Tuesday, March 4, 2014

How to Cook Supper When It's Already Time to Eat

My least favorite hour of the day is the time between walking in the door and sitting down to supper. We're tired. We're cranky. And a thousand demands descend upon me before the key is outta the front door. I once made a "No asking for anything until mom's shoes are put away" rule. It worked for awhile, but they didn't fall for the trick where I never put my shoes away....

So, I pretty much hate getting supper ready. It's not that I mind cooking, it's just that time, budget, and tastes coupled with a million other after-school demands makes meal preparing a stressful time. But I’ve learned a few tricks over the years that have helped me serve mostly home-cooked meals with semi-regularity (ignore all the qualifiers - I’m not pretending to be Martha!) I've decided to compile these ideas on this blog as a series. Below are six ideas I use that help tame the supper stress. For each one, I’ll elaborate in a future post.

1) Plan 

Given the time and ingredients, I would rather cook a seven-course meal for my family then to come up with a quick and easy idea on the fly. There’s nothing I hate more than coming home with no idea what we’re going to have for supper. That’s where we’re blessed to live far away from fast food, or I’m sure we'd be eating Big Macs every night. I don’t particularly enjoy coming up with supper ideas, but I’d sure rather do it with a little time to think and prepare than an hour before we’re supposed to be eating it. I’ve found if I sit down and plan out a week’s meals, I’m already that much ahead of the game. I have the groceries on hand, I never have to worry about what meat is thawed, and I’m able to work around our schedule.

 2) Use your freezer 

There are tons of freeze-ahead recipes to be found online. There are even entire cookbooks devoted to the topic. I get excited about the idea of spending one afternoon and having 44 meals, but realistically, it probably ain’t gonna happen around here. Instead, I do a little at a time.

3) Crock-pot it 

While I don’t want to eat every meal from a Crock-pot, I do love me some hot, savory-smelling dinner ready when I walk through the door. I probably cook one night a week this way. I just have to remember to start it in the morning...

4) Make ahead 

If we could eat supper at 9:00 every night, we’d have gourmet cooking (and by gourmet, I mean not Hamburger Helper). But every single one of us gets cranky when not fed, and I really enjoy our early bed time, so a late supper is not an option. But I can take advantage of the time after supper to make life easier for tomorrow’s meal.

5) Have side items on hand 

This is my weakest area. I’m pretty good about planning main dishes and getting them ready on time, but I totally forget about sides until the food is about to hit the table. I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve that make me look like I prepared sides, when really, they were just in my fridge already and I grabbed them at the last minute. Whatevs.

6) Delegate and distract 
Put your family members to work. Or if they can’t stand the heat, get em’ outta the kitchen!

7) Plan for leftovers 
"Leftovers" doesn’t have to be a dirty word. In addition to one meal a week being a clean-out-the-fridge potluck affair, I also work leftovers into the menu plan by using them in new ways the next night.

8) Prepare for the (inevitable) worst

It's gonna happen. I'm going to be running late or feeling crappy or forget to thaw the meat. It's good to have some back up plans.

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