                                      I'd take a large package of ground beef cook it all up seasoned lightly and broken up.
                                                      I'd do the same with a package of chicken- poach all the boneless skinless breasts/thighs.

                                                      Package up serving sizes for meals you're planning, freeze: the ground beef could be used in taco's, chili, stew, spaghetti, casseroles, nacho's, frito pie, sloppy joes.
                                                      Do same with the poached chicken in serving size packages, freeze and take out amount needed for: taco's, burrito's, chicken and dumplings, chicken pot pies, chicken and noodle casseroles, bbq'd chicken sandwiches.
                                                      Buy frozen [if too hard to make] pastry shells then they're there at the ready for many dishes.
                                                      Frozen chopped vegetables including chopped onions, bell peppers and jarred garlic are handy and quick to grab to add to a casserole.
                                                      Biscuit mix can come in handy for a quick bread or quicker sandwich with above ingredients.

                                                      1. re: iL Divo

                                                        Jarred garlic! I use it sometimes but have been a little afraid to admit it. Also, tomato paste in a tube (which is probably not a revealation to anyone), but also (occasionally) herbs in a tube. (from the produce section at whole foods...)


                                                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                          I've seen those herbs in a tube but have never tried them. Are they really like the real thing? I'm not a fan of the jarred garlic, but the jarred minced ginger is wonderful.

                                                          1. re: LulusMom

                                                            Yes and no. They are like the real thing in a pinch as long as it kind of get mixed in to something and visual appeal is not important. For instance, if you want to sprinkle fresh, chopped cilantro over the top of some fish tacos at the last minute, then the cilantro in a tube is probably a poor substitute. But, if you just want that flavor profile in the dish, say, you're stirring it into some chili at the last minute, it's not bad. It does have a little vinegar or something in it as a preservative, so it's not completely "pure".


                                                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                              The Dorothy frozen cubes are great. Trader joes has them in garlic and basil, but I've seen them also in ginger, cilantro, pesto, onion, carmelized onion and a few others

                                                              1. re: cheesecake17

                                                                I think you mean Dorot, and I love those! The garlic one is great for popping into olive oil for pasta.

                                                              2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                I completely agree. The tubes are great for cooked things like stews and baked items. I use the ginger and lemongrass regularly. I tried the cilantro on pasta as a substitute for fresh..bad idea! But, the cilantro is great in yogurt marinated baked chicken dish I make. Plus, it's a money saver to have herbs like those that actually last a few months rather than just wilting at the first opportunity.

                                                            2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                              don't apologize to anyone about taking a shortcut if you need to.

                                                              You're preparing healthy, nutritious and tasty meals from scratch for a busy, growing family.

                                                              If that means you need to use jarred garlic and bagged salad mix and frozen vegetables -- DO IT.

                                                              Don't apologize, don't make excuses...it's your budget, your family, your kitchen, and your time. You owe nobody any explanation for why you do anything you feel it necessary to do.

                                                              You are, however, entitled to invite anyone who pulls some holier-than-thou attitude about jarred garlic and bagged salads to come over and make your dinner for you.

                                                              This works for everyone except the woman in the mirror...Her? Sometimes you just have to tell her to shut the hell up and quit beating you up for it!

                                                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                  and be strong-- sometimes that judgmental little witch in the mirror is the hardest one of all to please.

                                                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                                                      I hate her too - she wakes me up at night criticizing what I made for dinner that night.

                                                                      1. re: Berheenia

                                                                        and she's the hardest one of all to ignore.

                                                                        I still struggle, but it was a liberating moment indeed when I realized that if everybody else is happy, SHE needs to back off and Let. Go.

                                                                2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                  I own jarred garlic but 99% of the time use fresh garlic as I keep it in the freezer so it's always there. I am just trying to help you ease your work load by buying a jarred substitution. I have also never used the squeeze tomato paste but think it's brill.
                                                                  The herbs from the tube are in our Calif Alberstons so I know what you're talking about.

                                                                  Sorry if my ideas didn't help you DQ

                                                                  1. re: iL Divo

                                                                    Oh no! I think you must have misunderstood me! My exclamation after Jarred Garlic! was me delighting in hearing someone say it was okay to use jarred garlic! I think you're the first person in this thread to mention it, which is why I singled it out to comment on.

                                                                    Your other ideas --esp cooking then portioning out and freezing ground beef and chicken--are great, too, and I will definitely add to my list! I will add biscuit mix and frozen pastry shells to my pantry list too!


                                                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                      TDQ, I peel whole cloves of garlic (usually from 3-4 heads at once), chuck em in a small pot, barely cover with oil and bring it up to a very slight bubble, let it cool, and repeat two or three times. When it's cooled, put it in the fridge, it keeps for ages.

                                                                      If you use olive oil it will solidify a bit in the fridge, but you can still scoop it out with a spoon, but I now tend to use sunflower or another veg oil as i can get the whole cloves out easier.

                                                                      I use this whenever I want garlic - no frying off and burning problems, you can chuck it into mashed potatoes, spag sauces, soups etc etc , smear a little on pizza bases or meat etc, - it's instant cooked garlic.

                                                                      The oil on it's own too is great for a garlicy salad dressing.

                                                                      I've nothing against jarred garlic, it just annoyes me when it spits and sputters when you fry it.

                                                                      1. re: Chookums

                                                                        This is a great idea. Why the boils? To kill germ?

                                                                        1. re: cleobeach

                                                                          Cleobeach - it's primarily to cook the garlic, although any germs would be killed off too in the process.

                                                                          The garlic should be JUST soft, but not browned, which is why you just bring it up to the boil then take it off the heat. Stick a knife tip into the cloves to check.

                                                                          It doesnt take long to do, although I watch it very carefully with one eye each time I bring it to the boil.

                                                                          I guess technically you would call this garlic confit.

                                                                        2. re: Chookums

                                                                          I used to do that with garlic too until I learned that there is a risk of botulism with storing garlic in oil for the long term, even in the fridge. It has to do with garlic being a low acid food. The stuff one sees on the grocery store shelves has been acidified.

                                                                          There's tons of info on the internet. Here is one I came across on a quick search: http://www.vegkitchen.com/tips/preser...

                                                                          Fresh or the jarred stuff is all I use now.

                                                                          1. re: justalex

                                                                            I saute it and then store it in the freezer. I couldn't find a single reported case of botulism from doing it that way- the combination of heating it up and then chilling it doesn't provide a good breeding ground.

                                                                            1. re: jvanderh

                                                                              I'm sorry, I wasn't very concise. I was talking about storing it in the refrigerator. The freezer is fine.

                                                                              1. re: justalex

                                                                                No, I got that. I was presenting an alternative. Sorry, sometimes I'm too concise :-)

                                                              1. I am a "night cooker"! Or in the very least a night prepper. I often get going after my kids are asleep. I plan out a rough menu for the week over the weekend, make a shopping list, go shopping. Having a game plan makes things easier. Then I do much of the prep work, if not all of the cooking the night before. For example, if I am going to make fajitas, I will cut up all of the peppers and onions, cut the chicken into strips, and sometimes even measure out the spices in the evening after my kids have gone to bed. Then when I get home, it's pretty easy and quick to cook.


                                                                We are not a fan of slow cooker food but I will do braises in my dutch oven and it can just be reheated. Again, I make the night before.

                                                                My husband does not like meatloaf or meatballs but I will take time on a Sunday and make a big batch of those things and as others have said, keep them in the freezer in smaller portions for my kids. For myself, I will often make a big batch of roasted vegetables early in the week.

                                                                I will make things like arroz con pollo or jambalaya type dishes the night before. Very easy to reheat.

                                                                The key is to have a game plan and get organized!

                                                                6 Replies
                                                                1. re: valerie

                                                                  Thank you Valerie. I'm noticing a couple of common themes here, and your post is touching on a couple of them. Which are, prepping in advance (in your case night before), planning ahead, and freezing a few things ahead.

                                                                  If you have time, this weekend or any other weekend, and it's not too much trouble, I would be most grateful if you would come back to this thread and post your rough menu for the week (and hey, even your shopping list if you have it available electronically and you can just cut and paste it...).

                                                                  Maybe if I see someone else's rough menu, it might give me a starting point. I guess I really need to buckle down and do some more weekend cooking. We usually do grill a bunch of chicken and veggies on Sundays, but it looks like i ought to try to do a little more than that from what people are saying...

                                                                  Thank you again, everyone. I know you've all probably posted these suggestions in other threads, but somehow seeing them in this thread has really been helpful to me.


                                                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                    So thinking back over the last two months or so this is what our weekly menu looks like:

                                                                    Sunday - we either spend the whole morning at the farmer's market as a family or Mr. JudiAU makes the speed run. This gives us almost all the fruit and veg for the week, excellent fish for dinner that night, and usually one meat choice for the week. We also make a dash into Whole Foods or Trader Joes for dairy + staples.

                                                                    Sunday night- almost always grilled fish plus extra of something for the week. One batch of something is cooked usually to feed the freezer. A batch of the kid's favorite pasta sauce, or a bean dish of some sort, or a stew.

                                                                    At least one night we'll go out or have some extrememly simple takeout like beans + rice from the Mexican place down the street.

                                                                    One night is usually a pasta.

                                                                    One or two nights is from the freezer-- pasta e fagioli or sloppy joes or lamb burgers or stew du freezer etc

                                                                    One or two night is a quick protein like green beans with soy sauce butter and steak with a side salad for the adults and some leftover carb for the kids

                                                                    1. re: JudiAU

                                                                      This is a great "template", thank you!


                                                                      1. re: JudiAU

                                                                        Oh. Should add that we have an extra freezer that is the best thing ever. Seriously. The best thing.

                                                                        Also, one the weekend we'll double check the freezer and throw whatever is missing into the rice cooker. So we always have freshly cooked then frozen brown rice, quinoa, barley, healthish muffins and cubes of steel cut oats. All of which are cheaper and more nutritious than their TJs counterparts.

                                                                        And always have some frozen bacon and sausage.

                                                                      2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                        I will definitely get back to you with a basic plan. However, we are leaving for vacation early tomorrow so it will be a week or so before I can get to it.

                                                                        My starting point, though, is that I have been keeping an ever-growing list in Excel of recipes that are either part of my regular rotation or ones that I want to try...or some that I have tried but have been rejected by my family! I am forever perusing the internet, and CH of course, for new ideas to add to the mix and I put them on the list. They are not complicated recipes and they do not require obscure ingredients. I save those for when I have company.

                                                                        And anything that can be made in advance is a bonus for me.

                                                                        1. re: valerie

                                                                          valerie, I'd love to see your basic plan upon your return from vacation! Have a great time.

                                                                          I really do need to keep a good list of my recipes. I've been using EatYourBooks.com for that and I have a binder, too, but I need to be more consistent about that.


                                                                    2. Amongst my favorite time-saving home-prepped "starters" are 1) ground beef (or other ground or thin-sliced meat) sauteed with onion and garlic, then split into appropriate entree amounts. Later, from fridge or freezer, continue with it as stir fry or chili or pasta sauce, etc. , and 2) partially-prepped onions. Peeling and cooking onions is often the longest part of preparing a meal. Set aside a few hours to work on 10 pounds of onions. With half, peel, slice/chop, and bag meal-size amounts for the freezer. Because freezing ruptures cell walls, they cook faster from frozen than from fresh. With the other peeled/sliced/chopped half, start cooking them over medium heat and remove appropriate amounts at stages, for freezing: sweated, golden, brown, and with the last, caramelized. The longer they cook, the more they reduce. A pound of onions turns into a cup when caramelized.

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: greygarious

                                                                        I love the "starter" ground beef idea. We do that sometimes, but I need to incorporate it into my regular meal planning. Thank you for the awesome tips about onions. Onions make everything taste better.


                                                                      2. I had a subscription to Cook's Illustrated for a few years, then for awhile I subscribed to the website. I gleaned many of our family's favourites from their pages. They have great recipes for most family classics, like homemade taco meat, pot roast, banana bread...

                                                                        Also I have a set of binders....yes BINDERS....with paper copies of my tried and true recipes. One binder for main dishes, one for veg/starch/salad, one for canning, one for baking/desserts. I find that it's easy to waste a LOT of prep time surfing for recipes, so I surf once or twice a week, print the recipes I'm going to try, and if they're good they get moved from fridge magnet into a binder. This also allows me to scribble my own notes as I go. Old school, but it works for me.

                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. re: applgrl

                                                                          I've got binders too! I thought I was alone ...

                                                                        2. I don't have small children around the house but I still know the feeling of "Didn't you just eat?"

                                                                          About the only solution is on the weekend make a large casserole on Saturday and and a large braise like Swiss Steak on Sunday so that leftovers will take care of 2 nights dinner. Then stock your pantry and fridge with things that will allow you to cook something quick like stirfry, skillet lasagna and maybe your favorite pasta dish. Chicken leg quarters are very quick. Avocado BLTs on croissants are good and quick. Breakfast is always good as far as I am concerned. Oven bbqed pork tenderloin is popular at my house. Slow cooker pulled pork doesn't take any real effort and can be kept in ziplock bags for emergencies. Heck pulled pork will give you 3 - 4 meals.

                                                                          Finally, sometimes, you just have to use that take out menu for a little sanity.

                                                                          1. I **always** have a bag of boneless, skinless chicken breasts and a bag of mixed Chinese vegetables in my freezer (if I have the space, I also have a bag of frozen fried rice)

                                                                            Then no matter what happens, I *always* have dinner...this is not the time to go all OHMYGOD ITS NOT CHOW -- this is about feeding my family healthy nutritious food when everybody is starving and I'm out of time and/or energy.

                                                                            Pasta -- my husband jokes that he thinks the world would end if he didn't see 2-3 boxes of pasta in my pantry. Sauces -- jarred or the usually-great Knorr powdered mixes -- and those frozen chicken breasts? Meals in 30 minutes.

                                                                            Rotisserie chicken -- make it yourself or get one from the grocery...Pasta, tacos, burritos, stir-fries, salads...the possibilities are darned near endless.

                                                                            Quick-cook rice -- no, it's not our favorite, but there are times when being ready in 10 minutes is a good thing. (I usually make basmati...but again...we're not talking Gourmet night here!)

                                                                            I always have a package of bacon - breakfast-for-dinner, quiche, salads, and carbonara

                                                                            Quiche is another quick-and-easy healthy meal (cheap, too, which helps!)

                                                                            And +100 on mamachef's post linked above.

                                                                            1. I see lots of great ideas. I wondered how many you are cooking for. Also do you shop at Trader Joe's? Or could you sign up for one of those Supermarket delivery Services? Our neighbors with 3 teens get Peapod from the Stop and Shop, a big chain in New England.

                                                                              16 Replies
                                                                              1. re: Berheenia

                                                                                I'm cooking for 2 adults and a toddler. Daughter goes to nursery 5 days a week. She has a small snack when she gets home, which is from the freezer stash. In the weekend, I have to cook all her meals.

                                                                                We have grocery delivery from a supermarket. I do my shop online (it also has a phone app), so I can enter what I need when I meal plan. I can't do a veg and meat box type of service because here you get a random box of seasonal goods. That wreak havoc to meal planning.

                                                                                1. re: lilham

                                                                                  What kind of snacks do you have ready to go in your freezer for your toddler?


                                                                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                    If you have a Trader Joes nearby they have tons of stuff that is great for kids snacking. Dried green beans/pea pods (sort of a slightly salty and crunchy snack), freeze dried fruits (mango, strawberry, raspberry, grapes), letter cookies (not very sweet). Cheese sticks. They have good hummis. Nice yogurts in small sizes. Pre-cut fruit. "popped" potato chips for special occasions.

                                                                                    1. re: LulusMom

                                                                                      Everything you mentioned is a staple in my house. My toddler loves the freeze dried fruits. I don't buy the blueberries, because they stain. The "cat cookies" are a hit, and so are the squeeze packs of applesauce.

                                                                                      I also prepare a lot of her snacks. Mini muffins (i use the fiber one recipe), cheese puffs, mushroom puffs, mini pizzas are always on hand.

                                                                                      1. re: cheesecake17

                                                                                        The weelicious berry muffin and chocolate-banana are much loved in our house. Freeze well.

                                                                                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                            Berry muffins look awesome. Will have to try them ASAP.thank!!

