How Do Working Parents Cook Dinner?

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  • Juggling cooking/cleaning with toddler

    (17 replies)

    Looking for suggestions from parents on cooking efficient, quick & healthy meals compatible taste wise with spices etc. for both parents and toddler (14 months- needs soft food, doesn't have many teeth yet). We are struggling finding time to cook after work while chasing the toddler around and not wanting to neglect (want to spend time with them). Looking for easy meals that can be prepared in an instant pot, for example and left to cook while working at home (or a slow cooker). We are not into freezing food and buy a bunch of fresh veggies and fruits from Berkeley bowl bi-weekly. Open to meat and vegan/veggie dishes. Any suggestions on weekend food prep and/or how to cook dinner super quickly would be very helpful please! Also any suggestions on getting household cleaning done while trying to spend time with your child (what cleaning can we let go what is important like floors for safety for the toddler) and when to do it (e.g. assign a day for vacuuming) would be much appreciated. Struggling in these departments and it is affecting marriage/ stress level etc. at the moment in all respects so any advice would be great! We aren't able to hire anyone or eat out so looking for advice on how to do it ourselves between two parents, sharing the work load but not leaving one parent doing the work and the other "having fun"?! with child. Thank you!

    I love the New York Times weeknight dinners. You can search their whole archive (if you subscribe) and easily compile menus and shopping lists for the week.

    Toddler food is hard. We are big fans of instant pot recipes by Melissa Clark NYT. We have a rotation of mushroom and peas risotto, Chili (see Jacky and Amy recipes), chickpea stew, carnitas, chicken soup, lasagne, Mac and cheese. All of which work perfectly in the instant pot. Our kids also really like Greek food- lots of fresh veggies! Easiest meal has got to be roasted tofu with rice and veggies all done on a sheet pan minus the rice.

    Hey, I just wanted to empathize that you are not alone! I think many of us are struggling with this balance and all the demands on us, especially with this stupid pandemic. I don't have any great suggestions on cleaning - our place is a tolerable mess. I try to vacuum and clean bathrooms once a week, if I can manage (big if...) and sometimes our three year old offers to Swiffer (she's not great, but the gesture is appreciated), but that's it. When we were more committed to cleaning, one parent would take the kids out for an hour or so and the other would speed clean the house. It's all tiring.

    As for meals, I put together a spread sheet of meals that are mostly quickish (less than 30 min.) that we like and our kids (now 2 & 3) will eat, too. These "higher effort" meals we make a few days a week between pasta (with ready made pasta sauce) and things like quesadillas because doing this every night would be nuts. You may need to adjust spice and consider chopping small/cooking longer for your little, but we started eating these about the same age as your toddler. Here are three:

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    https://www.emilieeats.com/slow-cooker-chickpea-peanut-stew-vegan-gluten-free/

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    https://choosingchia.com/easy-vegetarian-laksa/print/14703/

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    https://www.thekitchn.com/lentil-soup-recipe-23004361?utm_source=pocket-newtab

    If these are the kinds of dishes you're looking for, happy to share the spreadsheet.

    Good luck!

    I suggest getting some cookbooks for kids, even though your toddler is too young to read , these recipes usually have fun drawings of the ingredients and techniques and are usually full of healthy recipes, I loved " Fanny at Chez Panisse" for example. Also there are tons of blogs and books with Instapot and Slow Cooker recipes, also at the local libraries and some you can download.  Maybe designate an afternoon a weekend to cooking several recipes at once and to save time during the week make double recipes so you have leftovers to freeze. Have a drawer or cabinet in the kitchen for your child to call their own, I put wooden spoons, tupperware, a plastic bowl, they love to pretend to cook with you! Re cleaning: Swiffer once a day and have baskets around to stow toys, also never leave a room empty handed. Don't  spend too much time cleaning, they don't remember if the house was clean when they grow up! 

    I make a lot of soups which will last our family of 3 (toddler ~4.5yrs) for the week, and when I buy the veggies for the soup, I also think of other dishes we can make with the same ingredients. So if I make potato leek soup, I save some potatoes for mashed potatoes. When our child was younger, and even now he's kind of a lazy chewer, I would use an immersion blender to just blend it all together so that its softer, and that way I am also able to sneak in more veggies! If I make a veggie minestrone type soup, I might use the pasta and veggies later in the week to make a pasta salad or something. Spaghetti, tacos, mac n cheese with add ins (peas, hot dogs, spam), mashed potatoes and baked salmon (toaster oven), fried rice, making our own sushi or spring rolls is a fave at home where we can have fun with it and eat the same foods! I'd say each meal takes maybe 30-40 minutes total between prepping and cooking since it's mostly one pot! Our kiddo also doesn't like meat unless its a sausage or nugget, but like impossible meat so we've been subbing that in spaghetti sauce and tacos since my partner and I are vegetarian and pescatarian =)

    Have you tried involving your toddler in the cooking and cleaning? My 16 month old loves imitating everything we are doing, so for example, we got him a child sized broom and mop, let him put clothes directly in the washing machine, got a "learning tower" so he can safely stand up at the counter and help with simple food prep steps. Of course, it is a little more work than doing it without a toddler's help, but he is learning a lot and it gets easier and easier the more we do it. If this sounds of interest, i would suggest reading up on Montessori philosophy as they are very focused on a "prepared environment" that helps the child be independent. We don't do everything Montessori style but have been extremely pleased with what we have incorporated and our toddler is thriving. Of course, its not easy, and i think it also makes sense to come up with some simple meal planning. I have found "America's Test Kitchen" has some good online recipes for Slow Cookers that require purchase to their online system.

    My kids are 8 and 11 now, but wow, do I remember the struggles you are dealing with! Here are a few things that helped me...

    1. We bought a roomba. Without question the best money we ever spent. I joke that my roomba is my best friend, but I am only kind of joking.

    2. At some point, I transitioned to doing weekly meal planning and then sticking to the plan (mostly). It was amazing how much this helped - it turned out that a lot of the stress I experienced around dinner prep was actually related to figuring out what to make and procuring the food, not cooking it. So doing meal planning and only shopping once a week really helped with that.

    3. In terms of flexibility to feed toddlers... I wound up cooking lots of soups that could be gently pureed for my toddlers to eat. (They would turn up their noses at all the veggie chunks in sausage lentil soup but were happy to eat a version that had been lightly blended.) I've also just gotten in the habit of omitting hot sauce, red pepper flakes, etc. to keep the heat down. I wind up adding red pepper flakes or sriracha after the fact to my own dish quite often. The chef in me laments that this is not as good, but honestly, it works OK and everyone is happy. I know you said you're not into freezing things, but the other great thing about making soups/stews is that you can make a really big batch and then freeze some to use later. And they often can be cooked either in the slow cooker (or instant pot) or just without the need for constant supervision. So... better for the days when you have to cook and keep an eye on your little one at the same time.

