Whether you are a busy working mom trying to balance the scales without having anything fall off, or a Stay at Home mommy in charge of all the littles and praying for an iota of conversation that does not involve high pitch inflection or anything Gerber related; we are all just doing the best we can, right? While I am a working mom, another important thing for me is that my family eats together, and that the meal is nourishing and healthy. As a result, I have to find extra time in my day to plan and prepare dinner, and as tempting as it is to order in Pei Wei (Spicy Korean, anyone?), I make sure we eat in 5-6 nights a week at least. Between kids’ homework, school schedules, my work and fitting in Grey’s Anatomy, that leaves little time for messing around. People question my ability (and sanity, but that’s another post) to get it all done, but in reality, it isn’t that big of a deal. Eating healthy and together is important to me, and we tend to make time for the things that are important to us. Here are a few tips that have helped me along the way.
1. Prep early. There are several things I do as soon as I get home from the store that help me later. I wash and bag my lettuce in a ziplocks with a paper towel inside to soak up moisture and keep it fresh. If I have bought celery and carrots, broccoli or green onions, I wash and chop those to throw in salads or other meals. I don’t pre-chop onions, because who needs a fridge that smells of pico de gallo all week, but once I use part of one, I wrap it in a wet paper towel and put it in a ziplock and voila! No smelly fridge. I also buy berries in bulk from Costco and although my kids inhale this fresh fruit, I usually freeze a quarter of the amount and use them for after school smoothies. Berries also get the tupperware/paper towel treatment and make sure they are dry so they last longer.
2. Have a well-stocked pantry. In my dream world, this means smoked oysters, truffles, artichoke hearts and Lindt Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt, but those may or may not be so family friendly. Instead, I make sure to always have the following: white beans and garbanzo beans that I use to make hummus or throw in a salad, black beans and pinto beans that are yummy and go with anything Mexican and in lots of casseroles, tomato products (diced, sauce, crushed, whole, paste) to use in virtually anything or as a base for sauces of all kinds, brown and white rice, whole grain pastas (penne and spaghetti or angel hair), Cream of Chicken and Cream of Mushroom soup and Quinoa (which I pronounced /kwin o ah/ until it became popular and I figured it out), couscous, Lipton onion soup mix (as a marinating agent for pork or potatoes), canned tuna, canned corn and loads of chicken broth or stock. Even if you can’t make it to the store for a week straight because of consecutive bad hair days or temper tantrums, if you are stocked in this way you don’t have to! It is also important to have a few oils (Canola, olive, coconut) and some vinegars (balsamic, red, white and rice) and maybe some cooking wine (or some for drinking that you can toss in the cooking!)
3. A little planning goes a long way! For the most part, I know that we will have one to two chicken dishes, a pasta dish, some pork or beef, and some fish throughout the week. If I am in a hurry, I can grill one of those, add a veggie sautéed in a little olive oil and garlic, and a starch and I am good to go. I like to get a bit more creative for the sake of my family, but if I have this stuff, it is very easy to create different combinations. I also use a few different food blogs for inspiration. If I have the ingredients mentioned above and a well-stocked fridge, I can sometimes stop on my way home to grab the one or three things I may not have and then make a new meal that night. I also have a binder in my kitchen that is broken down by section: apps, salads, meat entrees, seafood entries, pasta’s, sides, desserts, cocktails (my favorite section), where I have printed out recipes or torn them out from magazines and organized them into a solid recipe book. I may or may not suffer from OCD, but whatevs! It gets me through, people. One thing I do is that the recipe doesn’t go in until I make it and it gets a score of 8/10 from me or the powers that be in my home. Otherwise your reliable book becomes not so reliable and filled to the gills!
4. Stick to a Schedule. I almost always start dinner the same time every night. I have left play dates early, picked the kids up from practice if it isn’t over on time or skipped things entirely if they get too much in the way of sticking to what works for me. This leaves me able to be spontaneous and either order in or have a GNO if I want to. However, if I didn’t make dinner and eating together a priority–well, between exercise and work and the circus/shuffling that is our lives, I would just be another person in the take-out or drive through lines. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I have a few trusty numbers memorized that can solve my problems in 20 minutes and I like to use them from time to time to feed our family, but for the most part, we are just used to saving that money so I can buy some Manolos. Kidding. Mostly. I do want some before I die, though.
5. Balance is Everything. Some nights I may not want my menu broadcast over the internet because it seems embarrassingly simple. Other nights I want to take a picture of the meal and frame it. Some nights my family of men swoon, and reward me with
hand and foot massages and scented oils. Okay, Oreo kisses and some satisfied belly pats. But still, I will take it. Some nights I fix stuff for my carb loving 6 year old blue eyed funny guy, some nights I cater it toward my freckled, good-natured 8 year old protein lover, and finally, sometimes it is for my 40 year old garbage disposal wonderful man that thanks me after every single meal I prepare. Sometimes I succeed and feel like a rock star, and sometimes I fail, but I always try, and it is always made with love. And that, ladies, is all that matters.