                                                                                            1. re: cheesecake17

                                                                                              Yes, those are both of them. They freeze well. Keep an eye on the baking time though because they are much less tasty when overbaked.

                                                                                    2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                      Savoury muffins
                                                                                      Bento burger patties - I made these for my own lunch boxes as well, there are a lot of recipes for these on http://www.justbento.com. Surprisingly, my toddler loves the tofu tuna miso burgers. It's a very strong taste of tuna and miso.
                                                                                      Cheesy veggie nuggets, Lentil and Cheese Wedges from http://www.babyledweaning.com/recipes... - I actually cook them all in my mini muffin tray, so they are muffins that are not muffins

                                                                                      1. re: lilham

                                                                                        Those lentil and cheese mini-muffins sound great - and like something I'd like to be putting in Lulu's lunchbox. When you do them as mini-muffins, how long do you cook them? And have you tried them with brown lentils? What types of cheese have worked best for you? I'm thinking something like feta or goat, but wow, I love the sound of these.

                                                                                        1. re: LulusMom

                                                                                          I use red lentils so they are very mushy when cooked. I think brown lentils are quite firm so I'm not sure if the end product will hold together. For cheese I use cheddar but that's just because I use cheddar for everything that says grated cheese. And also I'm in the UK so cheddar is the default cheese. Cooking in the mini muffin tray, it takes around 10-15min. I found that they don't brown up, so I go by touching the top and feel how firm they are.

                                                                                          They are indeed very delicious!

                                                                                          1. re: lilham

                                                                                            Sounds great! I think I'm going to give those a try!


                                                                                            1. re: lilham

                                                                                              Thanks for the quick answers lilham. I'll be trying those for sure.

                                                                                              1. re: LulusMom

                                                                                                me, too! they sound great. how much water are you US-based posters using in that recipe?

                                                                                    3. re: Berheenia

                                                                                      I'm cooking for three, and the little one can eat as much as we do on occasion! Y

                                                                                      ou know, I tried grocery delivery but the quality wasn't great. I still use it in a pinch, though, when I don't have time to shop or when I need to buy heavy things.

                                                                                      I haven't been a fan of TJ's in the past, mostly because I find I can't find everything I need there and end up having to make a second stop. I recall going there one time and not being able to find bay leaves or flour, two things I consider to be basics. Nevertheless, I might be able to go to TJ's say, once a month, and stock up.


                                                                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                        Delivery was a catastrophe for me when I tried it. And I do hear you on TJs. For me, it is only a once every few weeks stop, not my usual grocery shop, so that definitely does add to the day. I can't tell you how often I've fallen in love with a product only to have it discontinued.

                                                                                        Other things we end up using a lot for snacks or lunches from there: the samosas (just keep them away from your husband), and the mini chicken tacos, both in the frozen section. These are more for lunches than snacks or meals, but in a pinch it is good to have something tasty and different for your son. Yeah, you didn't cook it yourself, but a PB&J isn't that labor intensive, and those foods will at least give him something to alert his tastebuds that there are other fun things out there.

                                                                                    4. I have a 1.5 year old and I feel exactly like you. I read the COTM threads, but in our household only 15-30 min meals get made. Even in the weekend, I don't have time for elaborate meals because I still have to do things with my toddler. And she isn't the age to enjoy cooking with me yet.

                                                                                      I love cookbooks, and still cook from cookbooks regularly. Or read them for inspiration. The ones most use are the quick meals ones. If you like globally inspired but quick food, have you looked at Nigel Slaters 30min meals and Bill Granger's Everyday Asian? (I sort of remember Mighty Spice having lots of 15-30min types of meal too. But haven't looked at it for a while).

                                                                                      I cook all my meals from 'scratch' if you take a wider meaning of the word. I use some frozen vegetables. But I use even more prepared ones from the supermarket. For example, precut squashes, brocolli and cauliflower florets. I also cheat with curry pastes. We can get really good thai and indian curry pastes here in the UK. I feel it's still cooking because I do add other things when using them. And obviously fresh vegetables and meat. For example, there's a very nice fish curry using red curry paste in Everyday Asian. I serve it with egg noodles and the whole meal comes together in about 15min.

                                                                                      The other thing is we only eat vegetarian and white meat here. We have a slow cooker for dried beans. I soak the beans through the night, and then put on the slow cooker while I'm at work. Chicken and fish are both very very fast to cook.

                                                                                      And obviously meal plan. I use Google Docs to do the plan, so I can edit it in the office as well. Inspiration comes often when browsing forums! I also repeat the same meal within a week or so to cut down on both prep and planning time. I don't have a chest freezer, only a standard UK sized fridge freezer. (We call the double width ones American fridges here). So there isn't any space to freeze the second portion. By repeating within a week, I'm getting two days worth of food by doing one prep.

                                                                                      Here's my menu for the week:
                                                                                      Prawn and pea risotto with mint and basil (Jamie Oliver's return of the naked chef)
                                                                                      Tandoori chicken pizza
                                                                                      Stracci with Gorgonzola, mascarpone, marjoram and walnuts (another from return of the naked chef)
                                                                                      Soba noodles with aubergine and mango (Ottolenghi's Plenty)
                                                                                      Corn fritters with sweet and sour sauce (Bill's Food by Bill Granger), serve with grilled fish

                                                                                      It's quite carb heavy this week. But I just crave pasta and noodles in hot weather. I'm strange I know!

                                                                                      PS. I also have a rice cooker with a timer function. So chinese style meals with a main meat stir fry and a quick veg is common here too.

                                                                                      19 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: lilham

                                                                                        Funny! I was thinking about picking up a copy of Everyday Asian, but I would have to buy it sight unseen because my library doesn't have it. BUt, you've given me a nudge in that direction! Lots of great ideas in here, thank you.


                                                                                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                          I'm wanting Everyday Asian too! I keep looking at it on my wish list and thinking "is today the day?"

                                                                                          1. re: LulusMom

                                                                                            Ha! Well, maybe I'll take the plunge. I have the feeling I won't be doing COTM for Sept. None of those books are really calling to me. Maybe I'm going to take an official month off and just cook from only books that have Everyday in the title . My copy of Mexican Everyday just showed up. To that I could add Everyday Fook (Martha Stewart) and Everyday Asian.


                                                                                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                              OK, I took the plunge and bought Granger's Everyday Asian. There's a 3rd party seller on Amazon that will sell you a "Like new" copy for $10 plus $4 shipping. I think I'm going to prepare 4 weekly meal in Sept plans using my 3 "Everyday" books and the suggestions in this thread for prepping the night before and cooking on the weekend and see how it goes. I do need to track down Martha.


                                                                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                OK, I'm SO excited for you. Please, please let us know a) what the recipes seem like to you - are you excited by just reading them? and b) how they turn out - how much work they are, how tasty they are. I'm excited for you.

                                                                                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                  OK, I've also added this book Everybody, Everyday to the mix. http://www.everybodyeveryday.co/ It was just released in the U.S. today! The premise of the book is that he gives you six basic recipes (Baked Chicken Breast,
                                                                                                  Baked Salmon Fillets, Roast Aubergine, Pan-fried Pork Chops, Pasta Pilaf/Risotto,
                                                                                                  Burgers/Mince Steaks) and then gives you six sauces you can use (Basil Pesto, Tapenade, Soft, Sweet, Sticky Onions,Tomato Compote, Garlic Butter, My Green Curry Paste ). He also has six "slow-cooked" recipes (roast chicken and so one) and six ways to turn each of those into a meal.

                                                                                                  The bonus is that on his website, for each recipe he tells you how to get children involved in preparing the meal...

                                                                                                  I don't know anything about Chef Alex Mackay and I seldom buy a book without more of a recommendation, but I really like his premise. Oddly enough, it reminds me of what Rachel Ray's original premise was, long before she was on FN.


                                                                                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                    I just went to amazon to look at this everybody, everyday book. And I'm hooked. The concept sounds brilliant. The look inside shows that out of the six heroic ingredient, only one is a red meat. (I usually make burgers with turkey mince). For the slow cooking, I won't be able to do the roast belly or lamb shoulder. I wonder how different the glazed roast duck is to the roast chicken.

                                                                                                    If nothing else, it sounds like a good bedtime book. I wonder how long I can resist adding this to my shopping basket.

                                                                                                    1. re: lilham

                                                                                                      That info about the 1/6 being red meat is really helpful to me - thanks lilham (and TDQ).

                                                                                                      1. re: LulusMom

                                                                                                        All of the recipes are listed on his site (not the recipes themselves, just a listing of what the recipes are), along with many videos and ideas of how to involve kids.

                                                                                                        Just click on these links:

                                                                                                        ADVENTURES WITH INGREDIENTS http://www.everybodyeveryday.co/adven... (be sure to click on each of the heroic ingredients to see the six recipes for that ingredient...)

                                                                                                        THE MAGIC FRIDGE


                                                                                                        SLOW COOK SORCERY (be sure to click on the links for roast chicken, etc, to see the six recipes for each of the six items)


                                                                                                        It's like garanimals for cooking!


                                                                                                      2. re: lilham

                                                                                                        Yeah, I won't do the roast belly or lamb shoulder either. I'll let you know what I think of the book once I get it in my hands, but I love the concept.


                                                                                                        1. re: lilham

                                                                                                          So, my copy of Everybody, Everyday has arrived. Pretty compact little book. I'm still very intrigued by the concept. Everything is in sixes. Six "heroes" (chicken, pasta/risotto, salmon, pork chops, eggplant, ground beef) for which he provides one detailed master recipe plus 6 more involved recipes once you have the basic mastered.

                                                                                                          For the most part, no specialized ingredients are required, except for the "mince", lamb, and belly pork, all of which he recommends getting from your butcher. Everything else he says you ought to be able to get at regular grocery store. Everything is in UK measures and gas marks...

                                                                                                          For each recipe, he tells you active and total time, what you can prepare in advance, what you might do with leftovers, and how you might adapt it for infants, toddlers or young children. In several case he also gives you an alternative to the protein (though, not for the six heroes). I think the serving size for most recipes is two. He believes that it's the easiest serving size to adapt by cutting in half or doubling or tripling (which he often encourages).

                                                                                                          There are also recipes for six sauces. Most of those can be used with the six heroes. And for each sauce, he provides six recipes for turning the sauce into a meal...

                                                                                                          He has six slow cooked recipes (roast chicken, braised lamb, etc.),. each of which comes with six recipes. For the lamb, pork and duck, he offers alternatives if you don't have braised lamb, pork or duck handy. In the case of the lamb, there are many non-red meat alternatives. For the pork and the duck, the alternative is usually pork or duck in another form (ie., pork sausage or bacon or duck breasts)...

                                                                                                          I think this book is geared towards beginning cooks with young children, or, maybe people like me who just need a template to follow at this stage of my life. Nevertheless, the recipes seem very appealing, not boring. No fake or highly-processed ingredients.

                                                                                                          I think there's a grains and vegetables section in the back of the book, though I haven't made it that far.

                                                                                                          I haven't cooked anything from it yet. I was thinking if I cooked each of the six heroes recipes every week, I'd be through that part of the book in six weeks. But, lots of the recipes are seasonal, so that really isn't the best plan if you like to cook from what's in season.


                                                                                                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                            Well my finger doesn't seem to listen to what my brain says and somehow 1-clicked on Amazon for Everybody, Everyday.

                                                                                                            I also looked inside the Indian Slow Cooker book. It looked really good. Better than most other slow cooker book I've seen. We don't eat red meat, and that's usually most recipes in these books. I don't like chicken or fish from the slow cooker normally. Except for using in Fuschia Dunlop's cold chicken dishes. A lot of the ones that use beans ask you to either used tinned, or cook the beans in advance, in addition of another 4-8 hours cooking. Which seems to defeat the purpose of a slow cooker. But this Indian Slower Cooker is completely different. It's mainly beans and lentils, with only 8 chicken recipes. There are no red meat. The beans are cooked from dried with the spices and liquids, taking about 8 hours. I'm intrigued. I think I'll make a couple of the recipes available from the look inside. If they are good, I will order it.

                                                                                                            1. re: lilham

                                                                                                              I hope you like it! Will love to hear about your experiences with Everybody, Everyday as well as with Indian Slow Cooker. I think some poeple reported on it in the slow cooker cookbook thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/829403


                                                                                                              1. re: lilham

                                                                                                                Wow. Thanks for the great and helpful review.

                                                                                                              2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                TDQ have you cooked from Everyday Everybody yet? I just came back from my holiday and had a good read of it. I think the book is a disappointment based on pure reading. (I haven't cooked from it).

                                                                                                                I started with the chicken breast chapter and read the page on how he cooked chicken breasts. He suggests seasoning with salt and a variety of substitutions for pepper (cayenne, five spice, etc). There's also what he suggestions of serving it with the six sauces. The thought of eating baked chicken breasts seasoned only with salt and say five spice sound extremely unappetising to me. I'm not sure if he intended his readers to serve simply seasoned baked chicken breasts.

                                                                                                                So I moved on to the six recipes that followed. The only commonality are that all 6 are baked chicken breasts with sauce/dressing. But they do not look any simpler/faster than say a Bill Granger recipe, or the Kadahi Chicken from Mighty Spice I cooked yesterday. In fact I'd say they take more time to cook since I normally cut my chicken into pieces so they definitely don't take 15+ min on the stove. Maybe if I cook from them, I'd understand how they simplify cooking? To me they just seem to be such big jumps from the simply seasoned chicken breasts on the cooking page.

                                                                                                                I did learn one thing from the starch section. I have never thought of serving polenta as a mashed potato substitute.

                                                                                                                1. re: lilham

                                                                                                                  Darn! I'm so sorry I lurred you into buying a book you're finding disappointing. To be honest, I have not cooked from this book yet. I've been sick two weeks this month, just enough to throw me totally off track. But, also, to be honest, I didn't find that the book really grabbed my attention either. But, I do need to spend more time with it...


                                                                                                        2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                          The everyday food book is excellent. Quick, easy meals that are usually short on prep and typically wholesome. I've made lots of the soups and many are great freezer items. Just checked out every day food light from the library and found a bunch of recipes to try.

                                                                                                          On the topic of soup, I like to freeze chicken matzoh ball soup in invididual containers. It's a one dish meal for my daughter when I'm going out or preparing an "adults" meal after she's sleeping.

                                                                                                  2. While I don't have kids, I have often tried to find different ways to get a more interesting variety of veggies into my weekly meals without having to do so much prep during the week.

                                                                                                    What I try to do every weekend is basically make two large veggie items. One is a raw salad that can be easily preserved with lemon juice and a little salt and typically involves items like grated carrot, red cabbage, kohlrabi. This lasts me all week in tuperware in the fridge and can have more gentle items like greens, or different actual dressings/toppings added . I also make a large amount of roasted veggies. Sometimes with a marinade - sometimes with just the basics.

                                                                                                    During the week, I can use the raw salad and roasted veggies for a bunch of different items - either as a side or a main with very little additional work involved.

                                                                                                    1. Have you ever looked at a copy of Martha Stewart's Everyday Food magazine? Over the years I've found quite a few recipes that have become family staples because they're both delicious and usually pretty quick. Last night's dinner was from an old edition: eggplant ricotta bake. Took about 15 minutes to put together, and then 25 to bake (it uses bottled marinara, which really cuts down on timing). I cut up a baguette to fill out the meal. Everyone was happy. It is worth picking up a copy to see how you feel about the magazine. Not every issue is great, but I almost always pull out at least 2-3 recipes to try.

                                                                                                      6 Replies
                                                                                                      1. re: LulusMom

                                                                                                        No, but I have the Everyday Food cookbook. I should drag that out!


                                                                                                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                          I bought that book to help alleviate the piles of torn out pages, but then found that most of my favorites weren't in there (picture me kicking self). Of course this is obviously a matter of taste. Do pull it out and see if you find anything that especially appeals. I think the times they give are usually pretty accurate, and they also give nutritional information (not always, for some odd reason).

                                                                                                          Lulu and I will be making something I pulled out ages ago for her school snack later this week - zucchiini chocolate mini muffins with pecans on top. Supposedly 15 minutes active prep time.

                                                                                                          1. re: LulusMom

                                                                                                            Apparently I don't own Everyday Food! I can't find it and it's not on my EYB shelf. I guess I took it out of the library once...