    4. I've made my peace with some amount of convenience food. I used to make lots of things from scratch, and my younger self would never buy pre-grated cheese, for example, or minced ginger in a jar. My mom self loooooooooves minced ginger in a jar. My sanity is worth it.

    5. I went through a long process of trying out various recipes and keeping the ones that really work not just in terms of being yummy but also in terms of ease of prep. Epicurious, the New York Times, and Skinnytaste are all big sources for me, and all have recipes that are flagged as "easy" or "weeknight." Over the years, I've amassed quite a collection. Before kids, I was a big fan of Cooks Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen. Now, I never use their recipes except on special occasions - they are delicious but often way too complicated.

    6. Some parent friends and I started a google slide show where we pool all our easiest recipes. I turn to that when I need new ideas.

    7. I let go of a lot of cleaning. Floors/household dust seem important with a little one, but you should see my stovetop. It's embarrassing and gross, but so is the way I get completely unhinged when my stress levels get too high. I also strongly recommend getting your child(ren) involved in house cleaning early and just making it an expectation. Even if you can do it better/faster, let them do it. At this point, my kids are 100% responsible for cleaning our bathrooms. They each clean one every weekend. It was such a relief when they got old enough to do that. Buy your toddler some child sized cleaning supplies (e.g., a broom), and do some cleaning together.

    Good luck!

    I don’t know where I would be without my instant pot, especially during the pandemic! I frequently soak dried beans overnight and make a big batch of refried beans in the IP. Now that the weather has been cold, I have been making a ton of soups in the IP as well. Other IP staples are chicken thighs and a jar of salsa either with or without a cup of rice, spaghetti squash, even a whole chicken. I also like making casseroles with vegetables in them so I’m not making multiple dishes per meal. Although my toddler is becoming more picky, at 14 months he would eat anything so that was really helpful. 
    For chores, my son is very interested in the vacuum so now I vacuum while he is home and not napping instead of always doing it when I could be taking a break. We have a little toy vacuum he likes to push around while we vacuum. I try to get him involved in some kind of project while I do dishes so again, I don’t have to only use breaks for that. He’s interested in the washer/dryer so he “helps” with those things sometimes though it slows everything down. 

    I really embraced microwaving veggies after having a baby. I try to always have cooked carrots, green beans or broccoli in my fridge at all times. I try to make staples that I know my girl will eat and always have them prepped on hand, usually I prep like mad during nap time. If I make something that takes a lot of time and attention I make it after she goes to bed, then hubby and I eat late and my girl has the leftovers the next day. Bottom line: we don't always eat a meal altogether. My toddler is ready for dinner at 5:45 and I can't work that fast. Often she eats, then we make dinner after she goes to bed. That said, slow cooker soups are life!

    The best thing I ever invested in was a robotic vacuum.  This was indispensable when our child was a toddler and saved me so much time.  Trading off the cooking helped too.  We tended to make things like carnitas in the crock pot that we could use in different recipes.  Also, roasted whole chicken ala Marcella Hazan (simple roast with 2 lemons, salt & pepper) can be combined with throwing veggies in the oven for dinner and you can make chicken salad, etc. with leftovers. Or chicken soup (again, whole chicken, water, carrots, a parsnip, some herbs, then adding leftover pasta or rice at the very end) is easy and there's always lots leftover that can be frozen and saved, reheated quickly for a rainy day or lunch.  Adding a lemon to the soup at the end makes it even better). Baked potatoes in the microwave and lots of pasta, cous cous, etc.  Hang in there, it does get a lot easier soon.

    We had to shift out ideals around food and meals post-parenthood. As long as we are getting balanced meals (a balanced mix of vegetables, whole grains/carbs, lean protein) I am satisfied. We used to cook from scratch daily, go to the farmers market weekly, etc. At this point in time, we’ve let some of that go… I’d say at first it was sad, but now weekday cooking is no longer stressful and dinner is simply daily time we enjoy together with food (even if the food is not fancy…)

    Some things we’ve found helpful for weekdays:

    1. Pre-washed/pre-chopped vegetables (butternut squash, broccoli, cauliflower, sugar snap peas, baby carrots, string beans, cabbage). Dump in a bowl with a splash of water, cover, microwave and have steamed vegetables within 1-3 minutes. Or roast.
    2. Sheet pan dinners! Super easy and hands-off. Roasted chicken thighs, salmon, tofu, pork chops, etc. Just pre-marinate or toss with oil and seasoning, pop in the oven, and you can also add veggies and potatoes.
    3. Brown rice: we cook 1-2 big pots a week, so that it’s readily available and can be quickly reheated.
    4. Meals that can be “decomposed.” Like Nicoise salad (with canned tuna, so much faster)—but the kids will only eat the boiled eggs, roasted potatoes, string beans (steamed in the microwave), and tomatoes. No olives, lettuce or vinaigrette for the kids. Along similar lines are tacos, rice bowls, etc.
    5. We do eat some frozen foods, which we supplement with fresh veggies. At Trader Joe’s we like the dumplings, tamales, turkey burger patties, spanakopita, turkey meatballs.
    6. Have condiments on hand… I still miss our Life Before Kids-meals (coconut curries, etc.) but I’d rather prepare bland food and just add siracha/ salsa/ harissa/ Krystal than cook multiple meals.

    Lastly, my husband and I take turns as much as humanly possible. For grocery-shopping, cooking, clean-up, bed time routine, etc. It’s a constant conversation of “Who’s turn is it?” and it’s not perfect, but we do rotate back and forth a lot which helps my sanity. In LBK, I used to do all of the cooking because I’m better at it, but frankly I don’t enjoy cooking as much anymore now that the food has to be toddler and preschooler-friendly… so that was a conversation.

    Am so glad that my daughters see this model of partnership and parenthood though (rather than what my husband grew up with-- a SAH mom doing the majority of the housework and child-rearing… seriously, in the first part of marriage I had to FIGHT with him to do dishes. He didn’t see that it was unfair, one person doing the cooking AND clean-up). The house is still messier than I'd like, but I'd rather have ~30-60 minutes to myself before my own bedtime than just be on constant childcare-work-cook clean/childcare mode. 

    Good luck!!

    I’ve struggled to find foods my 3 YO will eat that I want to eat. I usually make him a quick, easy dinner (pasta, quesadilla, or sandwich with fruit and carrots). While he’s eating I talk to him and cook a simple dinner for my husband and myself. One pan dishes I can throw in the oven are simplest and easy to clean. 
     

    Cleaning the house with him is a slow process. He likes to help vacuum and dust, but cleaning kitchens and bathrooms has to happen when he naps or sleeps. 

