Quick Meal Ideas for Busy Moms
Tips for making fast and healthy meals for your family -- and yourself.
Mark Bittman, cookbook author and self-trained chef, wrote in the New York Times that healthier eating happens when people eat real food. And by real food, he means meals that do not come from a box or a drive thru window.
Preparing meals at home is not only healthier, but also cheaper and better for the planet. The problem, he says, is that "Real food is cooked by real people...and real people are cooking less than ever before."
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand why. After working all day and coming home to (circle all that apply) the unfinished book report, tween angst, permission slips, that PTA meeting you forgot until now, a potty training disaster, taekwondo carpool, telemarketers - do I need to go on? The mere thought of boiling water can send anyone to the phone to order in pizza.
Alma Schneider says dinnertime is the absolute worst time to be thinking about dinner. Alma is the founder of Take Back the Kitchen, a consulting company based in New Jersey, dedicated to helping people overcome their psychological and practical obstacles to cooking.
"Nobody can snap their fingers and have dinner," she says. "You have to make the time and it's not going to be at 6:30."
She encourages her clients to plan ahead and prep ahead. Planning starts with sitting down one evening after the kids are in bed, or on your commute, and creating a weekly menu and grocery list. You save time by only making one trip to the store each week, and you have on hand everything you need for a week's worth of meals.
Alma says the best recipes are the ones that have minimal ingredients. But if you don't have time to scour cookbooks, she suggests asking friends for easy recipes of foods their kids like.
You can take it a step further, as did Rebecca Weiner of Arlington, VA, a mother of three and photographer. She found someone else to plan the meals and create a grocery list. "Now I could use my brain space elsewhere," she says.
A quick search on Google turns up no less than a dozen menu planning services, but Rebecca chose The Six O'Clock Scramble because the recipes were most appealing to her. For a small fee, the Scramble emails her a week's worth of recipes and a single shopping list.
Sari Levinson Raskin of Dallas, TX, another "Scrambler" and working mother of three, felt frustrated every evening trying to think of a healthy meal for her family. Using this service has changed her life: "We are saving money and my stress level has dropped tremendously!"
Fantastic! You have the ingredients and a menu. Now what? How does it all get cooked and on the plate? Alma says the key is prep, prep and more prep. "If we were to journal our day, we'd all find 5 or 10 minutes here and there. We need to make use of that time."
Chop vegetables while the kids are eating breakfast. Boil pasta while you take your morning shower. (You can reheat it in the microwave at dinnertime.) A roast is perfectly low maintenance. Throw it in the oven and do something else for 45 minutes. This may not seem natural at first, she says, but over time it will become rote.
It's all about multi-tasking. And Alison Bermack founded a national organization based on that principle. Members of Cooking With Friends, LLC, infuse food and friendship towards the common goal of healthy eating. Cooking With Friends clubs have sprouted up from New York to Colorado, encouraging participants to join forces in the kitchen, cook in bulk and make use of their freezers.
"It's hard enough to make dinner and make time for friends," Alison says. "Now you can do both. Relationships are strengthened by the act of cooking."
It's also an incredible time-saver. Whoever complained about too many cooks in the kitchen obviously never had to feed a family. Cooking with a friend for a few hours on the weekend can leave you with a week's worth of meals. With two (or more) cooks, one person could be chopping vegetables while another measures and mixes spices. And while you're slicing that onion, toss four more onto the cutting board. Because it doesn't take much longer to make 6 quarts of soup than it does to make just two.
"Now when it's 6:30 and everyone's starving, you just open up the freezer," says Alison.
She does have a few basics to turn to in a pinch. Frittatas are easy to whip up with whatever veggies you have on hand. Or boil up some pasta, toss with a jar of sauce (better yet, homemade sauce you made previously and froze) and tear up some lettuce for a salad.
Planning ahead (or outsourcing the planning), prepping on the fly, cooking in bulk, making it social - these will all help you put food on the table. Real food, as Mark Bittman would call it.
How to get your kids to sit nicely and eat it? That's a whole other story.
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