                                                                                                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                              the magazine is much better yhan the book....i got mine off tanga for 3.99 A YEAR!

                                                                                                              1. re: LaLa

                                                                                                                I'd agree - the magazine, for me, has definitely been a more fun and reliable source of good stuff.

                                                                                                            2. re: LulusMom

                                                                                                              The chocolate-zucchini mini-cakes took a little longer than 15 minutes to put together, but that had something to do with having a 6 year old involved, and honestly, it wasn't much more. And ... they're a huge hit.

                                                                                                        2. My family is in a similar situation, TDQ. For getting a jump-start on easy meal planning, I would recommend the book _Saving Dinner_ by Leanne Ely. Because of changes in our work situation, my husband recently took over all of the meal planning and cooking in our house--something he didn't feel comfortable with at all! He found this book at our local library and liked it so much he bought a copy. He loves that it not only gives a basic dinner outline for the week, but that it also gives a shopping list and the recipes (with nutritional info and simple side dish suggestions). He can take the book (we have the little paper back version) to the store with him, and he can also cross out any grocery item that we don't need. It's also divided up into seasonal sections, so the recipes and ingredients seem appropriate to the time of year. He's been using it for about 2 weeks, and so far we're liking the food. You might want to check it out--if for no other reason than to save time doing the leg-work of deciding what meals to make each week and then putting together a grocery list.

                                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                                          1. re: egging

                                                                                                            Kind of reminds me of the Six O'Clock Scramble. I might sign up for her free mailer and see what I think: http://savingdinner.com/frequently-as...


                                                                                                          2. I also have a copy of this:


                                                                                                            It's actually a really good resource -- they're very forthcoming about the timing, and IME is pretty accurate.

                                                                                                            They do a lot of shortcuts -- but it's things like using bagged slaw mix, rather than cream-of what-is-it.

                                                                                                            Their Mu Shu pork recipe and their Chicken Marsala recipe rawk, by the way.

                                                                                                            1. Wonderful suggestions everyone, thank you. I'm sorry I can't reply to everyone individually because that would really clutter up the thread. But I think I'm going to go through these suggestions and make a list of all of them so that I easily refer to them.


                                                                                                              4 Replies
                                                                                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                No one has mentioned this. But....
                                                                                                                If your children are of HS age, if one, or two, how about delegating them to do the meal prep a night or two.
                                                                                                                Back in the day.......one of our daughters was not involved in after school activities, came home, and prepared the evening meal for our family. On the stove and ready to go by the time damissus and I and the other kids got home around 5:30. She would choose the menu from what was in the 'fridge and cupboard. Not that she was an introvert, she was a Natl Merit Scholar, but she enjoyed cooking, and it has served her well for the last 30 years or so,
                                                                                                                Kids can accept a lot of responsibility if given guidance, instruction and encouragement.


                                                                                                                1. re: AZGrandpa

                                                                                                                  We're not quite there yet, but I definitely hope to involve my child in the kitchen and at the market, etc.


                                                                                                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                    Trader joes is a great place to introduce your toddler to shopping. I typically make a destination out of it, since it's a 20 min drive. There's always a sample for her to taste, and she loves when an employee offers her a cookie or cracker. The store is small enough so that there's no meltdowns. And the best part is at the registers...stickers!

                                                                                                                  2. re: AZGrandpa

                                                                                                                    My best friend and her older sister took turns cooking dinner for their family from the time we were in 7th grade. They even did the shopping, every Thursday night their mom would drop them off at the grocery and go get her hair done. She was a vice-president of a bank and a master at delegation!

                                                                                                                    They cooked very simple meals, but it sure impressed me. I remember how fascinated I was when my friend would stick pork chops in the oven, open a cupboard and pick a canned vegetable, make iced tea, etc. In my house the kitchen belonged to my mom, and the idea that anyone else would or could cook was verboten!

                                                                                                                    I can see now how much having them make dinner benefitted them - they are both great cooks and run their careers and families like clockwork. I, on the other hand, can remember how lost I was when I first married and had to start turning out meals every day. As a result, I have always tried to include my daughter in cooking and planning meals, so when she is on her own she will not be as overwhelmed as I was!

                                                                                                                2. This plan for weekly meals might be helpful:


                                                                                                                  I found some of it confusing (it looks to me as though she gives some of her saved-for-a-meal stash to the hungry after-school crowd), but I really like her approach in general. And her attitude!

                                                                                                                  48 Replies
                                                                                                                  1. re: monfrancisco

                                                                                                                    Great article, thank you. Really echoes a lot of what people here are saying...


                                                                                                                    1. re: monfrancisco

                                                                                                                      A really great article. I can agree with so many points she's made, and also learned a few new tricks.

                                                                                                                      For example, now I can see why I don't want to cook on Sundays. It's because it's summer, not because I'm lazy! However, I think I can manage chopping up some veg. Also like her idea of only freezing one meal, for a week ahead. (It's much more organised than my ah hoc freezing). I always hear people freezing up a month of food, and wonder where do they store them all. I also have home made pesto in my freezer on standby. Pasta like spaghetti putanesca and cabonara are favourites. I already make macaroni cheese ahead bar the baking. There must be a few more things I could make ahead for baking later.

                                                                                                                      I also really like the disassembling meals idea. I already struggle to come up with things my toddler will eat.

                                                                                                                      1. re: lilham

                                                                                                                        Yeah, I don't want to be inside in summer cooking either. The warm weather season in Minnesota is so fleeting.

                                                                                                                        One point I thought was interesting is that she makes the most basic version of her staples, the meatloaf or the roast chicken, for instance.


                                                                                                                      2. re: monfrancisco

                                                                                                                        Great article - thanks for the link.

                                                                                                                        One of the things that I find very helpful to have in the freezer (that takes up little space) is one or two compound butters. These can be used on fish (cooked any way) or chicken and really up the flavor. Both cook pretty quickly, and the butter seems to keep very well for a while. I've even used one or two on roasted tofu - sometimes wonderful, sometimes weird, but always easy.

                                                                                                                        1. re: LulusMom

                                                                                                                          That's a great tip, thanks. It will be very handy for grilled fish or chicken. Never knew you could freeze butter.

                                                                                                                        2. re: monfrancisco

                                                                                                                          Disappointing article - It sounds like that it is a miracle to get any freshly made dinner or lunch at home when it should be the standard. In addition she mentioned things which are wrong IMO to really develop a good habit of a family meal together, e.g. cooking different things for different people (one of the purposes of sharing a meal together is to eat the same things and share time together) and don't get me even started with different diets (as long as there is no clear medical reason). Yes, it requires some planning (which in our experience is the critical issue) to have dinner with your kid(s) and at the same time having good, diverse food (I don't like here approach with certain core dishes which she will repeat on a weekly basis) cooked from scratch but it is not that difficult.

                                                                                                                          1. re: honkman

                                                                                                                            You make some good points.

                                                                                                                            I agree that you shouldn't serve different things to different people, but I do think it's okay to let people, including kids, make certain choices, e.,g. white or dark meat, sauce or no sauce, that sort of thing.

                                                                                                                            I also agree that repeated the same core dishes every week might be too much for me. I might feel more comfortable with a rotating two week core of dishes. Also, I kind of feel that there's a little too much overlap between meatloaf and meatballs, unless they were made of different ground meats, say bison meatloaf and turkey meatballs...

                                                                                                                            Still, I thought it was overall very interesting and helpful.


                                                                                                                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                              TDQ, your reply about giving choices for what to eat raises a more general interesting point about raising children (and also its effect on their eating habits and parents way of cooking) which is the strong differences between different cultures. It is always fascinating to see the big differences how children are raised between the US and Europe and also its impact on eating and food. And interesting book we recently read was “Bringing up Bebe” (American mother raising her children in France) which pretty much captured our own experiences (coming from Europe) with the biggest (philosophical) difference that in the US parents tend to change their life completely (inlcuding many of their regular routines and habits) once they get a baby whereas in Europe parents tend to integrate the baby early on into their regular life (including their routines and habits). This general difference has many huge effects on the upbringing of children including their relationship to food etc.:

                                                                                                                              - Why cook differently when you have children (including offering multiple options) when you haven’t done it before

                                                                                                                              - Giving children all kinds of homemade food early on (starting as a baby) so that they don’t become picky eaters. (I have never seen so many picky eaters (of any age) than in the last ten years I am living in the US)

                                                                                                                              - As an adult you normally have regular 3-4 meals a day without much snacking in between. Here in the US parents seems to think it is OK that children have different eating schedules which include a lot of in between snacking. (which down the road has also a huge effect on their eating habits and regular meals)

                                                                                                                              - I have never seen so many children running around in restaurants and simply not behaving as in the US and everybody seems to think it is normal and part of life whereas it should be the other way around.

                                                                                                                              I think coming back to your questions in the OP perhaps you should try a different mindset by trying to continue your cooking routine like it was before you had children. (And yes it is not easy at the beginning but especially when both parents work together and plan accordingly it is not that difficult).

                                                                                                                              1. re: honkman

                                                                                                                                As an American born child of a European-until-adult-parent, I can relate to so much of what she wrote about in that book, there is a noticable difference in the family culture.

                                                                                                                                1. re: honkman

                                                                                                                                  Best advice my mother-in-law has ever given me was when my daughter was born. She said: kids won't starve. Fix one meal.

                                                                                                                                  Obviously certain things have to be juggled. Some kids don't like spicy stuff (I'm lucky that mine does) or don't want the sauce on the pasta or whatever.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: honkman

                                                                                                                                    the shades of rose used in the lenses of spectacles worn when observing the French world are truly remarkable.

                                                                                                                                    For every story in that book of perfectly-behaved children, any expat mother can relate at least one of incredibly insolent, mouthy little brats who've never been told "no" in their entire lives.

                                                                                                                                    Not all French children, to be sure -- but the average level of behavior isn't much different than it is anywhere else I've lived or traveled.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                      Ditto, thank you. I found Bringing Up Bebe to be entirely and disappointingly anecdotal both in what she claims is the typical American approach (some of which I'd never heard of anyone following) and in the French approach. I stopped reading (well, listening, it was a book on tape) about halfway through.


                                                                                                                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                        "Not all French children, to be sure -- but the average level of behavior isn't much different than it is anywhere else I've lived or traveled." - I couldn't disagree more. Show me a country where you have more picky eaters than here in the US or more kids not behaving in restaurants which IMO can be easily related to how many parents bring up their children. And nobody says all French/Europan kids behave always good and don't have problems but on average you see clearly less.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: honkman

                                                                                                                                          More? Haven't counted. (have you?)
                                                                                                                                          Just as many? France. England. Germany. Italy. Belgium. Switzerland....
                                                                                                                                          Should I go on?

                                                                                                                                          I see French children on a daily basis -- the badly behaved ones are, by proportion, not an iota more rare or isolated than children in any country I have ever lived or traveled in.

                                                                                                                                          (I like kids...I have my own....and most kids are pretty easy to be around...but the ones who aren't? Memorable.)

                                                                                                                                      2. re: honkman

                                                                                                                                        Good conversation points from everyone here. When we were raising our son we took him everywhere and gave him the opportunities to learn to behave well and eat well. It worked. Too many parents in general have such low expectations of their children and this is insulting to the children. They are smart and eager to gobble up knowledge, including how to behave and best get along in society.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: sandylc

                                                                                                                                          "Too many parents in general have such low expectations of their children and this is insulting to the children." - Good summary

                                                                                                                                        2. re: honkman

                                                                                                                                          I'm not talking about letting a child choose to eat something different than what the rest of the family is eating (my philosophy is that you choose when, what and where the child eats and he chooses how much), but allowing a child a little flexibility on how he chooses to eat what's served.

                                                                                                                                          We do this already at home--my husband likes to smoother his food in butter; I do not. So the vegetables come to the table unbuttered. My husband likes gravy on his food; I do not. Gravy is served on the side. My husband likes catsup on his eggs; I do not. But a bottle of catsup is available at the breakfast table. When we bring the grilled chicken to the table, everyone gets to choose what cut of the chicken they want: breast, thigh, etc. Some of us take the skin off, others do not. These are the sorts of "choices" I allow my child to make. If you don't teach a child how to make choices, then they aren't going to learn how. It has to be taught just like everything else.

                                                                                                                                          My child is well-behaved in restaurants and has eaten with great glee Carribean, Mexican, Dim Sum, French, Thai, seafood, South American, Korean, you name it. In fact, one time, we brought him to a French restaurant. Next to us where three ladies having lunch who huffed their obvious displeasure when we sat down. The women gabbed throughout their entire meal at a volume that was disruptive to the entire restaurant, whereas my child babbled quietly. One of the women kept dropping her flatware on the floor and bumping into our table every time she bent to retrieve her items. Honestly, my child was better behaved than this women to the point where one of them apologized to us as we left.

                                                                                                                                          As far as snacking--I do like to give my child a small snack in the afternoon after he gets home from day care (as do the French according to Bringing UP Bebe by the way) so that he can last until the family dinner time. I think it's okay to have homemade snacks on hand for your child. Yogurt is the stand-by, but it's messy at this age. Fruit is great, but why not have a little variety?

                                                                                                                                          Elaborate hobby cooking like before I had children would not be possible, hence the whole point of this thread. I no longer have oodles of time to scour the Asian market for specialized ingredients or figure out to do with an entire CSA box of black radishes or make tofu from scratch and so on... I am a full-time career woman. I get up early in the morning to exercise and head to the office early so I can pick up my child early from daycare. (We've staggered our schedules so that my husband spends mornings with our child and drops him off at daycare "late.") Evenings are my time with my child and I don't want to spend them cooking elaborate meals.

                                                                                                                                          Nearly one entire day of my weekend is spenting doing laundry and other housework or entertaining my child while my husband mows the lawn. THe other day of the weekend is reserved for a family outing.


                                                                                                                                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                            Sound like you have things covered! I remember the days when other customers scowled at us when we walked in with our child, and then smiled at us later when they saw he was fine. Makes a mother proud.

                                                                                                                                            When you have small kids, there just isn't as much time/energy for kitchen adventures - it's a practical thing, not a compromise to the child thing.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                              TDQ, I'm also a full time working mother so I can completely understand how you don't want to spend much time in the evening cooking. Many seems to think we can cook elaborately in the weekend, but I found my weekend extremely busy as well. I think you are doing extremely well to find time to exercise in the morning. I do classes at lunch time as I am just so tired I couldn't wake up any earlier in the morning!

                                                                                                                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                Back when I was working full time and had small kids at home (similar to your situation now) my close friends and I used to have a joke about everyone, and I mean everyone, needing a wife. Sounds to me, DQ, that you need a wife! This is not meant to be sexist or disparaging of men, but only meant to express the typical division of labor in most relationship where the household chores are typically taken on by the "wife" despite the fact that both parents work. Even in situations where the father is the stay at home parent, I have found this to be a pretty accurate stereotype.

                                                                                                                                                I am quite lucky in that regard. My husband does more than his fair share of domestic labor, but still if I had to rely on him to cook, do laundry, grocery shop, tidy, buy birthday gifts, wrap presents, RSVP, help with homework or school projects,plan vacations, or pack for anyone but himself, our kids would have been taken away from us long ago.

                                                                                                                                                I know I am opening myself up to criticism by posting this but I think it is true. Do your family a favor, if your budget allows, hire someone to take on the chores that have been assigned to you that you are no longer prepared to handle. They could do your laundry, grocery shop for you, and if you don't need help with housecleaning, even do so kitchen prep work. Just a thought.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: dkennedy

                                                                                                                                                  Yes, I need a wife! Thankfully, my husband does at least half of all of the chores, etc. But there's still a lot to be done.

                                                                                                                                                  I have started to outsource some of my chores--we do have a cleaning lady. I tried to outsource laundry but it was too expensive. We're probably going to hire a neighbor kid to rake leaves in the fall. I will think about this idea more, so thank you for reminding me.

                                                                                                                                                  It's a long story, but we were farther behind on getting ready for our child than most people are when they bring their newborn home, so a lot of my weekend chores have to do with "catching up" on some prep work we never got done...


                                                                                                                                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                    Yeah. I never get it. We have weekly housekeeping service (the best thing ever, the last thing I would give up) but why is laundry so expensive, even at the same time?