    Hi! We are by no means pros at this, and have been re-configuring our juggle with the birth of our newborn but I thought I could share some things we have found to be helpful having a 2 year old and a newborn. 
    My husband and I divvy up the cooking and cleaning: I do all grocery shopping and bulk prep (weekly grains, a weekly legume, roasting nuts etc) he then puts together the food quickly during the weeknights for dinner. We’ll do food prep on the weekends, including cut up kale, or use a food processor to mince garlic we can throw into a dish quickly. We’ll do a quiche, yogurt or beans (she likes black puréed) with scrambled eggs for our toddler for breakfast which is all easy prep-wise. He does a lot of puréed vegetable soups,  which are great one handed meals for work/baby juggling and we can easily toss in some grains or cheese ;) to make it more substantial for us or our daughter. (My favorite way to make grains (faro, barley, brown/wild/basmati rice, quinoa) is get them going on a high boil for several minutes and then turn the burner off, keep it lidded and let it sit and soak up the water, this way I can make a pot of grains with really only 5-10 minutes of hands on work, they’ll soak up the water in about an hour or so but I can leave it and do other things, work, etc. I do like to use a healthy amount of olive oil or butter for flavor). 
    We started using Farm Fresh To You weekly when the pandemic hit (prior was biweekly) and I have found that to be a great way to save time and still get quality produce.
    Cleaning wise, I do most all the cleaning, vacuuming on Saturday morning sometimes getting started while she and my husband sleep in, other times while they’re hanging out and we just flip flop rooms as I make my way through the house. Being a no shoes house means mopping is pretty quick and can be done depending on how often our in-laws are here/rainy weather etc. Those are really the two things I prioritize as the kids are on the floor, might pick up and eat things from the floor ;) and then things like tubs/toilets are a monthly occurrence. 
    Otherwise we just try to pick up clutter nightly, using a lot of baskets and bins for toys/crayons/etc after the kids go to sleep. We also do laundry every other day and folding is our excuse to watch a show together at night once the kids are asleep. 
    I’m looking forward to others’ suggestions to make this process even more efficient. 

    What first come to my mind is outsourcing the cleaning and some take out. But I saw that is not desired.

    We both work and have 2 girls (4 and 1 year old). We cook extra food over the weekend for the week and make a meal plan for the week. During the week, we cook the rest of the meals while we are doing the dinner. While one of us is cooking the other one is taking care of the girls. We switch every day so that the girls are used to be with both of us.

    Sometimes one girl want to be in the kitchen, the older one draws in the kitchen while one is cooking and for the small one I put some toys or safe kitchen stuff on the floor so that she can play with it.

    Thank you for asking this! Everyone's replies have been useful for me. I have a 21 month old and in the mornings my partner and I usually take turns with one of us watching our toddler and cooking breakfast while the other does some exercise or gets ready for work or sleeps in. In the evenings its often the same with just one of us free to prep dinner while the other finishes up work. We always invite our toddler to cook with us and although it can sometimes take longer, it is fun and gives him lots of opportunities to practice fine motor skills. It also gives us a little more time together, since we don't have all that much time with him before and after work on weekdays. We have a learning tower and some toddler knives and give him specific things to do, like cracking eggs, chopping fruit for a smoothie, drying greens in the salad spinner, snapping green beans. Sometimes he's not interested and goes off to play on his own or takes out some pots and pans and does some pretend cooking on his own. On the weekends we usually make one or two big dishes for lunch for the week. Sometimes we don't get around to it, or it doesn't last as long as we thought and one of us will cook another big meal during the week at night after our toddler is asleep. 

    We use our instant pot a lot, usually making a pot of beans and a pot of rice each week. We used to plan what we were going to make each week and make a specific grocery list, but we have mostly abandoned that. Now we have a produce CSA box and a fish CSA that we pick up each week, some basic things that we order each week for delivery or grocery run (chicken stock, cheese, nuts, avocados, beans, rice, etc), and also have a small veggie garden in our backyard. Then whoever is cooking opens the fridge and comes up with something to make based on whats in there and what needs to be used first. This has worked out really well for us, I think we have both become better cooks and what we make usually ends up tasting really good.  We have a few recipes that we repeat regularly when the ingredients appear in our box, but a lot of what we make are variations of recipes we have cooked in the past. Our toddler loves this red lentil curry and it is pretty fast to make in the instant pot or on the stovetop (sometimes we make a giant batch that doesn't fit in the instant pot to last the week). https://www.veganricha.com/instant-pot-red-lentil-butternut-squash-curry/  We do a lot of frittatas, soups w/beans and veggies, savory tarts similar to the ones on NYtimes cooking from Martha Rose Shulman, and sometimes just beans, veggies, and quesadillas. Probably half the time we make a big salad for dinner because we always have lots of greens we need to use and its the easiest and fastest when we are pressed for time or tired. Our toddler doesn't eat the salad greens but eats whatever toppings we add, like avocado, roasted veggies, cheese, nuts, etc. Same with smoothies in the mornings, we make those a lot and thats one of the few ways to get our toddler to eat any kind of greens.

    I'm a single parent to a preschooler, and a robo-vac and dishwasher saved my life. We do a 5-minute mad dash around the house picking stuff off the floor and then set the vacuum (which my daughter named) to run as we're leaving the house. As for food, I mostly have to do 2 separate meals for dinner, which is a big drag. I either order out for one or both of us or cook larger batches for myself (curries, stews, slow cooker chicken, etc) once or twice a week that I can just warm up while I'm making a kid-friendly dinner. My daughter is involved in picking up toys and likes to help sort laundry, like match socks together, though of course she's not efficient.

    Reading these responses has been so affirming! In the mornings, I cook breakfast and pack our 16-month-old's lunch for daycare while my spouse feeds our kid. Our child is sleep trained and is put to bed at 6:30p, so my spouse or I do dinner cooking after the kid goes to sleep (depends on who has work meetings/time to cook after we put the kid to sleep). We're doing a lot of mix-n-match bowls these days. We switch off meal planning responsibilities every other week. Sometimes either my spouse or I will do some meal prep when we have breaks from work during the day. All of the toddler's meals are more like mezze platters -- a little bit of this, a little bit of that. Flavors don't always go together. I focus more on making sure there are some proteins, fresh veggies, and grains. We are lucky that our kid is so far not too picky when it comes to food. For cleaning, I've created a schedule for myself of things that need to be done daily, 2x weekly, 1x weekly, 2x a month, 1x a month, 2x a year, and 1x a year. Trying to assign tasks to specific days was getting too stressful for me. Now I know that as long as I've done things on schedule, it is probably "good enough". And I second all the posts about getting the toddler involved with the cleaning tasks. My kid likes taking stuff to the trash can/recycling bin, has a kid-size push broom, and recently started helping me push the vacuum around.

  • Long commute for mom: dinners?

    (19 replies)

    Hey All,

    I’m a SAHM (2.5 years) returning to work in a couple weeks. My husband will be in charge of dropoff and pickup, since I’ll be likely commuting 4 hrs a day—brutal. I know it’s a necessary sacrifice, and the time apart will be an adjustment. But the immediate thing I’m worried about most is missing dinner with them, namely preparing dinner. 

