Cooking is not rocket science. But when you work full time, putting healthy home-made food on the table while also dealing with homework and your kid’s extra curricular activities surely becomes some kind of science. It becomes a challenge which only a full time working parent will understand since time is such a luxury!
With the addition of each child to our family, I felt overwhelmed at times thinking if I would be able to do it right. My husband is my only backbone and support since we do not have any immediate family around here. With time I realized that there is no right or wrong way of doing something. Yes, there will be people who sometimes make you feel inadequate when you have a newborn with advises pouring in from all sides. But you need to keep your cool. You as a parent know more about your baby and will always do everything in the best interest of your child. Listen to all the advice but do not feel discouraged if you cannot do everything. We are not super-parents after all. With that said, the first thing you need to do is remove the guilt factor that you are not doing enough. Remember that you are beautiful as a parent!
Over time and now that my kids have grown up a bit, I have devised a method in my home which works well. As I always say, I have not figured everything out yet. I constantly improvise and make changes as I see fit.
Here are a few things about how we do it in our home starting from the basics. I hope it helps.
Cleaning the dishes: A dishwasher is a parent’s best friend. On weekdays, we normally have breakfast and dinner at home and perhaps a snack. All of our corelle plates, mugs, stainless steel spoons, knives, forks, lunchboxes and snack boxes go in the dishwasher. Before buying any box or a mug, I always make sure that it is dishwasher safe to make my life easier. The only rule that we follow is that we put on the dishwasher only when it is fully loaded, so alternate day works well with us typically. Pots, pans and pressure cooker gets hand washed.
Grocery Shopping: This perhaps deserves an article in itself. But in short, to save time, energy, money and reduce our trips to the grocery store, we follow a certain plan at home.
- I buy all the beans, lentils, rice, whole wheat flour, all the whole spices that we use commonly or any non-perishable stuff like pasta and oil which can last us for about 3-4 months in bulk and store them in a dry place.
- We use a lot of serrano peppers and curry leaves. So as soon as i buy them I separate the curry leaves from their stems and store the leaves and peppers in separate air-tight containers and put them in the freezer. They last well for 3+ months and I don’t need to run to the Indian store every week.
- Every time I go to the Indian store, I buy about 5-6 individually packed blocks of paneer and store in the refrigerator. I do make sure that they have future expiration dates.
- Chicken, fish and shrimp is bought in bulk and stored in the freezer.
- Frozen cut veggies (which usually is a mix of peas, corn, green beans, lima beans and carrots) and packets of frozen peas and shredded coconut are stored in the freezer for quick meals sometimes.
- Perishables such as fruits, milk, bread and vegetables are bought on a weekly basis.
- Kids’ snacks are either bought in bulk or just made at home on the weekend.
Weeknight meals: On saturday mornings, I plan the menu for the whole week. It typically consists of what we will be eating for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the whole work week. Kids carry whole fruit for their morning snack usually. In aftercare, they get served the snack of the day. So I don’t really pack an after school snack. If they are super hungry, they have a snack as soon as they get home with milk.
- Remember that when planning a meal, it is very tempting to put in some gourmet meals on the menu but its not going to work and will only lead to disappointment. Aim for simple meals. A starch, some protein and veggies is plenty for lunch and dinner. Think rice, baked chicken and green beans. Or rice, dal and sabzi. One pot nutritious meals is a good idea as well. The keyword here is simplicity to stay motivated through the work week.
- Make double the amount of food that you will be cooking. It takes the same amount of time anyway. But the positive side is that you don’t have to cook again. As an example, I normally cook for about 8 people although we are just 4 of us. So we basically eat the same food for lunch and then dinner. One meal is eaten fresh and the other one is reheated and eaten. That provides me ample time with my family and I am not spending my time at the stove all day long. By the way, this is also another reason why most recipes that I post here are good for 8-10 people.
- If you feel tired post work, cook before work. See, different people have different personalities. Some people are more efficient in the morning and some do well in the evening. As for me, I like to spend time with my family after work and have a relaxed evening. So I cook in the morning. I mean whatever works with your personality type.
- Do some prep work over the weekend. It does not have to be fully cooked meals. I understand that it is a weekend after all. Surely, all work and no play makes us dull. But having stuff prepped up saves a lot of time over the week. I don’t always prep stuff over weekend. But sometimes I just cook extra of whatever I am making over the weekend and save leftovers for say monday nights. Or even make some breakfast items so that I can sleep about half hour extra in the morning. One of the many things that works for me really is say cooking up some chicken breasts in a slow cooker for example and chopping/shredding them. You can transform this into salads, soups, quesadilla, sandwiches, fried rice. The options are endless.
- If you prefer using homemade spice blends or powders in cooking, one saturday or sunday every few months is a good time to make it in bulk and store. Think cumin powder, coriander powder or even garam masala!
- Buying washed and snipped green beans, pre-washed spinach is a time saver too.
- One night a week can be leftover night. When you make cooking extra a habit, you will end up having a little bit of everything leftover which may not be sufficient in itself but when paired with the rest of the items can make a hearty meal. So make it a point to not trash leftovers. They come in handy all the time.
- Embrace pressure and/or slow cooking methods.