                                                                                                                                                  2. re: dkennedy

                                                                                                                                                    "...but only meant to express the typical division of labor in most relationship where the household chores are typically taken on by the "wife" despite the fact that both parents work..." - I think that might be one of the biggest problems. Everything can only work if both parents are willing to do all possible work at home.

                                                                                                                                                  3. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                    I'm fairly certain that kids having a snack when they get home from school is a pretty universal occurrence.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                                      Haven't seen it in (at least not on a regular basis) Germany, Switzerland, England, Croatia but hear it always from colleagues here at work when we talk about our children

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: honkman

                                                                                                                                                        And the problem is not a snack from time to time but in the US snacks (continuous eating) have started to replace regular meals:


                                                                                                                                                    2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                      "Elaborate hobby cooking like before I had children would not be possible...." - We are actually in a very similar situation like you are, both of us have full time career jobs, a young child etc... And I completely agree that it is not simple to get everything you want to do to be done (and we are always in a continuous process to "optimize" everything and can't do everything we want to do yet) but at the same time with a lot of planning, shared responsibilites and being more tired on average than you are before having a child a lot of things can be done, including elaborated "from scratch" cooking (not sure how elaborate you have cooked before you had a child but our week-days dinner were never three hours of work but more 1-1.5 hours which we are still doing). My point was that instead of trying to start with a possible lowest common denominator in terms of what is possible with cooking and than slowly work your way up to more elaborated cooking go the other way around - Try to do as much as possible (which will not always be possible) and cut slowly down to a level which is possible with your schedule. In my opinion (and not only with cooking) once your work for a longer time on the "lowest common denominator" level it is really hard to get back to a higher level whereas with the other approach you always maintain a much better level thorughout the time.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: honkman

                                                                                                                                                        Ah, okay. I understand your point, thank you for clarifying.

                                                                                                                                                        In my OP I mentioned I was looking for more "ambitious globally inspired" meals... and that's still the direction I want to head in. I think a lot of the planning and prepping and so on that people are encouraging in this thread will apply to that as well.

                                                                                                                                                        I don't have a problem with occasional comfort foods like meatloaf or chili, but I don't think I could repeat the same four recipes every week unlike the author of the NYT article. Truth be told (except for the roast chicken, which I normally prepare at home) the core dishes mentioned in the NYT article are in my husband's repertoire anyway...

                                                                                                                                                        I guess what I want to do is figure out how to be more efficient so I can still do some of the kind of cooking I've enjoyed in the past at least once or twice a week...


                                                                                                                                                      2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                        You're doing a great job, and the rest of us moms definitely understand every single thing in your post.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                          A nice family outing is food shopping. Especially to a place that you don't go to often. We'll go to whole foods once in a while as an "outing" and end with a snack for all us. Same with the farmers market. DD gets a kick out of handing the cashier money, getting a receipt and putting it in her purse.

                                                                                                                                                          Another tip- don't refuse goody bass. If we're at my parents, in laws, or a good friend and they offer leftovers, I always accept. It goes straight into a container in the freezer. On a night when its ugh frozen meatloaf or takeout, it's nice to have something home cooked that you haven't eaten 100 times already.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: cheesecake17

                                                                                                                                                            I think you mean "doggy bags"....don't you?

                                                                                                                                                            (Not picking...that's the way I'm reading it, but I'm not really sure)

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                                              Oh! I thought she said "goody bags"! Either way, it's a good tip. Don't refuse 'em, especially if they are from someone who is a good cook.


                                                                                                                                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                                                Thanks for the translation. I couldn't figure out what she/he meant by "goody bass".

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                                                  Maybe it's soggy flags. Or boozy dogs. Or baggy hags.

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                                                    Yep, doggy bags! My iPad decided to correct my spelling!

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                                    2 cents

                                                                                                                                                                    1. Kids need calories
                                                                                                                                                                    2. Laughing Cow cheese

                                                                                                                                                                  2. re: honkman

                                                                                                                                                                    I don't live in the US, and still have Chinese parents living in Hong Kong. I can offer another perspective into this.

                                                                                                                                                                    I talked to my mum about picky eaters when I had my little girl. Unlike an American meal, a typical HK meal consists of three main dishes and one soup. Multiple choices are built into the menu by default. I was apparently very very picky as a toddler. My mum made sure there was something I could eat every meal. All meals are served family style so there is never any pressure to finish your plate. You simply take more or less of any food you want to eat. I was thinking along these lines in the article's disassembling meals. I don't cook this way because I don't have time to do it. But I thought I could offer a component of the final dish as a separate item on the menu.

                                                                                                                                                                    My little one started with family meals from 6 months. She was never given purees. She's very unfussy by toddler standards. But I agree with the author of the article it's just luck. She has always been willing to try the food. However hot food makes her cry.

                                                                                                                                                                    As for behaving and eating out. I don't know about the US. But the UK is very uptight about restaurants. It's not as lively an atmosphere as you'd find in a typical restaurant in HK. A good example would be a wedding. In HK, even very young children are welcome. (An Indian friend of mine says the same of India). Here children are not welcome because they much such noises. I think a lot of it is the tolerance and expectations of the adults, not the children.

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: lilham

                                                                                                                                                                      FYI, my child NEVER made disruptive noises in a restaurant. He knew it was not done and so he didn't do it.

                                                                                                                                                                      Any parent who thinks that children will make disruptive noises in restaurants will be rewarded with children who make disruptive noises in restaurants.

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: sandylc

                                                                                                                                                                        How do you tell a 6mo or a 16mo old not to make noises?

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: lilham

                                                                                                                                                                          You can't, of course. You only go out to eat when they are well-rested and not yet starving. And if they start to scream, you have to take them out. That's what we do anyway. Eventually they learn.


                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: lilham

                                                                                                                                                                            You don't take them out when they're tired. You engage them in the social process. So many parents ignore their children until the kids make noise just to get attention. My kid was never particularly noisy anyway, because he didn't find the need. We included him matter-of-factly in life and didn't force him to try to get our attention to relieve his boredom.

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: lilham

                                                                                                                                                                              You don't. But you go when the kiddo is happy, you bring a snack. Places that give out crayons and coloring pages are usually a hit, otherwise I bring my own. Try to go when it's not packed. Any place that has an attraction, like a fish tank, is usually a great choice for a toddler.

                                                                                                                                                                          2. re: lilham

                                                                                                                                                                            "She's very unfussy by toddler standards. But I agree with the author of the article it's just luck" - Not sure if it is only luck but also depends how diverse the mother eats while pregnant (there are studies that show a correlation as babies "recognize" food from the pregnancy time) and how much exposure babies have to very diverse food from the time they are easting any solid food.

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: honkman

                                                                                                                                                                              I have pretty much done the same things in feeding my children (and ate diverse foods myself while pregnant and breastfeeding) and my daughter is super picky and my son will eat absolutely anything. If my son had been born first I would have been so smug, assuming I had done everything right. As it is, I'm very humble and admit that kids are just born the way they are and you do your best to encourage healthy and diverse eating, but in the end it's out of our hands.

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: sarahcooks

                                                                                                                                                                                Yes! I agree 100%. Some kids are picky, some are not. Parenting styles can exacerbate some proclivities, but eating diversely when pregnant/ breast feeding etc does not guarantee a "good" eater

                                                                                                                                                                  3. When our son was younger, I subscribed to RelishRelish. It is a meal planning site that allows you to pick from many meals (include veg and special diets versions) and prints a shopping list along with the recipes. Overall, I was very pleased with it. If some of the recipes relied a bit too much on packaged ingredients, I was comfortable enough to tweak them to our tastes.

                                                                                                                                                                    Cooking ahead and freezing meals never worked in our house. Mainly because I don't like reheated food. I do, however, try to brown ground beef and sausage in large batches and freeze the in meal size portions.

                                                                                                                                                                    Another thing I changed was letting go of having a starch, veg and protein on the plate for every meal. My son will eat fresh, raw veggies and fruits until they come out his ears so often, I will put a plate out for us all to nibble on while I am cooking. Dinner then will be just pasta. Prior practice would have been a pasta with bread with a veggie side or salad.

                                                                                                                                                                    26 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: cleobeach

                                                                                                                                                                      I usually adapt pasta dishes to include either a veg or a meat. This cuts down on the number of dishes I need to make. For example, I add tuna to spaghetti puttanesca. Then I can serve this with a simple salad of leaves with tomatoes or cucumbers. Some pasta are all in one like I always make macaroni cheese with peas or tomatoes. My standby tomato macaroni cheese is from Jamie Oliver, and it's online here


                                                                                                                                                                      I love this for cook aheads too.

                                                                                                                                                                      I wouldn't normally serve pasta with bread, because that seems double carbs to me.

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: lilham

                                                                                                                                                                        "I usually adapt pasta dishes to include either a veg or a meat" Yep.

                                                                                                                                                                        TDQ - this is where cooking that grilled chicken breast (sausage, etc) ahead of time comes in handy. There was a period of time where once a week we had a pasta, pre-cooked and sliced grilled chicken (or shrimp) and sauteed veggies tossed in olive oil, garlic and cheese.
                                                                                                                                                                        I would put the cold chicken into the pan with the veggies to heat while the pasta was cooking in another pot.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: lilham

                                                                                                                                                                          "I wouldn't normally serve pasta with bread, because that seems double carbs to me"

                                                                                                                                                                          It must be a Central PA thing. Pasta never went onto the table without a side of garlic bread, particularly that garlic bread that comes in the cooking bag!

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: cleobeach

                                                                                                                                                                            I think my husband would like to marry you!

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: LulusMom

                                                                                                                                                                              Ha! Mine almost had a meltdown went I stopped buying "for a side dish" bread.

                                                                                                                                                                          2. re: lilham

                                                                                                                                                                            Totally agree on the all in one dishes. Later this week I'll be making a pasta with onions, tomatoes and turkey bacon. Pretty much covers all the bases.

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: LulusMom

                                                                                                                                                                              I really love one-dish meals. Easy serving, easy clean-up. Especially easy for packaging left-overs.


                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                                                Maybe we need to start a thread on one-dish favorites? Think I'll do it. Even with a cooking funk, I'll be thrilled to find new ones.

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                                                    Not sure if your little one will eat quinoa. But a lot of quinoa salad would fit the one pot ready meal category. It is also the current dish of the month

                                                                                                                                                                                    I made one from Ottlolenghi's Plenty that's really fast (15min meal type), and very tasty too.

                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: lilham

                                                                                                                                                                                      He won't eat quinoa or rice or anything that is small and loose right now. I think it's hard for him to eat because he can't pick it up easily with his fingers and he doesn't have the dexterity to use the spoon yet. But, I keep trying because eventually he'll want to eat it, think, just because we do.


                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                                                        He very likely will. My son is 6yo and I have watched him go through periods of adversion to something for months and then one day, without explaination, it becomes his favorite. Right now, he doesn't like things mixed together - pasta salad for example. He loves pasta and raw veggies and mayo on his sandwiches but if I mix pasta, raw veggies and mayo - no way.

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                                                          Try mixing grain and cottage cheese or yogurt. Sticky enough for the kids to pick up and wont slide off a spoon if he's trying to feed himself. My daughters favorite is cottage cheese and pasting or mujudruh with Greek yogurt.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Also.. Quinoa pancakes. Can be frozen. Kiddo can eat himself.

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: cheesecake17

                                                                                                                                                                                            Smart, thank you! I was just thinking I needed to think of a way to make those loose grains stick together...


                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                                                              Yup! Hope he enjoys it. At 17mo my daughters favorite meal is mujudruh, Greek yogurt, fried onions, and cucumbers. Eaten, of course, with a combo of fingers, fork, spoon.

                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                                                                My favorite food as a child and my kids too was porcupine meatballs - rice and hamburger balls cooked in a non spicy tomato sauce. I still like them but adults usually hate them unless they had them when they were small. Another thing that really surprised me when my son was in day care (an Infant Toddler Center) was what they would eat as a group. Everyone loved their broccoli trees!

                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Berheenia

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Thanks for the reminder on porcupine meatballs. I seem to recall I saw a recipe with wild rice in it. I must dig that out.


                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                                                                      Similar but more elegant than ours. My recipe used raw white rice which had been soaked in water and drained before going into the balls which are then dropped into boiling tomato sauce (or soup) and poached. The rice gets very puffy which may be why kids like it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Berheenia

                                                                                                                                                                                                        Would you mind sharing your recipe? I am sure our family recipe uses Minute rice which won't work for us.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    2. re: Berheenia

                                                                                                                                                                                                      I had forgotton about those. Must dig out the old family recipe... I bet my kids wouldn't like them.

                                                                                                                                                                                                2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Mine is only 17mo so will allow me to spoon feed her couscous and quinoa. She will have a go at it herself, but the end result is me spending more time cleaning up than feeding her.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: lilham

                                                                                                                                                                                                    One of the best tips I got on CH: plastic shower curtain on the floor under the high chair.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Have you tried glutinous rice yet? You could soak it the night before, steam and be done with it the next day, and shape it into little patties or manageable shapes....it holds together much better than regular rice and is super fun to eat, to boot! If you're feeling brave about risking the inevitable mess, you could try various dips and sauces for added flavours.

                                                                                                                                                                                    2. Great thread, DQ, thank you for referencing it on the Voting thread. I don't have time to read through the whole thing now, but as I was scrolling down I remembered a book I bought a while back which was filled with great ideas. I haven't cooked that many recipes out of it, but the premise and the advice were very helpful to me, especially when my kids were tiny. The book is CHEAP, FAST, GOOD. Maybe somebody else mentioned here and I didn't see it, so if they did, I apologize for the redundancy.

                                                                                                                                                                                      It focuses on family type meals where budget and time constraints are at issue. I remember one recipe in particular that was a base for burritos but also taco filling, chili, etc. A real multi-tasker. There were a lot of things I had to overlook about the book because the focus is about getting meals on the table, not nutrition. But, as I said, lots of practical time saving advice.

                                                                                                                                                                                      My own advice to you would be to stock your freezer as you do your pantry, with tons of work horses. When I am being good, my freezer is filled with homemade ragus, tomato sauce, chicken stock, soup, braises, meatballs, taco filing and compound butters. Things that can be defrosted and put on the table with very little effort.

                                                                                                                                                                                      Some of these are homemade but I have been known to go to the local gourmet shop (we have quite a few by me) and buy their soups, stews, etc. to keep on hand for such emergencies. If you have one of these on hand, making a quick salad or steaming up some veggies becomes effortless.

                                                                                                                                                                                      The bigger problem I face is being motivated to make things my kids will be excited to eat. There are only so many times I can make taco filling before I go insane. So I make shrimp tacos, fajitas, and rabbit ragu filled tacos to break up the monotony.

                                                                                                                                                                                      I also use a rather fancy meat service that comes to my house with a portable freezer filled with offerings like mini burritos, shrimp scampi, and stuffed chicken breasts. All prepared and frozen, ready to pop into the oven. A quick save when you are too harried to cook. My local butcher (again, I live in LA where the foodie possibilities are endless) offers fresh made pot pie, smoked pork chops, etc. Relying on well made ready made entrees can really lessen your burden, time wise.

                                                                                                                                                                                      I have a ton more ideas for you and a lot of quick meal suggestions but they will have to wait for another post.

                                                                                                                                                                                      6 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: dkennedy

                                                                                                                                                                                        Smoked pork chops ROCK! Love making them with sauteed onions. Another suggestion I have is to make a ton of sauces and freeze them. They will break the monotony of your basic grilled protein. My go to's are romesco and chimichurri. Perfect for a piece of fish you salt and pepper and stick in the oven for 20 minutes. Also good on grilled/roasted/sauteed chicken breasts and steak. My other suggestion - breaded things - pounded chicken, chicken fingers, homemade fish sticks with panko. Make a lot in one big bunch and freeze. Reheat in the oven. One of my perfect meals is Trader Joe's Alsatian tart with an arugula salad with a lemon vinaigrette and chicken cutlets.