    My husband isn’t a great cook (I’m decent, but I’m a stickler for understanding basic nutrition). He likes heating up frozen meals (albeit from TJ’s—could be worse) or take-out. I’m very afraid that this will be what they’re eating every day. 

    Does anyone else out there deal with this problem, and how? I can imagine myself doing some hefty meal prep on Sundays, but I’d be new to that too. Also, I may not want to spend my whole Sunday doing only meal prep. 

    Any advice is appreciated!! Thx.

    I'm very sorry about your terrible commute but I understand why you are doing it, so hang in there. I too have a well-meaning but can't-cook husband.

    If yours doesn't mind meal prep, I have a suggestion. Good Eggs https://www.goodeggs.com/ has these wonderful very simple and fast "meal packages" for 3 (I've found they easily feed 4 so you have leftovers for lunch the next day). They give you all the ingredients, plus a recipe.  I mostly use good eggs to order organic produce that they deliver the next day to my door, which I really love. But I have also tried a number of their meal kits, and they are tasty, idiot-proof, and made from fresh ingredients. I've tried their pizza made from scratch, the sausages with polenta, the chicken and kale udon, the tomato soup with gruyere toast, and others. They are really tasty and really, really easy. Even my husband can make them.

    Since your husband works full time too, I also recommend using meal delivery services.  You could choose them ahead, and your husband could do the order. Caviar is the one we've been using: https://www.trycaviar.com/sf-east-bay/. You can get all kinds of delicious healthy meals from places like Ramen Shop, Comal, Summer Kitchen, Gregoire.

    Finally I would like to say: lower your expectations, food-wise. Take-out is not so terrible. Breakfast for dinner is not so terrible. Mac and cheese from a box is not so terrible. Just try to get fruits and veggies in there too. Your family will survive and thrive!  And there will come a day when you'll be back in the kitchen making awesome meals (that your teenager will refuse to eat - that's where I am! It's all about pizza, burgers, burritos, ugh.)

    Best wishes!

    I totally hear you on this! Meal delivery services definitely helped me when I went back to work after maternity leave and had a long commute. We tried Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, and Gobble, and out of the three my favorite was Gobble because their meals have pretty short prep times (usually around 15 min) and super easy instructions. Now that baby #2 is on the way I'm looking into even faster ways of getting dinner on the table, so one possibility for that is Munchery--basically a ready-made meal delivery service. Good luck!

    Sun Basket 20 minute meals have works for us -- my kids still won't eat most of them, but at least the adults in the house get to eat more sophisticated food. My husband, who doesn't cook, has enjoyed learning how to cook with them and they're very easy to pull off. You just need to focus on the ones that are fast prep, as they are the easiest. The quality is high. 

    I also have almost no time to cook, a husband who hates to cook, and a desire for healthy, tasty meals. Here are some of my tips and tricks:

    1. Slow cooker "dump" recipes. Google this and you'll get tons of recipes. These are meals that require zero prep work, you just dump all the ingredients in the slow cooker and turn it on. I do this at least once a week and the recipes either make enough for two nights of dinners, or I double the recipe to be sure to have leftovers. 

    2. My favorite "dump" recipe is chicken taco bowls. I use the recipe on the Budget Bytes website but there are a ton of variations out there. 

    3. Budget Bytes "quick" recipes. I love this site, every recipe I've tried has been great. There is a section for "quick" meals and one for slow cooker meals and I use both a lot. Some of my favorite recipes are black bean soup (I serve with quesadillas), and lentil sausage stew.

    3. Frozen crushed garlic from Trader Joe's. I never chop garlic anymore. I didn't believe these would work as a sub for fresh chopped garlic but they do and it's saved me a lot of time. 

    4. Even a hate-to-cook husband can cook cheese tortellini and put jarred marinara sauce on it (Trader Joe's has a marinara sauce with red wine that I like). I like to serve with roasted brocolli - TJ's has washed, prepped brocolli florets in bags that I throw on a cookie sheet, toss with olive oil and salt and throw in a 400 degree oven. 

    5. Roast chicken from the grocery store. I pick them up at Whole Foods, then just make a salad or roast some veggies and serve with bread and butter. 

    6. If all else fails, my kids are usually happy to eat a picnic style meal of cheese, crackers/bread, raw veggies, fruit, dip (hummus is popular in my house), nuts, etc. One kid will happily eat a scrambled egg for dinner, the other a hard boiled egg. 

    Good luck!

    I had a situation where I needed to make dinner much easier.  I bought a freezer for my garage and put uncooked frozen chicken and ground turkey as well as fish in it.  I kept the freezer in the fridge for cooked foods.  So, I would cook about 4 nights worth of chicken breast and freeze the uneaten pieces. I did the same with ground turkey I had make into meat sauce for pasta, taco filling and turkey burgers.  Fish is the only thing that didn't freeze well. Knorr rices, fries, salads and veges  have been stable side dishes that are not complicated.  I didn't cook all day but instead, I found a night to cook and just cooked extra of that meal so my freezer had a lot of food to  just defrost, not prepare,  If the hubby can do fries in the oven, frozen veges or some rice or  noodles, you'd be set.  Good luck.

    Our midweek dinner solution as a 2-parent working family is Gobble meal kits. They are like the other meal kits (Blue Apron etc) but with MUCH QUICKER PREP TIME. That's the key difference for us. We found Blue Apron took an hour to prep, while Gobble is more like 15 minutes. My guess is your husband will find the gobble kits easy enough that a not-great cook can prepare them, but it does depend a bit on the meals you choose (some preps are simpler than others - you can look at the recipe card before you decide to select a meal for the next week). The meal kits cost about $75/week for 3 dinners, so it's pricier than if you buy the groceries. For me, the mental relief of not thinking about dinners for Tu-Wed-Th nights is enormous. You can check it out at https://www.gobble.com/

    We try to make at least one slow cooker recipe either on Sunday night or prep it to start cooking on Monday. Make a large batch so to yield leftovers for at least one night. Various soups, stews, curries work great. Also prepping something like a pan of roast veggies, baked potatoes or beans is easy enough to do on Sunday and can make an easy dinner when adding a protein and a salad.

    I have commuted as a single mom for 15 years. You don't need to spend Sundays prepping, because by the end of the week everything is not that fresh. I recommend using a slow cooker. You can put meat in before you go to work. Your husband can manage making a salad and slicing french bread, and that's dinner! I also recommend a rice cooker/steamer, you can fill that before you go to work in the morning and your husband just turns it on 30 minutes before you get home, and makes chicken sausage or some easy protein to go with it. You have a huge advantage in having a helpful partner at home, keep it simple for now, and maybe you two can take a cooking class together as he gets more confident.

