During the years that I was a SAHM, I learned to cook. I had been cooking for over a decade by that time, not including my undergraduate years of pasta and sandwiches, but meal preparation prior to really learning to cook was time-consuming and exhausting and also created massive piles of dishes.
By “learning to cook,” I mean
- cooking without a recipe, just creating things based on what I have on hand
- looking at a recipe, and knowing what would need to be changed to meet our preferences
- reading ingredients, and mentally compiling the aroma and evaluating it
Although I generally like to cook, I am not excited about it Mondays through Fridays after a full day at work. As in the routines mentioned previously, I’ve also tried to minimize the daily brainpower needed to get everyone fed.
Here’s what works for me:
Meal plans: I shop weekly, locations selected based on what we need and what’s on sale. Considering what’s on hand and the week’s evening schedules, I sketch a rough meal plan.
Freezer cooking: We have a freezer in the garage and it is one of my major timesavers. I use it to freeze:
- extra servings from meals
- sauces or other meal components
- garden produce
- any ingredients that are convenient when frozen, such as ginger cubes or cooked rice
- foods with short shelf life, such as nuts and cornmeal
The night before a busy day, it is heavenly to go “shopping” in the freezer and find something to thaw in the fridge.
Make lunches: We all eat homemade lunches every day, and we all eat very different lunches every day (since there are only 3 of us, that’s manageable). Here’s what we prepare:
- Mari’s Pasta: Pasta for dinner turns into a few extra lunch servings, packed for school in an insulated food jar.
- Thom’s Meat and Potatoes: I cook large batches of meat or sausages, and slice before freezing, placing waxed paper between slices as needed. Each Sunday I remove a few servings and place in a container in the fridge. He has this with rice or potatoes and microwaves everything at lunchtime. Fresh vegetables are always available – carrot/celery/pepper/radish sticks or a salad.
- My Lunch Salads: I prep salads 3 days at a time, on Sundays and Wednesdays. My salads are always different and might contain any vegetables I have available, plus beans or roasted tofu, nuts or seeds or avocado, berries or other fresh or dried fruit, and potato or grains. I put them in plastic containers ready to grab from the fridge.
(I know, 3 different lunches isn’t really simple. But it keeps everyone happy.)
Vegetable prep: We eat a lot of vegetables, and they require work before going into any recipe. When I have about 30 minutes of time, such as on weekights after an easy dinner, I’ll work on veggies for the next night’s dinner or for our lunches. Fresh vegetables last longer when cooked, so I prefer to cook all the vegetables I buy within a couple of days and then use them throughout the week. For stir fry, I chop and freeze mushrooms and peppers, and other veggies I cut fresh.
Cook vegetables for many uses: I batch-cook my various vegetables individually, without seasoning, to use in different dishes. For instance, fresh zucchini or mushrooms can be roasted or sauteed and then stored in the fridge or freezer. Once cooked, they can be used on sandwiches, in salads, in chili, in omelets or frittatas, etc. I season the final dish and the vegetables just need to be added with enough time to heat through.
Buy frozen fruits and vegetables: Frozen berries are perfect for smoothies or yogurt parfaits. Frozen vegetables have no waste and no prep time.
Bread baking shortcuts: I bake all of our bread, using a few different methods that I’ll detail in a future post.
Please share your food shortcuts! I am always excited about maximizing my kitchen efficiency.