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: dkennedy

                                                                                                                                                                                          I agree with what I read above about planning out your meals for the week. I try to fit in my fresh shopping on the way to/from errands. For example, the cheese shop is within walking distance from where we go for math tutoring (I am there at least twice per week), the co-op is 2 blocks from temple (again, two days per week), and the fish market is on the way back from pilates (4 days per week). If I am organized, I can get all my fresh shopping done on the way to/from my regular jobs so there is no time lost. My week looks something like this:

                                                                                                                                                                                          Sunday: map out what meals I want to make during the week, create a shopping list.
                                                                                                                                                                                          Mondays: drop kids at school, work out, grocery shop at the various stores (TJs, Whole Foods), unpack the groceries, pull something quick together for dinner, go pick up the kids (I have to wait in the car a while so I usually bring a cookbook so I can brainstorm for future meals while I wait), snack them, get homework done while last minute prep of dinner is taken care of, get ready for bed. Tuesdays: pull mis en plas together for tonight's meal before school, drop kids at school, so as much prep as I can while they are at school, pulling necessary pots, doing the chopping, anything that can be done ahead of time, go pick up the kids, take kids to religious school across town (getting homework done on the way), race home to finish the prep for dinner, DH picks the kids up from religious school on his way home from work, dinner is on the table on Tuesdays when they get home (yeah!), get ready for bed.
                                                                                                                                                                                          Wednesday: drop kids at school, work out, go to the Farmer's Market (and on this night I usually try to make something I picked up that day), treat myself to lunch while I am there, come home in time to unload groceries and start dinner prep before picking up the kids as described above
                                                                                                                                                                                          Thursday: Usually my most productive cooking day. Grocery shopping was already done earlier in the week, some of my prep may already be done (marinating meat or start of a braise on another night); I don't work out on Thursdays. This is probably when I do my most elaborate cooking.
                                                                                                                                                                                          Friday: Work out, pick up fish to grill on the way home. My cleaning lady comes on Friday (yea again!) so I usually stay out of the kitchen until she is gone so I rarely cook from scratch on Fridays. Dinner is either something previously prepared and ready to heat up (braise) or bbq.

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: dkennedy

                                                                                                                                                                                            Wow. I'm in awe! Thank you. I really need to start make better use of my evenings so that I'm not so crunched on Sundays and can fit more planning and prep time in...


                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                                                              Don't be in awe, I am not nearly as organized as I sound on paper. DH is in France right now and my neighbor came to the door yesterday to borrow some butter and there was literally something strewn on the floor about every step or so. I was so embarrassed. My kids ate cereal for dinner last night, BTW. But I did get my work out and grocery shopping done (plus tutoring) so I am sort of on schedule. Today I went to whole foods for chix legs, chicken drumettes and pork medallions for meals over the next few days. So no more cereal this week at least!

                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                                                                Make that two of us in awe. My jaw is hanging open, and I consider myself organized!!

                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: LulusMom

                                                                                                                                                                                                  You two are making me laugh! I can't wait to read the rest of this thread when I am waiting at pick up today!

                                                                                                                                                                                          2. This thread really is not complete without...

                                                                                                                                                                                            I HATE IT! IT'S GROSS/DISGUSTING/HORRIBLE/YUCKY/RUINED MY LIFE!

                                                                                                                                                                                            I WANT PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY!!!

                                                                                                                                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Naco

                                                                                                                                                                                              My mother sent me to school with peanut butter and pickle sandwiches and then expected me to drink milk with it. These were sliced sour pickles. Can you even imagine what they did to the taste of the milk?

                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: LulusMom

                                                                                                                                                                                                finally got to go through the thread while I waited at the school at pick up. so many great tips and references!

                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: dkennedy

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Just one more post....upthread you asked if someone could offer up a rough draft of a weekly menu. Here is mine from the last week and what I am planning for this week:

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Last week:

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Rabbit tostadas from page 197 of Big, Small Plates (recipe is posted on the Food Network site) - hard recipe but the meat base could be made with boneless chicken thighs or using a whole roasted chicken and then it would be totally affordable and not much work. It is the boning that makes this a pain. The meat was outstanding and would freeze easily. As it was, it lasted 3 meals for us - sometimes as tacos, sometimes as tostadas, sometimes as a main course salad. The bean recipe was great too but you could substitute refried black beans from your local Mexican fast food restaurant with similar results. What put this over the top was the salad dressing. Make this dressing! It would be great on a vegetarian tostada or a main course salad. It is my new favorite dressing. Great multi-tasking recipe but for it to work for this site you must substitute chicken for rabbit. I promise this was the only hard thing I made last week!

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Fish en papillote - great one dish meal! So many variations!


                                                                                                                                                                                                  Thai Style Fish Cakes (Big, Small Plates, p. 54) - Easy, healthy. Does require some ethnic food shopping.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  This week:

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Pork Pillards with roasted corn salad and buttermilk dressing (the Chew)


                                                                                                                                                                                                  Quinoa salad from AMFT

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Grilled Dijon Chicken legs (Anne Burrell


                                                                                                                                                                                                  Black Pepper and Garlic Chicken Wings p. 105 of Big, Small, Plates (can you tell I got a new cookbook?)

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Paninis (this is a great weeknight option). We live on these. The Nancy Silverton's sandwich book is indispensable if you are going to go this route.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Shaved Raw Brussels Sprouts With Castelrosso Cheese (Epicurious site)

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Other suggestions:

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Flatbread made from TJ pizza dough and grilled on the bbq - with any topping you want!
                                                                                                                                                                                                  Raw salads (check out the raw websites for ideas)
                                                                                                                                                                                                  Make a giant pot of black beans. Eat them along with dinner or as dinner. Freezes well.
                                                                                                                                                                                                  Stir fries. TJs has a lot of precut veggies you could use for this.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Ok, I'm out!

                                                                                                                                                                                            2. Don't know if this helps, but....

                                                                                                                                                                                              One parent cooks dinner while the other one takes care of the child. Then, the non-cooking parent cleans up the kitchen while the cooking parent takes care of the child. Sounds overly simplistic, but works when agreed upon and happily executed.

                                                                                                                                                                                              6 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: LulusMom

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Not a go at your house? Give me his cell number; I'll take care of it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                2. re: sandylc

                                                                                                                                                                                                  This is typically how it works in our house and a fabulous highly recommended arrangement! For now, anyway - my husband is about to be back in school full time and he works mornings so I'm dreading when that is no longer an option next week... he won't be getting home until 9 or 10pm 4 nights a week. :(

                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: sandylc

                                                                                                                                                                                                    My husband cooks many of our meals but they aren't as adventurous as I'd like... If I want something other than grilled meats, meatloaf, chili or spaghetti, I need to be the chef for the evening. Nevertheless, I am alway incredibly grateful when he cooks (and cleans up!)


                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                                                                      I was going to say...sometimes even an omelet is a wonderful meal if you're not the one who has to make it!

                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. I've been trying to boil the recommendations in this thread to a cheat sheet and holy moly there's a lot of stuff in here.


                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. So, thank you to everyone who responded in this thread. I am still definitely open to more input and am especially looking forward to valerie's sample meal plan when she returns from vacation, if she isn't too swamped. In the meantime, I have gone through all of the suggestions and tried to organize them somewhat. I also pulled in a couple of suggestions I noticed in some of my favorited past threads (which I was scrolling though to find JoanN's caramelized onions technique). Anyway, I thought I'd share, in case anyone found it helpful.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      MEAL PLANNING:
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Meal plan ahead on weekends
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Don't plan anything on weekdays that isn't a completely done meal in less than an hour. Complicated recipes for weekends only.
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Keep a binder or excel list or EYB tags of reliable recipes
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Have simple, reliable "core" recipes (eg., meatloaf, pot roast, roast chicken and meatballs) that you prepare each week or two.
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Simplify recipes by eliminating unnecessary steps or ingredients
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Plan one-pot meals: stuffed potatoes; mac & cheese plus peas & ground meat or sliced chicken sausage; quesadillas; garbage soup from leftovers plus tomato sauce or paste or half & half; fried rice from leftovers plus sliced scallions, toasted sesame oil, sesame seeds, frozen sauteed bell pepper strips, pineapple chunks, and nuts. Michelly’s one pot dirty rice: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8637...
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Adapt pasta dishes to add a veg or meat to make them "one pot" meals+ serve with side salad
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Lower your expectations
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Let go of having a starch, veg and protein at every meal
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Order take-out once a week
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Tweak frozen, canned and pre-packaged stuff with onion, garlic, herbs, spices, nuts, veggies, or fresh or dried fruit.
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Buy ground meat on sale for meatballs
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Use google docs to plan your week so you have access to it from work
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Meal swap with a neighbor http://www.realsimple.com/food-recipe...
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • "Make double and freeze one" dishes: mac and cheese, baked pasta (ziti with tomato sauce and ricotta for example), beef or pork stew. I put these in 8 x 8 Pyrex dishes and defrost in fridge for a few days before baking - to cut baking time.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Shop on weekends
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Combine your shopping trips with other errands during the week
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Use a delivery grocery service
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Organize your shopping list by aisle
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Shop over your lunch hour (keep a cooler in your car)

                                                                                                                                                                                                      STOCK YOUR FRIDGE & PANTRY:
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Wegman’s stir fry blends, roasted red peppers, roasted poblanos
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Groceries that keep well: grape tomatoes, vacuum sealed ham steaks, carrots, red peppers, cabbage, fresh marinated anchovies in oil (vacuum-sealed),
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • High-quality pantry items: Rao's sauce, fancy tuna, great oil, great vinegar
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Refrigerated pizza dough
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Pasta, jarred sauces or Knorr powdered mixes
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Rotisserie chicken for pasta, tacos, burritos, stir-fries, salads
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • For snacks for kids from TJs: dried green beans/pea pods; freeze dried fruits (note: the blueberries stain), letter cookies, cheese sticks, hummus, small yogurts, precut fruit, popped potato chips; cat cookies; packs of applesauce
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Precut veggies (squash, broccoli, cauliflower), curry pastes
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Fresh pot pie or smoked chops from your butcher
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Quick-cook rice

                                                                                                                                                                                                      STOCK YOUR FREEZER:
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Have your child have a special day with Grandma or Auntie and do once a month cooking = http://onceamonthmom.com/get-started-...
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Meal swap with a neighbor or two http://www.realsimple.com/food-recipe...
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Frozen string beans, chopped onions
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Frozen sausage
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Haricot verts, broccoli, shrimp, peas, corn
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Bags of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, mixed Chinese vegetables, frozen fried rice
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • TJ's pre-crusted eggplant, potstickers, cooked meats, samosas, mini chicken tacos, Alsatian Tart
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Bacon (for breakfast for dinner, salads, quiche, carbonara)
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Fancy gourmet soups or stews
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Pre-frozen coconut shrimp (honey+white vinegar for the sauce) plus nuked frozen peas or frozen fried rice

                                                                                                                                                                                                      COOK AHEAD ON WEEKENDS:
                                                                                                                                                                                                      For the fridge:
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Roast chicken or chicken breasts or (faster!) cornish game hens (Thomas Keller’s roast chicken: do two at a time! http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo... )
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Crumbled sausage and shredded cheese for breakfast burritos and sausage patties for biscuit breakfast sandwiches
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Beans, grains, slow roasted vegetables, grilled vegetables
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Braise brisket, pork shoulder for tacos, BBQ sandwiches, for pasta
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Large casserole
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Braise swiss steak for two nights dinner
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Slow cooked pork tenderloin/pulled pork
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Two large veggie items every weekend:raw salad with lemon juice and salt (eg., grated carrot, red cabbage or kohlrabi) and roasted veggies
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Slow cook beef or pork or boneless chicken thighs in onions, broth, garlic, wine, shred, and use in tacos, BBQ sandwiches, spring rolls, pasta, fried rice
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Make a marinara sauce on the weekend, you can use it for several meals, such as, lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, raviolis, American Chop Suey
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Roast vegetables: (Roast zucchini, tomato, onion reheated with feta and fresh shrimp, herbs. Serve over orzo. OR Any roast veggies, chicken broth (make in crock pot while you work) and your choice of sausage or left over meat for a quick hearty soup OR Roast eggplant can be stacked with ricotta and served with red sauce.)
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Make a double or triple recipe of meatloaf then divide it up. Part becomes a meatloaf, part is used to stuff green peppers or roll up in cabbage leaves, part could be a shepherd's pie with mashed potatoes on top, part could be meatballs to go with spaghetti---just be sure you have several jars of marinara sauce on hand when you undertake this. The shepherd's pie one gets frozen until the next time you make mashed potatoes, which you make double of to accommodate the shepherd's pie.
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • More “Make on Weekend, Eat During Week” ideas here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/814924

                                                                                                                                                                                                      For Freezer:
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Batch cooking (braised short ribs or pork shoulder, chili, soup, brown rice)
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Cubes of broth; small tubs of curry starter (caramelized onions, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, curry powder), fried rice
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Quinoa, barley, muffins, cubes of steel cut oats, frozen bacon
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Meatballs to broil or fry and add to soup, spaghetti sauce, eggs, pizzas
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Ground or thin sliced beef sauteed with onion & garlic and portioned: turn into stir fry or chili or pasta sauce; sausage
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • 5 lbs onions half, peel, slice or chop and bag AND 5 lbs cooked over medium heat then bagged when sweated, golden brown, and caramelized. 1 lbs of onions=1 cup caramelized
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Pasta sauce, tomato sauce, ragus, beans, stew, pasta e fagioli, sloppy joes, lamb burgers
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Compound butters for fish or chicken or roasted tofu
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Chicken Matzoh ball soup in individual meal containers makes a great meal for a small child
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Romesco, chimichurri for chicken for fish
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Breaded pounded chicken or breaded chicken fingers or homemade fish sticks with panko
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Homemade snacks for kids: Fiber One's mini muffins, cheese puffs, mushroom puffs, mini-pizzas; savory muffins, bento burger patties, tofu tuna miso burgers, cheesy veggie nuggets, quinoa pancakes: http://justbento.com/
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Weelicious berry muffins and choc bananas http://weelicious.com/2011/05/25/bana... or http://weelicious.com/2011/09/27/very...
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Snacks for kids: Red Lentil and cheddar cheese wedges (cooks 10-15 mins, note they don't brown so you'll have to touch them to feel if they are done) http://www.babyledweaning.com/recipes...
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Individually-wrapped servings of lasagna and burritos

                                                                                                                                                                                                      PREP, PARCOOK & PORTION AHEAD ON WEEKENDS, NIGHT BEFORE, MORNING BEFORE:
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Chop fruits and vegetables ahead
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Wash salad greens
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Precut (and pre-blanch) veggies and fruits
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Portion out cereal and snacks
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • French lentils, quinoa, barley
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Prep for tomorrow while putting away tonight's leftovers
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Make arroz con pollo or jambalaya the night before
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Soak beans at night; slow cook during the day
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Enlist help from spouse and kids
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Mac and cheese (to bake later)
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Stuff a flank steak or chicken breasts ahead of time, secure them with twine, wrap them well and just roast later
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Salad dressing with an extra twist, like puréed sun-dried tomatoes or chipotle peppers

                                                                                                                                                                                                      SAMPLE WEEKDAY MEAL PLANS:
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Fish, pasta, chicken or meat saute, grain or egg-based dish
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Sun, Mon, Tues from fresh foods; Weds, Thurs, Fri from freezer
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Sun shop farmers market+ fish and cook one thing for freezer (pasta sauce, beans, stew, pasta e fagioli, sloppy joes, lamb burgers); one day take-out; one day pasta; one or two nights from freezer; one night quick protein like steak with green beans with soy sauce butter + side salad & leftover carb
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Prawn and pea risotto w/mint & basil (from Jamie Oliver Return of Naked Chef http://www.asianfoodchannel.com/recip... ); Tandoori Chicken Pizza; Stracci with Gorgonzola, Mascarpone, Majoram & Walnuts (from Return of Naked Chef); Soba Noodles with Aubergine & Mango (Ottolenghi's Plenty http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/20... ); Corn Fritters with Sweet & Sour Sauce (Bill's Food by Granger http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/... ) plus grilled fish.
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Rabbit tostadas (from Big, Small Plates http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/to... make with boneless chicken thighs for weeknights); Fish en papillote http://www.cookingchanneltv.com/recip... ; Thai Style Fish Cakes (Big Small Plates http://rumahmakanmurni.blogspot.com/2... )
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Pork Pillards with Roasted Corn and buttermilk dressing (the Chew http://beta.abc.go.com/shows/the-chew... ); Quinoa Salad (Around My French Table); Grilled Dijon Chicken Legs (Anne Burrell http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/an... ); Black Pepper and Garlic Chicken Wings (Big, Small Plates http://www.hwtm.com/recipe_box/garlic... ); Paninis; Shaved Raw Brussels Sprouts with Castelrosso Cheese (Epicurious http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo... )
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Get two meals done on Sundays one of which (chili (vegetable, chicken and white bean, or beef), Bolognese sauce, fish cakes, pesto (in ice cube trays) and soups, especially split pea, minestrone and carrot-orange) is a double portion you freeze for following Tuesday; Weds something quick; Thurs take-out; Fri leftovers
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • We roasted a turkey for Sunday dinner, and today i made turkey tetrazzini and a turkey wild rice casserole, as well as turkey stock and from that, a homemade turkey minestrone soup
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • 1. Soup and salad: soup from the freezer that we made the previous weekend, salad comes together in 10 minutes including whipping up vinaigrette. 2. Homemade pizza: dough made on Sunday, you can make 2 or 3 at a time and freeze them, toppings prepped over the weekend, the only thing to do before you eat is roll out the dough, shred the cheese, top it and bake it. 3. Frittata: uses a lot of the same ingredients that you would top a pizza with, comes together fast and cooks fast. 4. Some big stew-type dish that we cooked over the weekend and saved leftovers. 5. Falafel: you can make enough for 6-8 servings and freeze it, then all you need to do is pan-fry it