    I would start with sitting down with your husband and getting to a point of general agreement about nutrition for your child. I am a lot stricter than my husband on food for our son but we have some agreement around the big categories such as limiting snack food to snack time and that dinner time should include some protein and vegetables every time. We also agree on healthier type ways to eat out. I think if you combine some Sunday meal prep (perhaps for 2 dinners), with take out that you can live with (2 dinners) and perhaps a meal service some of the time or his cooking some of the time along with lowering your expectations, you'll reach a compromise. Changing your perspective to look for the positives can also really help. For example, it has been helpful for me to become a little less controlling in this area and to realize that the relaxed attitude to food that my husband has is a good message for my son some of the time too (to balance with my focus on healthy eating which is also very important). There is also some benefit to the fact that he has some access to foods that I tend to view as off limits so that they don't become too tempting to him if he never had them. Good luck!  

    It sounds like it's time for your husband to learn how to cook. It's not an unreasonable expectation; it's a pretty basic component of parenting, and it's not a complex skill. He doesn't need to be a chef. Spaghetti and red sauce is in regular rotation here--buy jars and pasta in bulk at Costco; Trader Joe's has whole-grain pastas. Add salad and ranch dressing and everyone's happy. 

    Of course, you're both busy, and I really sympathize about that commute. But as you say, advance food prep is one strategy--no reason it all has to fall to you, though. 

    Some frozen dinners and takeout are not the end of the world--we all do it. Costco and Trader Joe's both have healthy options (Costco's frozen spinach and cheese ravioli has been a huge hit with the kids over the years--they'll eat the spinach!). Annie's Mac & Cheese is quite respectable--I throw in some frozen peas. 

    And, really, pb and j on whole grain bread with a little fruit is actually quite healthy. 

    When we were in a similar situation, we broke it down into simple macros: I would often make a big batch of rice on a Sunday, then get 5 proteins and lots of veg at Trader Joes.  Each weeknight, the rice got heated in the microwave and the veg (broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, brussel sprouts --- just one or all mixed up) got tossed with olive oil and salt and roasted on a baking sheet for 20-30 minutes at 350.  While that was cooking, we often cooked the protein on the stove top or oven with the veg or on the grill.  In 30 minutes we had a healthy meal that involved about 10 minutes of actual work and 20 minutes of waiting.  It gets boring having salmon Monday night, chicken Tuesday, pork chops Wednesday, etc etc ... but it works when you are slammed.  The roasted vegetables seemed to be very appealing to kids.  Also, I agree with the other commentator to lower your expectations.  If we pulled off what I describe above three nights a week and did take out one or two nights we just declared victory.  

    First off, thank you for asking this question, as I'm also very interested in the responses! Totally agree with another poster about adjusting expectations - to that I will add - you can always 'enhance' prepped food. Also, meal prep WILL take time on Sundays but well worth it, and once you get a system down, it isn't so bad. I need plenty of freezer storage bags, parchment paper, foil, and tupperware. Here are some of my weeknight dinner hacks:

    • Make sure you have things you 'always have' on stock in terms of cooking - for me, it's onions, carrots, some type of green vegetable, potatoes, tomatoes, dried legumes/grains, pasta sauce, dried pasta; also, I buy a few loaves of fresh bread, slice up and freeze - easy to toast in toaster oven. Also, salad greens are a must for me. This leads to my next point since you don't have time to cook on the weeknight...
    • Some appliances are a must - for me, rice steamer (easy to put in a few cups of rice in the morning, turn it on, have warm rice when we all come home), slow cooker (throw in any veggies, cut up deli meat/leftover protein, legumes, seasoning in the morning, and you have dinner when everyone comes home); always make enough so you have to freeze; you can also microwave a lot of things - potatoes, corn, etc., and it tastes good because no flavor is lost (my mom also marinates chicken drumsticks and microwaves maybe 8 min for 6 drumsticks?)
    • Produce delivery - I use imperfect produce and order weekly so I know that I'm never out of essentials; I don't do meal delivery because that's too $$ for us generally
    • Prepped/processed food, enhanced - I buy TJ's ready-made frozen gnocchi and start by heating the pan with some of my own chopped veggies, then add the gnocchi (literally takes 10 min). Same thing with jarred pasta sauce - I'll defrost ground meat the night before, saute in the pan when I come home (or your husband can do that) then just add pasta sauce (remember to cook pasta too!). Also, I do frozen pizza and serve with a tossed salad that literally has anything in my fridge - apples, strawberries, bell peppers, mushrooms, etc. Tossed with olive oil and balsamic is enough for us. I personally grew up on mac -n cheese fortified with tuna and extra Kraft cheese slices, something my mom made up when she was in a jam, I guess.
    • Other ideas - tortillas on hand, easy quesadillas with deli meat, cheese, just heat all of it in a pan; frozen dumplings from TJ's or Costco; rotisserie chicken from any grocery - all of this you can serve with a tossed salad and toasted bread (that you sliced and froze over the weekend!), nice sauces or glaze that you can always add when cooking protein - for instance, I do slice up my uncooked protein and freeze into weeknight portions (or 2-3 day portions), then defrost the night before (and put in fridge during the day). Then at night, just take out the cut up protein, heat oil in pan and saute, add the sauce for some easy stir fry.

    Hope that helps!

    I have one strategy to suggest that I found in 'Simplicity Parenting' by Kim John Payne and Lisa M Ross (a book I highly recommend). The authors talk about creating a simple weekly meal schedule (like taco Tuesday or pizza Fridays - you can buy dough, cheese and sauce and trader Joe's and make it at home!) Kids appreciate predicability and it makes Life easier for us! One thing I have found helpful with this approach is that I know I'm not going To make pasta 3 nights a week, since Monday is our pasta night. It could have the same effect on frozen dinners for your family - if you have 'Frozen dinner Friday' there will be less temptation to serve them on other nights that have their own 'theme'. This will also allow your husband to get good at a few simple meals, since cooking things regularly is how we Improve!I have one night a week where we have eggs for dinner - sometimes it's an omelet or scrambled eggs with frozen peas and toast, sometimes it's more elaborate, but I never need to plan ahead and I feel so much more relaxed about the daily dinner grind. Also, with one kid, getting him/her to help is very doable and could be a great enrichment activity for your husband and child. Hope this helps and good luck! 

    I am completely addicted to a meal-planning site called “Cook Smarts.” https://www.cooksmarts.com/ The meals are fast, healthy and easy, and they even have videos embedded into the recipes if you need them. My teenage son can use it, and that’s saying something ;) It also organizes your grocery list and weekend prep, if you want to do that. Try the free trial and see what you think. After that, I think it’s just $8/month or so. Enjoy!

    First, congrats on your new job, even with the commute.

