A friend of mine from high school mentioned that she didn't feel like she had time to prepare real food for her family. I don't know what she does for a day job (outside of the motherhood job which is more than one job even with only one kid!), but I have been thinking about her comment for a while now and wondering whether I had anything to offer to her and people who feel similarly.
I don't work outside of the home full-time, but it isn't like I can spend my day cooking either. Two young kids make sure of that. :) Still I imagine I probably have more time to cook than the average full-time work outside of the home parent. On a good day, I can spend an hour cooking dinner. A good day means that Aaron is home before 6 to entertain the kids OR the kids are miraculously self-entertaining and not requiring peacekeeping forces. On other days, I have much less time to cook, but I still don't feel like I'm feeding my kids junk. I know when we feed them junk or heavily processed food, and I know it isn't every day. So how do we do it?
For starters, it really is a priority for us. I struggle with food very deeply. Like many Americans, I am currently overweight and struggle with eating the right amount of food even when the food I'm eating is good for me. When the food I'm eating is something like decadent awesome dessert, forget it! Anyway, feeding my kids healthy food is part of my battle with food. I want to show them what good food is, to prove that it is better than junk, and maybe in the process I can selfishly transform my own eating.
Since food is a priority for us, we make a point of planning at least a few dinners for each week. I plan for variety and preference. I think about what the kids typically enjoy and what I want to try or bring back for that week. We actually have a menu plan on our fridge to suggest basic meal themes for each weekday. We don't plan our weekend meals largely because we know we have more time.
Monday - chicken
Tuesday - "Mexican" (quesadillas, burritos, enchiladas, etc.)
Wednesday - pasta
Thursday - something quick like fish n chips, spinach pie from Trader Joe's, cheese sticks (not healthy but quick), etc.
Friday - fish, green veggie, rice, challah, sometimes squash kugel
Since first creating that plan, we have switched things around. Monday has been "Mexican" night many times. Thursday has been more elaborate instead of ready to eat. Sometimes we focus on clearing out leftovers from the weekend.
We make a grocery list every week. We keep it posted on the fridge to add to it when we think of things we need or want. When we get ready to shop, we think about whether we have any cravings for a meal (or if I feel like making something specific). I find that I'm more likely to cook something if I buy the ingredients. I hate wasting food, and not cooking something I bought ingredients for means I may end up letting good food go to waste!
But the time issue remains - when do I cook? How do I make that time? What do I do when there isn't time to cook?
I never cook for only one night, if I can help it. If I'm going to make the effort of cooking, enjoyable as it is for me, then I want that meal to be available more than one time. That takes care of lunches and the dinners when I don't have time or inclination to cook. Cooking more than one of something saves loads of time in the end. It doesn't take that much more time to double a recipe, and most of what we eat saves well for a few days.
I try to cook those larger dishes on the weekend when I know I have the time to cook more. I don't dedicate separate time on the weekend for it. I know some people plan a cooking day or evening to cook ahead for the week. I'm not quite so rigid. I just make the weekend meal larger or in 2 dishes so that I know I'll have leftovers. Having chicken on the grill, green beans, mashed potatoes? OK - make double the chicken at least. Leftover chicken = sandwiches, reheatable lunches, filler for enchiladas/burritos, etc. Making up a spinach lasagna? I make two in 9x9 dishes instead of only one in a 13x9. I can choose to freeze the extra for months later or store it in the fridge for that week.
When I think about how long people are willing to wait in line at a popular restaurant for dinner, I wonder why the same people say that cooking takes so long. I welcome your thoughts on time and food!