                                                                                                                                                                                                      RECIPES/IDEAS FOR QUICK MEALS:
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Slow-cooker chicken & gravy, beef stew, chili con carne, meatballs, spaghetti, pork chops
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Quiche
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Martha Stewart's eggplant ricotta bake (use bottled marinara) http://www.marthastewart.com/342140/e...
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Martha Stewart's chocolate-zucchini mini-cakes http://www.marthastewart.com/319343/c...
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Spaghetti puttanesca with tuna
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Mac and cheese with peas or tomatoes (Jamie Oliver’s mac and cheese is a good standby http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/pa... )
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Pasta with onions, tomatoes, turkey bacon
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Quinoa salad (Ottolenghi's Plenty http://cookieandkate.com/2012/pomegra... )
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Mix grains with yogurt or cottage cheese for little ones
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Various tacos: shrimp, fajitas http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo... , rabbit ragu
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Porcupine meatballs
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Meatball “pizzas” on whole-wheat pitas
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Goat cheese mixed with a little hot water makes an easy, tangy dressing. I serve it over fusilli and mix in vegetables. Olives, sautéed red peppers and onions are favorite additions
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • pasta carbonara with turkey bacon and eggs
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Quickly seared meats like lamb chops and thin steaks (cooked with little more than olive oil and sea salt) over spicy prewashed greens and served with bread plus Salad dressing with an extra twist, like puréed sun-dried tomatoes or chipotle peppers.
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Quick: stir-fry, skillet lasagna, pasta, chicken leg quarters, avocado BLT on croissants, breakfast for dinner, spaghetti carbonara, and puttanesca
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Quick chicken fajitas (prep the night before) http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Other ideas in this thread “Cooking for the Week” http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/847083
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Planning for Impromptu Meals: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/844127
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • More ideas in this thread “How do you manage to get dinner on the table” http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/760120
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Stovetop chicken dishes http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/798469
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Dinner for busy people: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/771264
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Favorite frittata http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/699476
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Frozen fish http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/760578
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • GHG’s black bean dip http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/673414
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Hot pantry dinners that aren’t pasta http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/680476
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Easy bison roast in a slow-cooker: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6145...
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Interesting meals based around eggs: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/680621
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • How to be better organized for weeknight meals: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/678930
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • JoanN’s oven caramelized onions: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6764...
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Overnight Steel Cut Oats in slow-cooker http://www.chow.com/profile/12005/fav...
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Great meatball recipes: http://www.chow.com/topics/282786
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Quinoa salad recipes http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/861003

                                                                                                                                                                                                      HELPFUL APPLIANCES:
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Slow-cooker http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8294...
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Sous-vide http://freshmealssolutions.com/
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Pressure cooker (casseroles, soups, pot roast) http://missvickie.com/
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Rice cooker

                                                                                                                                                                                                      HELPFUL BOOKS OR WEBSITES:
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • The Indian Slowcooker
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Mamachef's mix & match stir fry method: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8343...
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Bayless Mexican Everyday
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Cooks Illustrated Subscription
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Nigel Slater's 30 Minute Meals
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Bill Grangers Everyday Asian
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • (Maybe?) Mighty Spice
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Martha Stewart's Everyday Food (both the book and the magazine)
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Saving Dinner by Leanne Ely http://savingdinner.com/
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Desperation Dinners (Mu Shu Pork and Chciken Marsala recipes rawk) http://kitchenscoop.com/
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • NY Times article “Mom Puts Family on Her Meal Plan” http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/11/din...
                                                                                                                                                                                                      http://www.relishrelish.com/ meal planning site
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Book: Cheap, Fast, Good
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Nancy Silverton's Sandwich Book


                                                                                                                                                                                                      16 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                                                                        TDQ, anyone organized enough to put together that incredibly helpful and thorough post will have no problem with this!

                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: LulusMom

                                                                                                                                                                                                          I remembered either LLM or TDQ asked about cooking with very small children in some other thread. (I'm fairly sure it's the September COTM nomination thread). I'll repost it here. There is a video blog about a father cooking with his young toddler. It started when the little boy was 2 years old. http://www.mydaddycooks.com/ It should give you some inspiration on what you can do with a very young child in the kitchen.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: lilham

                                                                                                                                                                                                            I''ll edit my summary post to add that link, lilham, since it's still within the editing window! I saw that link in the other thread but hadn't had a chance to look at it yet. Sounds wonderful, though.


                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: lilham

                                                                                                                                                                                                              Oh, shoot, I must have just passed the two hour mark for editing. Oh well.


                                                                                                                                                                                                          2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                                                                            This is really late coming, and may not work with your lifestyle, but I think one thing that is really important is having a night out without the little one - just you and your SO. After Lulu hit the 5 month stage we started doing once a week, and very soon after, twice a week. I'm a stay at home mom, so I'm sure my feelings about this will differ from moms who work outside the home and don't get to see their kid/s as often, but for me (and our marriage) it was imperative. Some adult conversation without interruption is important. Not a food tip, but still an important one. As always, YMMV.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: LulusMom

                                                                                                                                                                                                              I really really agree with this. I'm a stay at home mom as well, and a Thursday night out means lot. If we can't get a babysitter or don't want to pay for one, we usually get something we don't prepare at home as takeout. Eating on paper plates, in front of a movie is almost as good. Nights when we are out, I take my daughter for pizza.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: LulusMom

                                                                                                                                                                                                                We've never done this. Not even once. Hmmmmm...


                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  You MUST do this. Date night. Period. Even if you are too tired, even if you feel like you don't need it. Do it!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: dkennedy

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    A good babysitter is worth her weight in gold. All of ours (over the last 6 years we've had 5 - we have two date nights a week, so use 2 a week) have become family and are much loved. They've only left for reasons like moving out of town, having a baby, or (sadly) dying. We cherish them. And we love the heck out of date night.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: LulusMom

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Here is something to look forward to:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Our kids are finally old enough (14 and 11) where we can leave them at home together for brief periods of time. So now, instead of paying a babysitter, we pay them. It is a great system. They have become very responsible and even encourage us to go out.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      They are responsible for eating their dinner (usually something brought in like El Pollo Loco), clearing the table, rinsing the dishes, getting ready for bed, brushing their teeth, and cleaning up their rooms. Just like a babysitter would have done for us if we were still using one. If they do all these things, then we split the babysitter's hourly rate between the two kids.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      If, on the other hand, we come home to find them crashed out on the couch in front of the TV, still in their clothes, beds made, dishes undone, they have to pay us! That only happened once before they learned their lesson.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Because they still are pretty young we only leave them for the length of a movie or dinner out, and never get home after bedtime. But still, it gives us the opportunity to spend time together. If we have a more significant outing planned, we get a sitter.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: dkennedy

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I like this idea a lot - thanks dk. And I bet it would only happen once in our house too, since I'm one of those stick to your guns mamas (like you).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: LulusMom

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Also, if you do it on a regular basis you can make a standing date not only with your spouse, but with your babysitter! No scrambling around to find one.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Exactly. That is how we have it set up. We ask right from the beginning (after Lulu and the perspective babysitter meet each other) if she's interested in a weekly gig. Obviously some weeks will be out for her vacations, etc. but it works really well.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  TDQ, you are my hero!! I'm printing out your summary.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Also, I don't think you are at this stage yet, but one strategy we use is eating meals that can be easily divided into components and served in different ways to different family members. (Older kid is super-picky; younger kid has numerous food allergies and hasn't totally mastered chewing.) For instance, keep rice, sauce, chickpeas, spinach, broccoli, sausage separate -- grown-ups mix ingredients together with added hot sauce and cooked broccoli on the side, older kid gets everything separate with no sauce and raw broccoli, baby gets everything mixed together but sausage and broccoli cut up into little pieces.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  And snacks as soon as we walk in the door, or on the way home -- cut-up veggies or fruit are perfect because everyone is starving and will actually eat them.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Hi TDQ! This is a super-impressive compilation. My meal planning strategy is described at this link: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8441...
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    It worked for me because it is flexible and doesn't take much time. I am just starting to cook a bit again now that the new baby is two months old. I set myself a goal of two meals per week and this is my first week attempting it!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Westminstress

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Congratulations Westminstress! Good luck with the baby and the cooking (especially the baby!).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. I don't make it into a big chore. I get home from work around 6pm. I try to do a meat, a carb, and 1-2 veggies. So if I have defrosted meat, great, otherwise I put my meat in the microwave to defrost. If I'm grilling, I go turn the grill on. While that's going, I figure out my carb and veggies. I prep everything quickly (cut onions, garlic, carrots, etc), get pasta water going if needed, etc. Meat's defrosted, so I slice that if needed, and/or season it. Then I just cook everything. Dinner usually takes me 30-40 minutes -- the 40 is if I'm making Indian food since it takes me a bit longer (need time to cook the base of onions, garlic etc).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Saturdays and Sundays, I cook the involved Indian foods, like biriyani and curries with various sides, or enchiladas, or those types of things. I'll make extras for the next day, or freeze in deli containers.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Some typical weekday meals for us are:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Chinese veggie/meat stirfry with rice
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Grilled sausage, pasta and grilled corn or a salad
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Chicken curry, rice and green beans (Indian)
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Spaghetti, salad, garlic bread
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Steak, salad, steamed broccoli
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Fajitas, corn on the cob, salad
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Lo Mein with potstickers (frozen, from TJ's or 99 Ranch)
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Dal, roti, okra or bittermelon or cauliflower (Indian)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    As you can see, my weekday meals aren't fancy because we need to eat no later than 7pm as my kids have to wind down to go to bed (they are 8 and 6). I do simple things that don't require a lot of cooking time or prep work. All the fancy stuff is made on the weekends. :)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. I forgot to add one awesome freezer idea. Did you know that bechemel and béchamel-based sauces (like macaroni and cheese) freezes really well? When I made homemade macaroni and cheese I always double the sauce and freeze the extra in ice cub trays. Pop them into a freezer bag when frozen solid. I always add a substantial amount of butternut squash puree so the veg it built in.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Boil some pasta and meanwhile defrost the cubes with some extra milk for two minutes in the microwave. Whisk. Heat for less than a minute. Whisk. Add pasta and homemade mac and cheese is done in less than twenty minutes, most of which is away from the stove.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      You can also use the sauce for veg.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: JudiAU

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Love the butternut squash/bechemel ice cube idea!


                                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. I'm always a little bemused by threads where someone asks other people for advice on what to eat. I'm pretty sure what I like to eat is not the same as what you like to eat. The best strategy is to sit down with a bunch of ideas for what, ideally, you would like to serve for dinner that week and then work backwards to see how you can make that happen. Maybe you could base them around a common ingredient you could prep in quantitly over the weekend. Maybe you could have a theme (one week Indian, one week Mexican, etc.). BTW, there's nothing wrong with "a broiled or grilled piece of chicken, meat or poultry with steamed or grilled veggies. And a side of a steamed grain of some sort or a piece of toast or a tortilla." That's a great foundation. Maybe you just need to play with sides, condiments, etc.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        21 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          The thing is, if we never asked anyone for advice on new ideas, we'd never try anything new.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: LulusMom

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            True. But I'm speaking generally about people who ask what they should learn to cook. You should at least start with what you want to eat!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I think some people who spend a lot of time on chowhound, and especially on the Home Cooking board, feel as if every meal has to be exciting and elaborate and from a new recipe. I like to cook, and like a wide range of food, but most nights I cook something very much like what TDQ described, and I can't remember the last time I cooked a weeknight dinner from a recipe. Cooking simple and nutritious food is nothing to be ashamed of! Right now I have a pot of goulash simmering in the stove from a recipe I've been making -- with a couple of tweaks -- for forty years. I'm planning on eating it for lunch all week. It's simple, it's delicious, and I like it!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Au contraire! I know you and I both enjoy taco truck fare and Turkish food! :).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            But, in all seriousness, this thread isn't in any way about me asking people what I should eat. Rather, I've asked for specific STRATEGIES on how to "produce some more ambitious, globally-inspired and healthful food" with so little time and energy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            While I have asked people to post their meal plans, it's less because I want them to tell me what they eat, I'm interested in their approach to meal planning such as when they plan shop and prep, which days of the week they schedule meals with perishables, from the freezer or from the pantry.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            And while there may be nothing wrong with "broiled or grilled piece of chicken, meat or poultry with steamed or grilled veggies. And a side of a steamed grain of some sort or a piece of toast or a tortilla," it's boring me to tears. Hence the whole point of this thread. I'm bored, not ashamed. Bored. As I said in my OP, I want to kick it up a notch.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Your sauces idea is a good one, or basing the meals for the cuisine on a theme or specific cuisine. Eating goulash (or any single dish) for an entire week is also a legitimate, specific strategy, but I think that would also bore me (and my family) to death. Plus, I think there's educational and nutritional value in varying a young child's diet and he eats what we eat.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Well said TDQ. There's nothing wrong with grilled meat, veg and some carbs. But I know I'd be bored if I keep eating the same thing. My OH has very high tolerence level of repeated meals. He'll keep asking for the same food, long after I am bored to death with it. (There are a few meals that I've repeated so many times that I don't think I can ever eat again). I know it's my fault that I want a varied diet of globally inspired food. I get a buzz cooking from new recipes, testing out new flavour combos. I still cook entirely from recipes (with changes), because I never cook something enough times to commit it to memory. I just don't have enough times to cook elaborate meals. I think one of you posted how tapas is something us parents of young children just won't cook at home, since you have to make 2-3 of them to make a meal. That's exactly how I feel. I want to make something high impact on taste, but low in effort, accompanied by simply grilled meat or veg, and a simple carb. Everything cooked in 15-30min, preferably not leaving the kitchen a bomb site either.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I have thought about creating a meal plan for 3-4 weeks, and cycling through them. (Like they do in my daughter's nursery). I can alter the plan a bit whenever I feel like trying a new recipe, replacing a meal with another. Basically slowing evolving it. I haven't tried it yet so I'm not sure if that'll be a good strategy to reducing the meal planning time. Because at the moment, I do spend a good 2 hours planning each weeks meal, and ordering the groceries online.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: lilham

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Part of me loves that idea of a standard weekly menu. Once we get it down, I think it would be so easy to stick to. However, I think I might get bored with it, so I think I need a standard one-week menu that I fall back on for weeks when I know we're going to be super busy and then a two week rotation otherwise (for those weeks where we're just an ordinary amount of busy). I still have to work this out...


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  That's why I thought it might be better if it's a 4-weekly rotation. There's no way I can handle a salad monday, spaghetti tuesday, chinese wednesday sort of menu. However, I can't vouch whether a monthly menu, with regular substitutions will have the same problem with boredom. Currently I'm cooking without much repeat at all, with a new meal plan each week. My daughter is still very young and goes to bed at 7pm, so I still have a whole evening to myself for cook book reading, menu planning etc. I might get less free time once she's in school with activites in the evenings?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  But I like your suggestion about a fall back menu for super busy weeks.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I'd be bored out of my mind. My husband would be perfectly fine. I guess we all have different levels of need for change.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: LulusMom

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Same here! In fact, if I wanted to eat like that, I could just let my husband do all of the cooking. During non-grilling season, the menu would look like this: meatloaf, spaghetti, tacos, pizza, chile. The all ground-beef diet (though, if I pressed, he'd occasionally mix it up and use turkey or bison...)