    Second, I do a lot of cooking ahead because I hate cleaning, I have the word's tiniest kitchen, and my husband eats like a linebacker but has a million foods on his "I don't eat that" list.  I cook in volume, so each dish yields at least 2 dinners, plus one is frozen for a few weeks ahead.

    What takes the time is :

    • cooking starch (30-60 minutes) and braising onions (but those can be done with little forethought in a spare hour on the weekend)
    • chopping things up (so cut up vegetables and store in mason jars or tupperware, and slice up some tender meat for a quick stir-fry early in the week)
    • and any large cheap meat cut that requires long braising or roasting to be tender (roasts, ribs, etc.)
    • and cleaning up. So the few days you have to wash up, the better.

    Cook up a large pot of brown rice on the weekends and freeze some, while you bake a few potatoes. Scoop out the potato innards and mix with cheese or cottage cheese, salsa, and some chopped ham (optional).  Or boil and rinse pasta. Or make a large batch of polenta in the microwave (easy, easy, almost no stirring).

    I'll buy a megapack of boneless chicken thighs, make a pot of soup and lasagna, plus a big pot of rice or pasta or some baked potatoes. 

    2 heads of cauliflower or a bag of brocollini gets nuked so it's ready to go.  Season with some herbs de provence and a little lemon-flavored olive oil so they're appetizing and ready-to-go.

    Half the chicken thighs get a teriyaki marinade (with some citrus added) and are simply grilled or boiled, to be eaten with the vegetable and rice/pasta/potatoes. That's 2 meals over the week.

    1/2 the thighs go into a curry with a bag of green beans & a few potatoes--use Mae Ploy thai curry paste (Ranch 99 market) works well, or doctor up Trader Joe's curry sauce with extra spice. Serve with rice; freeze some extra. That's 2 meals.

    Soup: heat broth, add assorted vegetables, sliced sausage and a handful of pasta. Or use a soup mix (Sadaf, Manachevitz) and add a chopped onion and some of your rinsed cooked chicken meat. Done. Add a hot sandwich (toast, cheese or hummus, tomatoes, lunch meat). That's dinner or lunch.

    Lasagna: use no-cook noodles the rest of the sliced sausage, and a jar each of alfredo & Marinara sauce.  Just open and layer. Usually there's a recipe on the back of the box.

    Sometimes instead of cooking up the chicken thighs, it's braised turkey breast or a pork roast slow-cooked on the stove until it becomes pulled pork.

    I'd pick an Instapot over a crockpot, because you can use it like a crockpot, and it's a lot less heavy. Sometime to do long-slow cooks without  having to babysit is great. Curried lentils and rice are a great vegan dish, or stir-fry some tofu with green beans and add a little hoisin sauce.

    Here are a few links; at least a few of the meals should appeal to you:

    https://www.amazon.com/Food52-New-Way-Dinner-Strategies/dp/0399578005#cu...

    http://theeverygirl.com/20-dinners-you-can-meal-prep-on-sunday-7/

    https://www.tablespoon.com/meals/dinner/the-ultimate-weekend-meal-prep-plan

    http://theeverygirl.com/20-lunches-you-can-meal-prep-on-sunday/

    https://greatist.com/eat/mason-jar-recipes

    https://lexiscleankitchen.com/healthy-food-friday-spinach-mason-jar-laye...

    https://wholefully.com/mason-jar-lunches/

    Good luck & congrats again!

    Look into Munchery.com, although their options for kids tend to be rather limited.  There are other services (I think BlueApron.com is one) that deliver the ingredients & recipes for meals that you put together yourself.  Maybe your husband would be amenable to something like that.  It takes a bit of work but not any ingenuity [or shopping].  :)

    After my son was born we started using Thistle. I simply didn’t have time to cook and was starting to eat too many frozen meals. You pick the number of meals you want delivered and select choices from a menu each  week. The veggies are all organic and I really love all the interesting salads they offer. Best part is that they deliver it during the night and leave it by your door in a cooler bag. You can get two free meals from them using the code LIZA350.

    Might a suggest Gobble (20 minutes to prepare), HelloFresh, and Blue Apron meal kit services. You can do that for a few nights per week, and the other nights could be from pre-prepped meals on Sunday or from frozen batches of dinners. I personally have used Gobble and Blue Apron and I liked them both.

    My ideas for easy meals: 

    Put meat in the crock pot in the morning. Done at dinner. Pork is great, but any meat will do. 

    Frozen veggies. Just takes five minutes to heat up. Serve will a bit of butter. 

    If you want more flavor, buy bottled sauces, like marinara, soy, curry, whatever you like. 

    Make sure you have tortillas, bread, pasta, potatoes, quinoa, rice. 

    It is not a contest. You don't need to impress anybody. You are just trying to get everybody fed. Keep it simple!

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Questions


Fast healthy dinners

June 2004

We are a family of four (kids 2 1/2 and 6 1/2) with two working parents. Good nutrition and healthy eating habits are high on my list of priorities for my family, but after the arrival of my second child and recent job change to a much more difficult position, I have found dinner preparation to be very challenging. Hiring a personal chef to prepare healthy dinners in my home is out of the question (financially!) and I have determined the biggest hurdle is really coming up with a repertoire of 30-40 dinner recipes - so that I wouldn't have to THINK about WHAT to make. I feel like we have the same few things all the time because I don't have time to sit down and go through cookbooks, online recipes, etc. anymore. My husband and I can both cook each night as long as we have the food at home and the prep time is not outrageous. I think having variety, as well, is the key to teaching your kids to be good eaters. Anyway, my fantasy is that someone has had these same feelings and perhaps has put together a collection of recipes (successfully tested in their home with kiddos) that they might be willing to share. Some nice big binder with healthy recipes. We don't eat red meat, just chicken and turkey occasionally, and our kids do like tofu as well. Also hoping to find a collection of recipes that are not too high in fat. Would love to do more with the crockpot as well - I am just trying to get started in this direction, hoping it may help. Anyway, if anyone has 'been there done that' and would be willing to share/sell such a resource, I would be grateful. I am trying to find casseroles, pasta dishes, bean dishes, complex carb combos, stews. stir-frys, etc. Dishes that will add variety to our regulars which include pesto/pasta, garden burgers, and burritoes, as well as a few others. I know many other families must also be in this same position. Any advice would be appreciated. mother who wants healthy dinners


Hi, First, I want to compliment you on making the effort to make healthy dinners for your family!

I wanted to offer a few tips on where to find great recipes:
--Rachael Ray's 30 minute meals are great, and recipes can be found online (http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/show_tm/0,1976,FOOD_9997,00.html)
--I use the little magazine: Everyday Food to find loads of healthy and fast recipes. I tear out the good ones when the magazine arrives and put them in a stack of recipes to try. The ones that pass my family's ''test'' go into a stack of recipes that we rotate through...
--Cooking Light also has some awesome recipes, many of which can be found online. Now a small shameless plug: I am a consultant with The Pampered Chef and often do workshops for groups of people to teach them how to prepare fast and healthy meals. If you are interested in setting up a workshop, I'd love to help. Here is a recipe that I recently made at a baby shower, to share with the new mom. In this recipe, you can prepare enough chicken and pasta to use both in this recipe AND for a second recipe the following night. Preparing ingredients once for two meals is a great way to save time!