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Too funny. Yeah, we'd pretty much eat salmon or tuna every 3rd or 4th night, and almost always with mashed potatoes. Even delicious things get boring if served too often.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        And the crazy part, to me, is that I don't see how it is any easier. I have about 25 or so really simple recipes to make. I don't make simple recipes every night. So repeats are at most every few months.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: LulusMom

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          You know, I think I'm going to try to put together several weekly menu plans, one for each of my favorite cuisines. Mexican week, Vietnamese week, Spanish week, Italian week...and so on. Kind of a personal "Cookbook of the Week". That should streamline my grocery shopping and cookbook combing for any particular week and, over the course of a couple of months, I'll hit all of my favorites. Also, if I try to double up on one recipe every week, then I'll always have a backlog of meals from various cuisines to provide more variety within any one week. So, I can have enchiladas even though it's Vietnamese week and so on... Plus, my fellers will always require at least one pizza night per week...


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Sounds like a very good plan!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            My world suddenly changed yesterday when Lulu, now in full day school, had her first after school ballet class. We rushed home, dealt with her used lunchbox stuff, then her ballet stuff, and then I had to rush to put dinner on the table within about 20 minutes (we eat *really* early since her bedtime routine starts at 7:30 and we liked having a nice chatty time at dinner). It was a little shocking how little time I felt I had, and I thought back to this thread. I will be making sure that Mondays are definitely easy dinners, or things that I can at least do lots of prep work for during the day. Anyway, a real eye-opener. We may end up borrowing your idea and instituting a pizza night!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: LulusMom

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Yes, it's no coincidence that I'm suddenly worried about my weekly meal plans with September looming large. Even for babies & toddlers the "school year' Is crazy busy! Plus, once the weather starts to turn colder, there are a lot of extra chores (raking leaves and then snow shoveling, etc.) and doing extra laundry for all of those wet and muddy extra layers, etc.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Feel free to borrow pizza night. :) In fact, if I get my act together, maybe I'll try and post my weekly menus in here for other people to see.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Posting weekly menus is a great idea. I'm going very retro tonight - turkey meatloaf and a ceasar salad. Last night (the night of frantic cooking) was Bittman's asian pasta - some ground turkey, garlic and hot peppers, soy sauce, fish sauce, and a little rice vinegar and then some basil leaves mixed with rice noodles. For how discombobulated I was, it turned out well. I had already prepped an asian cucumber salad to go with it. Anyway, total time on the pasta was probably about 20 minutes total. Tomorrow is date night, and Thursday is Melissa Clark's pan bagnat.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: LulusMom

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Scribbling notes furiously! Sounds like you did super well!


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              2. re: LulusMom

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Don't forget things like grilled sandwiches and Quesadillas on high-pressure night, too.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                A little leftover chicken and a sprinkle of cheese on a tortilla, then thrown onto a Foreman-type grill. Fun fingerfood, and with some grapes or tomatoes, reasonable nutritious.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                (For football practice, we used to do a LOT of scrambled-egg sandwiches on whole wheat. Lots of protein and carbs for energy and endurance...and fast and easy and tasty, too)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I know this sounds crazy, but I've always thought of sandwiches and quesadillas as lunch fare. I don't really know why I feel that way, but I might need to get over that, eh?


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Yep. Handheld food can also be eaten in the car if it all goes into the ditch, or wrapped to eat at your destination if need be.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    (I've done that, too, a few times -- have sandwiches toasted and wrapped in a paper towel and then a piece of foil (paper towel to absorb steam, foil to hold in heat) and everybody out the door a few minutes ahead of time so you can have a quickie picnic when you get there. Sometimes it's a nice pause to catch your breath, instead of tossing dinner down your throats and screeching out the door on a dime.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    And don't forget leftover night! No cooking, nuke it in the micro...everybody gets their favorite meal of the last day or two...easy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                2. re: LulusMom

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Yes, excellent point. And I can tell you as your kids get older the schedule only gets more complicated. With 2 adults and 2 teens, our Google calendar is a hoot. When they were young, "all" I had to do was pick 'em up at daycare and muster enough energy to cook. Now, late afternoon the whirlwind begins--drop someone off at basketball, someone else at scouts, me to choir practice, spouse picks up.......dinner needs to often be something that can sit in the crockpot for awhile or easy to heat up.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Anyway, from a meal planning standpoint, I have no problem with the boring old "soup on Monday" set up, with a day or two reserved for trying new dishes or more labor intensive fare. They'll go to college eventually.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: tcamp

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    There is something very reassuring about hearing that someone else has made it through this unscathed, trust me.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: tcamp

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I remember many nights when my son was in high school where he would eat an early dinner and run out to an activity, then hubby and I would eat dinner, then son would come home and eat ANOTHER dinner.....three dinner times per day, several times a week!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: sandylc

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        that's the biggest argument for Crockpots there is...dinner's ready, whenever anybody's ready for it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. Something really common when I was growing up (60's and early 70's) was a standard rotation. Something like Monday = meatloaf, Tuesday = spaghetti, etc. My mother, who was (and is) an excellent cook found it boring, and varied her rotation more than most of my friends' mothers, but there was still some kind of consistency. And I have to say, as a child, I found it comforting to know that we were likely to have soup on most Fridays, even if the soup itself varied.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    My dad liked to grill, so there was a period where Saturday always meant burgers, and Sunday always meant grilled chicken. I think all that made it possible for my mother was varying up the side dishes. And weekends ended up being a little "vacation" from having to have the entire meal on the table at 6:00 by herself. (We were a classic middle class family, father walked in the door at 5:15, changed, had a drink and read the paper, entire family set down to dinner at 6:00. Mom usually started dinner around 4:30 unless it was a slow braise or a soup she started right after lunch.)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    So I guess I am saying that (most) kids love routine, and (many) adults crave spontaneity.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: dkenworthy

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I came from the same kind of environment with the same standard meals rotated in every week or so. My memory of my childhood meals is complete and utter boredom. Meatloaf, chicken with 1890 sauce, breaded chicken cutlets, keftez, spaghetti with the occasional steak or roast. I am sure my culinary training is directly related to my culinary frustration as a child.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Don't get me wrong, some of the things my mother made were delicious. Some weren't. But it was the monotony that got to me. For that reason I rarely make the same thing twice. I am getting away from that trend a little bit as I age, and now you do see favorite recipes reappearing here and there, but for the most part, I am always trying out new recipes. So in my experience, I did not love routine when it came to diet. I craved variety, and I still do.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      My kids will (hopefully) have a better appreciation of how to make use of their kitchen than I did. But if they rebel, I guess they will be more like my parents than me. Time will tell. In any case, the weekly or biweekly rotation would not work for our family.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: dkennedy

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        One reason your mother probably cooked that way was the weekly shopping trip. Even as recently as the 80's here in the Boston area, as a full time office worker and mother of two, I would shop on Saturday morning for the week. Stores were not open Sundays, except for convenience stores. Sure we could pick up something after work but the majority of families ate meals based on a menu plan finalized Saturday in the grocery store. This usually involved a few frozen veggies and ingredients that could last a week in the fridge. It was boring but better than not having something for dinner. Take out was not that exciting back in the day either.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    2. For someone who doesn't have kids, I'm really enjoying and learning from this thread. Here's a thought for those (meaning me) who often lack inspiration: Work back from the carb element. If we've been having a lot of pasta/bread/grains, I'll think 'Oh, yeah, rice,' and that sends me on my way. Happened this afternoon, and so we're going to have a mamachef-inspired stir-fry with...well, you guessed it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. OK, after combining numerous suggestions from this thread, I've come up with my first menu plan, "Mexican'ish" Week (drawing heavily, but not exclusively, on Bayless' "Mexican Everyday"), which I've typed up and put in a binder along with copies of the relevant recipes and a shopping list for the week.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I used EYB to "bookmark" all of these recipes into a category called WEEK 1 , then generated a shopping list out of EYB that I cut and pasted into excel so I could it to include notes about quantities and brand names, etc.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        My next step will be to create a "Week 1" category for my online grocery delivery service. I don't know how that (or any of this, really) will go, but what I'm hoping for is that I'll just be able to pull up this same order whenever I wish to use this same "Week 1" menu in the future.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I'm hoping that over the next few months I can create several solid weekly menus that I assemble in a binder, with shopping lists and recipes, that I can turn to when I'm ultra-busy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        This fall we have commitments on Tues and Weds evenings, so my planning is designed to make those dinners particularly quick and easy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Keller's Roast Chicken (times two): fall-back, pick up two grocery store rotisserie chickens
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Bayless Quick Cowboy Beans (using canned beans for now)
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Bayless White Rice Pilaf (I'm going to try brown rice)
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Veggie/greens+Bayless Lime Cilantro Dressing

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Cook for use in recipe later in the week: Quinoa

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Bayless Cheesy Chicken Enchiladas (with leftover chicken from Sunday)+ leftover rice+veggie/greens with Cilantro Lime Dressing

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Enlist husband's help to prep for Weds: Mexican Style Chicken and Quinoa Hotdish with leftover chicken and quinoa from Sunday

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Cstout's slow cooker italian beef hoagie sandwich plus greens or steamed veggies (freeze some for later?)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Mexican Style Chicken and Quinoa Hotdish plus greens or steamed veggies

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        The boys are in charge: pizza night

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Bayless Chipotle Shrimp+leftover beans and rice from Sunday, plus veggies or greens with Lime Cilantro dressing.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        We'll see how it goes. Thank you everyone for your generous and helpful ideas.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        ETA: oh, I forgot to mention, Bayless recommended subsititutions for the jalapenos and chipotle in each of his recipes that I chose. I plan to try the alternative recipes at first to make the meals a little more toddler-friendly...


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          It sounds great. I can't wait to hear how things go. Best of luck!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        2. okay i have no idea if anything i'm thinking about will be helpful at all, but here goes.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1) whenever i'm making either grilled or roasted vegetables, i intentionally make too many. & then a couple of days later they reappear as a flatbread/pizza topping. this works well with "mediterranean" summer vegetables, but you'd be surprised how well starchy local msp root csa-box veggies, winter squash etc can perform w a bianca/plain olive oil sauce instead of red sauce. yes, even roasted parsnips and potatoes and celery root, with a little gruyere or smoked gouda. springtime green vegetables with goat cheese... i admit that there are always dibs and dabs of snobby cheese rattling around in my fridge and this is a way to use them up, plus dh can always go for a pizza, it seems. he likes to make his own pizza dough but i would not hesitate to get a dough ball from the pizzeria down the street or even use one of those premade fladbread things or do it on leftover pita or bagels or whatever. basically you get a free, quick assembly meal out of your earlier week meal. another thing i do with the leftover vegetables is mix them with a whole grain and usually with a dash of oil and seasoning it's another instant meal component or packable lunch item.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          2) when i really have my shit together (which is never), i do try to cook a couple-three cups of *one* type of beans/chickpeas/dal at the beginning of a cooking cycle or week. this doesn't actually take any time, it's just on the stove while you are cooking other things and can even be finishing while you're sitting down to eat. the various different beans at the co-ops are very fresh, so they cook fast and you can just get the small amount you want. the resulting beans generally immediately go 1/2 into a dip right away or the next day, and then you have some nice protein add-ins for your dishes for the week. the theme for the week can inspire your choice of legume and vice versa. for example i'll cook black beans and use 1/2 of them in deborah madison's black bean dip, and use the rest for chili, tacos, rice&beans, enchilada bake, whatever. the next week can be italian or french with a white bean dip and cheater cassoulet or tuscan white beans/kale etc. chickpeas become hummus, plus whole chickpeas for spinach salads, greek stew, moroccan tagine, etc. the dip can be used throughout the week as an all-purpose starter or sandwich spread or lunch add-in or spread on a tortilla for kid's pinwheel sandwiches or whatever. it's a nice thing to just have for snacking in the fridge.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          3) another clean-out-the-fridge thing i like to do, which i am going to admit to here :) is this pseudo-korean deal where you just cook a big portion of rice for everyone, and while the rice is cooking you prep raw veg and assemble all your leftover 1/2 cup orphaned cooked and pickled vegetables, tofu, etc from the week on the table. then when the rice is done, fill large rice bowls, arrange the raw veg and any marinated, heated up meat on top, fry an egg for each person, place on top of the whole deal. everyone helps to take a bit of each garnish and clear out the leftovers, people can pick and choose what they like, and it's fun. i always have prepared kimchi in the fridge for this purpose. this meal can be a little lame if there isn't a lot of variety... but if you get the hang of it and plan for it over a week of cooking other stuff, you can do just a little extra work while preparing the weeks' other meals and wind up w another easy mindless-assembly job where the dishwasher winds up doing most of the work. for example whipping up a quick all-purpose sweet korean-style marinade and tossing chopped/sliced leftover roasted pork, beef chx in it one night, chopping 1/2 a zucchini and tossing it with a little rice wine vinegar and sambal the next. again, if you have something leftover that doesn't quite fit the flavor profle, or leftover takeout chinese food, or leftover green salad, or whatever, just throw it out there anyway, it might be a pleasant surprise or a flop, but it will probably get eaten up!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          with the time saved you can whip up a quickbread or muffins or something and use the oven, if it's already going, or pre-roast vegetables for tomorrow, or blanch vegetables for tomorrow, or prepare a sauce or dressing and get ahead, or you can enjoy the time w your family, or do a load of laundry... i personally would unapologetically sit on my butt :)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I love all of these ideas, sk. I will have to add them to my master list of ideas! I especially like being given permission to unapologetically sit on my butt!


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          2. Gosh, TDQ, you have certainly hit a hot spot with your inital post - I can't get over how many replies in just two weeks!!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            My two cents is to deliberately create leftovers and then tweek them. Saves heaps of time and effort - and I think deserves a separate thread of it's own frankly. And you know what, I hope you don't mind, I'm going to be really really brave and start one!! :)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            5 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Chookums

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I agree that being smart about leftovers is a really important part of successful meal planning!


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                In the freezer right now we have meat sauce for kids, mac and cheese sauce for kids, sloppy joes in a three person portion, white beans that can "soup" with a little pasta or a side dish, cooked lentils/brown rice/quinoa/barley, plus ham, bacon, pancetta, sausage, shrimp, and a bag of frozen peas and spinach, the only frozen veg we use. Plus stock in cubes. All make dinner within ten minutes!!!!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: JudiAU


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Can you tell me more about your frozen mac n cheese sauce for kids - I'm intrigued.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: dkennedy

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    It is more or less the same as any mac and cheese sauce but here are the proportions I use:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Roux made with 3T flour and 3T butter cooked until pretty nutty and golden brown, maybe around ten minutes? Add three cups of strained hot milk (I usually micro with bay leaves and garlic cloves). Cook until thick and continue to cook out the flour, about ten minutes. Add salt and pepper, freshly grated nutmeg, and grated cheese, I like half gruyere and half sharp cheddar. Maybe 3/4 of a pound?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Meanwhile, I've steamed butternut squash in the micro until very, very soft and puree it with a hand held mixture. I use about half a squash for the amount above.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Mix into the sauce and taste again for seasoning. It needs to be well seasoned because of the blandness of the veg.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Cook pasta of choice and use a third bowl to mix so that you can save extra sauce or pasta or whatever. This usually makes maybe two nine inch pie plates (I use weird size dishes so I am estimating a standard size) plus enough extra sauce to fill a standard ice cube tray. Top if you like and bake about 25 minutes.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    To reheat sauce: defrost cubes in some whole milk whisking ever 45 seconds. Add to hot cooked pasta and serve or add a little extra cheese or bake a bit if you like. 12 ice cubes makes 2-3 meals for the kids within 15 minutes

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Mr. JudiAU follows a low carb diet so he usually uses the same sauce of steamed veggies.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            2. I just want to echo, let yourself off the hook for being perfect. One vegetable is enough- a larger quantity of a different vegetable each night is probably nutritionally equivalent to a small quantity of four different ones each night. Preshredded cheese will not kill you. That stuff keeping it from sticking together is potato starch, not rat poison. Corn and potatoes microwave nicely. Scrambled eggs on toast is cheap, tastes good, and meets the major food groups. It counts as home cooking. There is chicken bullion with no artificial stuff, and it tastes pretty good. It's great if you can do a hunk of meat once a week and use it a few times, but a lot of nights, you just need something that can be made quickly with no planning, like fish, steak, or boneless skinless chicken tenders. You can cook shrimp inside a pan of grits, or noodles and small pieces of chicken in broth. Cooking two starches on the weekend will save a lot of time. Cooked rice can be reheated or made into fried rice, and cooked noodles (undercook them a little and let them cool down in the water before draining) can be thrown into a stir fry or heated up in pasta sauce.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: jvanderh

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Another full-recognized member of the Good Enough Society (granted to those who realize that sometimes "good enough" is indeed good enough)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I'll look forward to my member card arriving in the mail. I assume it'll be handwritten (eh, good enough).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: jvanderh

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    in crayon! On an old grocery sack! :D

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    (No, just accepting that 95% of the time, we have higher standards for ourselves than anyone else would....and that we don't have to create meals worthy of Michelin stars three times a day!)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              2. Yesterday I had a few hours of prep time- I was able to get a lot done for the freezer.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                - cooked 2.5 lbs ground beef.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                - used some for tacos (dinner). Mixed with taco sauce and pinto beans. Had some left over, husband took taco salad for lunch, daughter will eat the small amount left over for lunch tomorrow
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                - made 36 Borekas. Puff pastry filled with the cooked meat. Went into the freezer
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                - made 2.5 lbs of meat balls for the freezer.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                - cleaned and trimmed 3 lbs chicken cutlets
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                - shredded 5lbs mozzarella cheese
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                - cooked 2 cups rice. Leftovers are in the fridge, will be used for fried rice or frozen
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                - made fresh salsa/guacamole. Basically, guacamole with chopped tomatoes, scallions, and cilantro. Finished it at dinner
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                - prepared roasted corn and poblano salsa. Made only a small amount, because I don't like the texture of it once it's been in the fridge.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                - prepped several day's worth of lettuce
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                - used mini food processor to prepare black bean vinaigrette (used on last nights salad)
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                - broiled 3 eggplants, cut into slices. Will be used later on in eggplant parm.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: cheesecake17

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Cheesecake, you were very productive!!!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I'd love to hear more about your borekas recipe.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: dkennedy

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Very simple. I buy precut squares of puff pastry, but you can definitely cut up a large sheet. I use about 1 lb meat to 36 3" squares
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    For the meat- chop a medium onion and sauté till starting to brown. Add meat and cook, mashing with a fork. You don't want large chunks or the dough will rip.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    When the meat is cooked, drain and set aside to cool.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    To fill, put about 1 tsp of meat in the center of a pastry square and fold in a triangle shape.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Set on a sheet tray and freeze, then store in a ziplock.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Bake on a greased Tray until lightly browned

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Can also be filled with cheese, potato, spinach, or mushroom.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                2. Hey, see you've already gotten quite a lot of ideas here, but still figured I'd throw in my two cents.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1-On Freezing Stuff
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I often find that the work of making cookies, for example, is mostly in the assembling and mixing together of the various ingredients. A job which is in no way made more difficult or time consuming if I make a double or triple recipe of dough. So when making drop cookies, I usually double my cookie recipe, bake half that day, and roll up the rest into a thick, sausage-like log in plastic wrap. That gets popped in the freezer and on another day, I take it out, partially thaw, slice off disks onto a cookie sheet and toss in the preheated oven. Cookies in minutes, wow!
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Knowing the long-term payoff (that I'll get 2 batches with the work of just one) makes me feel less burdened when I do go the initial trouble of getting out and combining all those ingredients.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Also there are some cooked foods that freeze and reheat admirably well. When you do go to the trouble of preparing a more elaborate, or favorite, meal, do yourself a favor and do the tiny bit of extra work it takes to make extra. Then freeze some. You will thank yourself later.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  2-Easy "globally inspired" meals
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  when I was growing up, one of our favorite meals was tacos assembled as the table.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  It looked like this: canned refried beans heated up in a saucepan, shredded cheese from a bag put in a bowl, chopped lettuce put in a bowl(this could also be from a bag), a bowl of chopped onions, a bowl of chopped tomatoes, a jar of salsa with a spoon stuck in it, sour cream with a spoon stuck in it, and a bag of store-bought tortillas, each heated over an open flame(or on a dry griddle) for just e few seconds on each side, and placed in a stack in a kitchen towel to keep them warm. then obviously everyone had their own plate, and from the bare tortillas up assmebled taco after tavo to their own liking. I'm not saying it's authentic Mexican down-home cooking, but it is a globally inspired meal in 15 min or less.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Also, you might want to look into chinese cooking. I know other people have mentioned stir-fries. I second that. And some veg dishes are deceptively easy and simple. I don't know if your little ones eat cabbage, but one example is chopped cabbage fried in a non-stick pan or wok with just veg oil and salt. you do have to be a generous with the oil and salt for this to come out right, but can still feel virtuous because cabbage is super healthy. So simple, so fast, and soooo good.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  You can also whip up fried rice in a snap with leftover rice and frozen veggies. I use a lot of fresh chopped garlic and onion in mine, because it gives it its flavor, but peeling and chopping those is
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  the only really time consuming part. Fry onions, garlic and your choice of veggies all at once in nonstick pan until tender but still a bit crunchy.(again, gernerous with the oil) salt, and add leftover white rice. If you want, you can also add a beaten egg whick will coat everything for more flavorful frying, although I usually don't. Season with more salt,soy sauce, and a dash of vinegar while you fry and stir. Pepper, dash of sugar, and chili powder/asian hotsauce optional. That's it.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  3-Put your kids to work!
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I know your kids are still young( mine too!) but this is just a little food for thought for when they get bigger. My brother and I had weekly chores growing up. Around the
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  age of 9 or 10, my parents added to our chores that each of us had to cook one meal per week. What it would be was up to us, though based on what we had around the
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  house. And of course a lot of the early meals were pretty basic( ie pasta with store bought tomato sauce and a side of frozen mixed veggies. Or pancakes for a saturday morning breakfast)
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  But I give a lot of credit to this experience we gained to the fact that both bro and I as adults love to cook.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The benefit is two-fold; your children learn about(and
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  perhaps develop a life-long love of) cooking;
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  and a bit of the burden of cooking is taken of your, the parent's, shoulders.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  All the best!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Gracemama

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    With the cookies, you can also shape them into balls, freeze them on a cookie sheet and transfer to a bag, and then bake them right from frozen. Although that makes it dangerously easy to have cookies, especially if you've got a toaster oven.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. DQ,

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I just posted this on the Cookbook a Week Challenge Thread and as I was writing it up, thought it would really appeal to you and others reading this thread, so I am reposting it here:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    My cookbook selection for this week will be A TWIST OF THE WRIST by Nancy Silverton. I picked up a copy of this book at the library bookstore for $3.00. I remember when it came out I wanted it but never bought it. So when I saw it for such a good price I couldn't pass it up. This was a few months back and I haven't looked at it since.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I've mentioned before that I am a huge fan of Nancy Silverton and this will be my fourth book written by her. I have read, cooked from, and fully endorse Mozza and The Sandwich Book, both are must haves as far as I am concerned. I also have her Cookie book which she wrote quite early in her career. It is a treasure not as much for the recipes as for her voice and witnessing how she has evolved. That and I am not much of a baker.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    A Twist of the Wrist is written for the home cook, with lots of shortcuts and quick options built into the recipes. As I recall, she got a lot of heat for including canned beans and the like in her ingredient list. I like this aspect of the book, because sometimes you don't have time to do everything from scratch but you still want a yummy meal. This is the book for those nights. The prep time is listed for each recipe which I find very helpful.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    The first recipe I flipped open to appeals to me so I'll start with it: Spinach Salad with Lentils and Crispy Warm Goat Cheese on p. 23. She takes canned lentil soup, drains and rinses the lentils (at first I was put off by this but as I read on I changed my mind) and then doctors them up by sautéing them with garlic and fresh herbs. She breads goat cheese in panko and fries till nicely browned on all sides. Bagged, pre-cleaned spinach tops the lentils and serves as a base for the cheese. Olive oil is drizzled over the dish and s and p added to taste. This dish would take all of 5 minutes to make. I'm intrigued. This is going on the shopping list for next week....
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    P. 26 offers Garbage Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette. I think this is meant for nights when you fridge is bare except for some leftovers and pantry items. It sounds pretty good. 4 hard boiled eggs, shredded rotisserie chicken, fresh tomatoes, hard salami, provolone, canned beans of your choice, black olives, and parm. tossed and served over greens. Basically a chopped salad. She has an amazing chopped salad in her MOZZA book which is infinitely more involved and I have tabbed it but never gotten around to making it for this exact reason. This is for a weeknight after taking the kids to tutoring and before tucking them in bed. Again, I think it is going on my shopping list.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    It took me a few more tossing of the pages before I came up with another recipe I'd be willing to try. This time it is for a quick version of Chasen's Chili, contributed by Suzanne Goin set out on p. 139. I have the original Chasen's Chili recipe in another cookbook so I was interested to see how it matched up. The original recipe called for pork shoulder and dried pinto beans. This recipe uses ground meat and canned beans.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I am not sure how 2 lentil based dishes in one week are going to go over with my family but I am putting this one on the list too. p. 176 Chicken with Potato Lentil Curry, Green Masala Yogurt and fresh Cilantro. Again, drained and rinsed lentils doctored up, rotisserie chicken and green masala paste is the base for the sauce. The only iffy part for me is the Patak's Spicy Bombay Potato Curry. I may have to make my own version of this instead of using the packaged.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Dessert one night this week will be Strawberries and Ladyfingers with Sour cream Sugar and Saba p. 221. Simple but scrumptious!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I am sure this book is available at your local library.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    9 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: dkennedy

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I'm getting a little hot and bothered by the spinach salad with lentils. I wonder if just buying those pre-cooked ones at TJs would be just as easy (I've never tried them, but keep meaning to do so). I'm not a huge fan of the Silver Palate cookbook but this does sound really perfect for someone who loves to cook, eat and wants to do it while still dealing with the rest of the family obligations. Thanks for the tip.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: LulusMom

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Forgive me, what's the connection with the Sliver Palate cookbook? I've just awoken from a (luxurious!) nap and am a little groggy still. What am I missing?


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Total stupidity on my part. I read Nancy Silverton and thought it was one of the authors of that book. Just D-U-M-B on my part. Not even sure why I'd make that connection.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Congratulations on the nap. Green with envy. I obviously need one!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        2. re: LulusMom

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          LLM, very late response but those precooked lentils from TJ's are excellent, I nearly always have some in my fridge, they have saved me from takeout many a time. The lentils, some mustardy dressing, baby spinach, tomatoes if I have some, and goat cheese or in a pinch Greek yogurt = dinner on the table in under 10 minutes. Or warmed up lentils and spinach topped with a fried egg. If you have some cooked sausage hanging around that goes well in either version, ditto leftover cooked carrots.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        3. re: dkennedy

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          HA! FUnny, I just replied in the other thread that I'm very curious to see how these recipes turn out and if they are really as quick as they seem!


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: dkennedy

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Speaking as the laziest person on earth, lentils take about ten minutes to cook. At least the small green ones that even Safeway (ie, big grocery store) sells do. Meanwhile, I love and eat and serve other canned beans regularly, and the book is on my library list!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: monfrancisco


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I pretty much laid out the entire recipe so you should be good to go. Hope you enjoy it. I plan on posting again later this week, assuming I follow through with my plan.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: dkennedy

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Thanks so much. Leaving town mid-week so I'm a bit scattered. I'll look forward to hearing how the recipes work out, especially this lentil one.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          2. DQ, soup was always a hit with my very finnicky son. I had to really slice those veggies very, very, fine and had them in a tomato base with some broth. Kids like finger foods so anything like homemade chicken nuggets might be successful. For chicken you can make cutlets in advance and use in sandwiches or as a main. If you are health conscious something like a home fry made out of potatoes, carrots, with a little oil and salt might go with that chicken. Pasta is very popular at my house and burgers.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I keep it simple during the week and on weekends make more complex meals.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. Update to this thread. Wow, I can't believe it's been almost 2 months since I posted this.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I have to say, I've still been trying to figure all of this out, but have been hampered by a cold that has circulated through my household a couple of times. I realized after reading all of your input in this thread, that I need a plan each week, one that includes some cooking or prepping ahead either on weekends at other "down times" during the week, but one that's flexible.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              One thing I'm really loving right now is Pepperplate recipe database and meal planning software. You can seamlessly (with one click) import recipes from sites like Martha Stewart, allrecipes, foodnetwork, and Epicurious and easily (but with several more clicks) manually cut and paste or type recipes into it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              The meal planning tool is awesome and the shopping list is awesome (you can even organize it by shopping aisle of your own grocery store). I'm still learning my way around this site, but I'm really loving it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I'm currently importing some of my favorite and "quick" recipes into pepperplate: http://www.pepperplate.com/

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Also, I've discovered Robin Miller's "Quick Fix Meals" on food network offers a weekly menu (3 "quick" meals) plus shopping lists and a meal prep strategy where she tells you what you can prep ahead. I haven't tried her recipes yet, but some of them look pretty good (and are pretty highly rated on food networks site) and they are one-click importable to pepperplate. http://www.foodnetwork.com/quick-fix-...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I've also been looking at a ton of "quick and easy" and "cooking ahead for the week" and "cooking for a family" type books in search of a meal planning structure. I've chronicled my cookbook reviews in Breadcrumb's "cookbook a week" threads #1 & #2: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/869995


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              THE FRANTIC WOMAN'S GUIDE TO FEEDING FAMILY AND FRIENDS: great premise but no website support and with weird unappealing recipes http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8673...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              THE STOCKED KITCHEN: ONE GROCERY LIST...ENDLESS RECIPES by Kallio and Krastins, http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8699..., interesting premise but not for me--I fear everything will taste the same.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              20-MINUTE MENUS: TIME-WISE RECIPES & STRATEGIC PLANS FOR FRESHLY COOKED MEALS EVERY DAY: By MARIAN BURROS, http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8699..., strange recipes


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              DINNER: A LOVE STORY, by Jenny Rosenstrach--the organization of the book is a mess but the recipes might be worthwhile especially if I can C&P them from her website into Pepperplate, http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8699...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              COOK ONCE A WEEK, EAT WELL EVERY DAY Make-Ahead Meals that Transform your Suppertime Circus into Relaxing Family Time, Theresa Albert, http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8699..., recipes sound more healthful and delicious but her cook-ahead plan might be just the ticket for weeks when I know I'm going to be crazy busy

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              SHOWS PROMISE, THE JURY'S STILL OUT:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              MY FAMILY TABLE, John Besh http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8673...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              COOKING FOR THE WEEK: LEISURELY WEEKEND COOKING FOR EASY WEEKNIGHT MEALS by Diane Morgan and Dan & Kathleen Taggert http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8699...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              HANDS-OFF COOKING: LOW SUPERVISION, HIGH FLAVOR MEALS FOR BUSY PEOPLE by Ann Martin Rolke, http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8699...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              ROBIN RESCUES DINNER: 52 Weeks of Quick-Fix Meals, 350 Recipes, and a Realistic Plan to Get Weeknight Dinners on the Table, Robin Miller, http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8699...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              STILL TO REVIEW:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Jamie Oliver's new 15 Minute Meals and, maybe, Jamie's Meals in Minutes (ie., Jamie's 30 Minute Meals)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Tara Duggan's "The Working Cook" and related column

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Saving Dinner by Leeann Ely, http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8715...


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              10 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                You are fantastic! Thank you for reporting back in such a thorough and helpful way! I plan to check out some of those books.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I do own the Jenny Rosenstrach book, Dinner a Love Story, and I have to say I love it-- it's not exactly an instant weekly menu plan, but her attitude and some of her tips and tricks have made a real difference in my approach and my attitude in the kitchen. She somehow makes me feel like it's okay to serve something very simple and easy, and also encourages me towards higher-quality meals with just a few tweaks. Her tone is so supportive and warm, I feel like I have an ally in the kitchen.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Best of luck to you TDQ, and all the other family-feeders out there!