Mandarin Pasta Salad Dressing: 1 tsp fresh ginger 1 clove garlic 1/3 cup rice vinegar 1/4 cup orange juice 1/4 cup vegetable oil 1 tsp sesame oil 1 envelope Lipton Recipe Secrets Onion Soup Mix 2 tsp. Sugar Salad: 8 ounces bow tie pasta 1/2 cucumber 1/2 cup diced red bell pepper 1/2 cup chopped red onion 1 pkg fresh spinach leaves 1 can mandarin orange segments 2 cups cooked chicken 1/2 cup sliced almonds Directions: 1. Using food chopper finely chop ginger. 2. In measure, mix and pour mix remaining dressing ingredients and refrigerate until ready to use. 3. Score cucumber using lemon zester/scorer , remove seeds using the corer. 4. Slice cucumber using ultimate slice and grate, cut slices in half 5. Dice bell pepper using chef\x92s knife. 6. Coarsely chop onion using food chopper. 7. Add cucumber, bell pepper, onion, spinach, mandarin oranges, chicken and almonds to cooked pasta. Add dressing as desired.
Michelle


We don't have a binder of recipes, but we do have this cookbook: Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home: Fast and Easy Recipes for Any Day It's got a ton of quick, easy, vegetarian recipes. Michael


I recently found a book called ''Saving Dinner'' which has already done the difficult part of dinner prep -- made up the menus and the grocery lists! The food is healthy and mostly quite good, and the meals tend to take around 45 minutes to make. The author of the book also puts together a weekly email menu/recipe/grocery list mailing (see http:// www.savingdinner.com/about.html). The only problem for you might be that the menus all do include beef (it's usually something like, one beef, one chicken, one fish, one crockpot, one soup, one casserole -- and the soup, crockpot and casserole may contain either beef or chicken); but you might be able to edit the meals and lists without too much trouble (e.g. switch to ground turkey instead of hamburger, etc.). They're not great, gourmet meals, but they're good, quick, and healthy. Karen


My Mother-in-Law gave me a great book a couple of years ago called Desperation Dinners. Every recipe is for good food in 20 action-packed minutes. The authors teach you what to have on hand and how to do everything as efficiently as possible. They know every shortcut. The Food is great and feels like a home cooked meal. I highly recommend it. anne


I have the answer for you! Try a new book called ''Saving Dinner: The Menu, Recipes and Shopping Lists to Bring Your Family Back to the Table,'' by Leanne Ely. I used to subscribe to Leanne's email menu service (www.menu-mailer.net), which was great and we really enjoyed the food. The recipes are definitely healthy, easy and can be made vegetarian. Most importantly, it got me cooking regularly again. The only problem is not all of the recipes are as low-fat as I would like, but you can certainly pick and choose. You can check out some of Leanne's recipes and shopping lists at the above website. anon


''The Working Parents Cookbook'' was reviewed in The Chronicle today. Here is the link: http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2004/06/16/FDG1875LQJ1.DTL I try to do as much main dish prep the night or morning before, such as rinsing and seasoning or breading chicken, fish or tofu, or putting together turkey meatloaf. When I get home all there is to do is pop it in the oven, prepare a quick starch item, adding vegetables to the same pot or eating them raw. I usually run out of fresh ingredients by the end of the week, so we have something like breakfast for dinner or a frozen dish from Traders Joes. Liz


There was a fascinating thread about this awhile back called ''Dinner Blues'' that I found a lot of wisdom from. It looks like it hasn't been archived yet, but perhaps you could ask a Moderator about it? The ''Desperation Dinners'' cookbooks by Beverly Mills I bought after reading that thread have become mainstays at our home, as well as Pamela Anderson's ''How to cook without a book'' and Mark Bittman's ''How to cook everything''. This list is such a wonderful resource! Sima


There is a new book out called, The Working Parents Cookbook by Jeff and Jodie Morgan reviewed in the Chronicle food section today. It sounds like it might fit your needs. I'm thinking about getting it myself as I'm in the same boat as you! Good Luck


I have developed a folder of some recipes and you'd be welcome to come borrow and copy them if you'd like, but if you're looking for a big book of recipes the best one that I've found is Moosewood Cooks at Home, easy quick recipes like you've described. kg


Check out www.savingdinner.com-- according to the website: ''Menu-Mailer is a six-day a week menu with recipes AND a categorized grocery list included! The menus are wonderful and healthy, the recipes are easy and the fact that the grocery list is already made up is a dream! Menu planning has never been so easy, because all the work is done for you. For just pennies a day, you will never have to panic about what's for dinner again. Menu-Mailer is a true bargain at only $9.95 for 3 months of menus, delivered weekly on Wednesdays to your email address.'' I haven't tried it myself, but have read good things about it. good luck. Paula


For crockpot ideas, try going to chetday.com. chet day fan


Have you checked OAMC (Once A Month Cooking)? There are lots of websites if you google them. I do a modified version when time gets hectic, but you can also double cook (make a double version). I freeze dinners and the day of the dinner, take it out of the freezer, pop in the oven, set the oven timer and dinner is ready when we get home - cheap and healthy. I'd do some modified version of OAMC and then have some quickie dinners on hand for when you're not up for a frozen dinner. Fish with couscous or brown rice, roasted chicken and potatoes (this can cook for hours if you want) - things like that. Kathy


One option that we're trying is ''Saving Dinner'' by Leanne Ely -- you can find it at Amazon: She also has a menu mailer at savingdinner.com. Good luck! Beth


We also have two children and no time but want healthy foods. We like making homemabe soup. We like roast chickens (often bought pre-made at Costco or the grocery store) and we save the bones in the frezer. Then one day we throw the bones and a handfull of veggies (leeks, onions, carrots, celery, mushrooms and any scraps you may have had over the last few days) into the stockpot with the bones and simmer on low for a few hours. If you want to add peppercorns, bay leaves, ect for seasoning you can do so now. You can do this on a weekend. The only real work will entail that you strain the stock when its done cooking. We then have a ton of stock which we store in big ziploc containers in the freezer. When we want a good quick dinner we dunp a container of stock into the pot, throw in some chicken, cooked noodles or rice and cooked veggies (carrots, corn, potatoes, beens, etc...)and VOILA its homemade soup in 20 minutes - and kid friendly. Great with salad and crusty bread. You can vary this endlessly with different seasonings and ingredients. Yum. S. W.


Cheap eats in a hurry

One of our favorite quick meals are nachos. They can be done in a variety of ways: with or without beans, olives, sour cream, etc. They take about 15 minutes to fix with minimum clean up. They can be toned down to accommodate picky eaters or really added to for more sophisticated tastes or even done half and half on the same baking sheet.

Kay


Suggestions for cheap eats:

1) Magnani Poultry on Hopkins (also on College): spit-roasted whole or half chickens (barbequed, teriyaki, or rosemary-lemon); spit-roasted potatoes
2) Spenger's Market on 4th St.: the fish and chips dinner to go is large enough to serve two moderate eaters
3) LaVal's on Euclid (also on Durant): I've o.d.'d on the pizza after years of kids clamoring for it, but still enjoy the ravioli (they also have spaghetti, eggplant parmigiana, salads, etc.) --Margo Wesley

Margo


I have a tupperware microsteamer. They come in two-serving and family size. You can cut up vegis and put in all ingredients as indicated on recipe cards, or make up your own, put it in the microwave, and have a dinner of chicken, rice and vegis in 10 minutes, and it practically rinses clean. I have found myself using it quite frequently.

Rain


One kind of cheap dinner I like to have on Friday nights when I'm too exhausted to cook is Di Giorno Frozen Pizza. I normally hate frozen pizza because they are really gross, but the new one by Di Giorno is really good because it is not pre-cooked and then frozen. It is made with fresh ingredients on a really good crust (kind of like Boboli) and then frozen. So, all you have to do is take it out and pop it in the oven for about 10-15 minutes.

It's delicious and it only costs $5.99 for a large combination pizza. Let me tell you, I haven't gone back to Roundtable Pizza (way too expensive for my budget) since I discovered it!

Kandis


Have you tried Boston Chicken? With a whole or half chicken, you get side dishes which include mac & cheese (since my kids don't like chicken), jello, fruit salad, or different kinds of vegetables. And with the coupons that seem to appear every week in the Sunday Chron, it's really cheap -- we once even got a free chicken.

Wendy


This is a great topic. I hope others will share their ideas. My two favorite quick and easy dinners: (1) baked potato, cooked in the microwave, with substantial toppings (corn, broccli (sp?), bacon bits, shredded cheese, salsa, etc) plus a veggie & salad (2)lots of spaghetti served with bottled marinara sauce & shredded cheese, served with french bread and a veggie or two.

For an easy salad, I like shredded cabbage with Good Season's Garlic Salad Dressing. It's a lot easier than making a lettuce salad, and still adds that quality of something fresh and crunchy. If I have more time, I add raisins.

Linnea


Thanks for the Safeway chicken tip. My newest dinner is buying premade Oriental salad mix and adding pre-cooked shrimp. However, what I do now with a 9 month old and husband both starving right when I get home is I cook on the weekends. Sounds like a lot of work, but it's worth it. I make chili or spaghetti sauce and freeze it or sometimes I just make packages of ground round with garlic and onions and freeze them in 1 pound portions and then I can use them to make tacos or whatever. It's the preparation time that usually get me so these tricks have been working. Of course, I've also been known to get up at 6 am before both of them and prepare an entire dinner and then leave it in the refrigerator to nuke when I get home exhausted.

Margaret


My kids love the Boston clam chowder and shrimp salad you can get at the To Go counter at Spenger's in Berkeley. We get a quart of chowder, salad and some of their sour dough rolls and have a quick inexpensive meal (less than $9).

Dianne


We make burritos and tacos where the ingredients are on a tray and everyone can choose what to put in: beans, olives, lettuce, tomato, onion, salsa, etc. etc.

Another idea is pasta (a different shape = a different dish!) with 2 or 3 additions: chicken, peas and nuts, chard and mushrooms (not for kids), artichoke hearts and shrimp, green beans and carrots, etc. I just toss the veggies in with the pasta near the end of its cooking. Drizzle with olive oil and garlic salt.

A similar dish is chow mein with spaghetti noodles and snips of vegetables tossed with soy sauce. Or the same with rice instead of noodles.

Kids like to make their own sandwiches with the ingredients on a tray and different kinds of bread.

Barbara


I make burritos with canned refried beans (Trader Joe's fat free, spicy jalepeno black refried beans are wonderful, but these are strictly for adults), shredded cheese, bits of leftover chicken or meat if I have any (not necessary), red onion, and salsa. Microwave til gooey. Very cheap, fast, and good.

I also make a tofu dish by sauteing cabbage and mushrooms in sesame oil, then equal parts of saki and soy sauce, sugar to taste, and cubed tofu. Serve over rice. I like to add hot red pepper flakes, but then I'm lucky because my son eats very hot, spicy food.

Sometimes I make quesadillas by filling a large tortilla with shredded cheese and chopped garlic, folding in half, then frying in butter til melted. Quite popular, but only good when your serum cholesterol needs replenishing.

\t\tJudy


re: Quick meals: I go to Nations on Central and San Pablo in El Cerrito (there are more of them in Berkeley, I believe) and get a sweet potato tart for $1.70. They also have grilled cheese sandwiches. Don't forget the new Red Tractor Cafe, on College Ave. opposite Oliveto's near ROckridge BART, (difficult to park) where my son likes the macaroni and cheese ($3.95). They have other interesting dishes that cost a little more, and come with two side orders of stuff like garlic mashed potatoes, fresh stringbeans, etc. Also, Whole Foods has a whole wheat soy cheese spinach and mushroom quesadilla for $2.95 and other good take-out for kids, some of it expensive, unless you look for specials and get small quantities. Smart Alec's on Telegraph and Durant has so-called healthy french fries, and my son loves them. Barney's Hamburgers on Solano Ave. in Albany and the one on College have 1/2 huge orders of big fat soft french fries for $1.70. And Andronicos also has good roasted chickens to go as well as cold cuts, and cheap stuffed huge baked potatoes.

Wendy


First, it's not at all necessary to limit your quesadilla consumption to high-cholesterol days. I use soft-taco-sized flour tortillas and a heated nonstick frying pan: wet the tortilla on both sides quickly under running water, place in pan, flip over after about 3 seconds, place grated cheese, a little salsa, a little shredded, cooked chicken, a little whatever on one half of the tortilla, fold over and tamp down the edges with the end of a wooden spoon or something (I use the handle of one of my faithful Chicago knives), leave for a minute or two and flip to brown on the other side. The trick is to heat, flip, and fill the tortilla quickly, before the wet edges dry out--that way they'll stick together when you tamp them down (you can always sprinkle more water along the edges if the timing gets away from you). Tamra


Someone mentioned cooking on weekends for the whole week. There is a great book out (I think it's called _Cooking Once and For All_ or something like that) that details how to cook for an entire month at a time, spending one whole day each month to do it. If you like this sort of thing, it's supposed to be the best book out.

Our family likes burritos for quick dinners. They can be a great leftover-user too, depending how adventurous the family members are. Dawn