Do your kids eat the same meal at dinner as the adults do?
Mine don't and a few years back it was really driving me crazy, trying to get everyone fed at the end of the day. Unlike most situations, our problem lies more with the adults than it does with the kids. My kids are both really good eaters, and are great at trying new things, but my husband and I pretty much eat a vegan diet, and we LOVE spicy food, so there isn't really a chance that we are going to be eating the same thing at night... for at least a few years.
For a while, before Gray was born, I would just make the LM a dinner that somewhat resembled ours. Basically pulling out the things he would like, and giving him a somewhat deconstructed version of our dinner. Once Gray entered the picture, I found myself completely overwhelmed once he started eating solids, and I was basically making three meals from scratch each night because his would need to be pureed, and as you know, you can only introduce so many new foods at once. One night, I completely broke down, complaining to my husband that I felt like all my babysitting time was going towards making food, and what I really needed was someone to make the food, so I could spend time with my baby. - I blame the hormones. After spinning my wheels for a few more weeks, I took a cue from my incredibly organized girlfriends, and I basically started making everything in advance, so that way we are all actually eating when everyone is cranky and tired, versus waiting on me to finish dinner. Seriously, this was life changing!
Obviously, I'm not making pureed food anymore, but I still am spending as much, if not more, time in the kitchen as I used. Over the years my culinary skills have improved, and us spoiled grown ups seem to want better and better diners each night. We aren't big take-out people, and we really don't go out all that much, so I think this is how we really treat ourselves each day, and I have to say it is really nice to sit down with my husband (and sometimes sister) to a great home cooked meal... even if I'm the one making it. Because we are usually getting home pretty late from school pickup, the key for me is still preparing everything in advance. Trust me, once you make this part of your schedule, you won't go back!
Usually on Sunday afternoon, or Monday morning, I'll do a huge grocery shop. At this point I've pretty much got it down to a science, but typically I'll just load up on a ton of veggies, a couple of boxes of pasta, a few cheeses, a couple of pieces of fish, and some chicken or meat for the kids. When I get home, right as I'm unpacking the groceries, I fire up the stove and will start right away steaming or roasting a vegetable, boiling a box of pasta, and making chicken cutlets or something of that nature for the kids. While it's cooking, I typically chop up a container of fruit, marinate one or two of the fishes, and freeze the rest. Our typical (adult) dinner consists of a piece of fish or pasta, and 2 of these salads, with a vegetable on the side (like a sweet potato, or corn, or some of the roasted/ steamed veggies I made for the kids) so I will also make up two or three salad dressings in a jar, that I know we will also need for the rest of the week. When you already have everything out, cutting board, oils, vinegars, onions, garlic... etc, I find that whipping up a few dressings only takes about 5 minutes, and it really makes things so much simpler when it comes to the nightly grind.
Once everything is done, the dressings, pasta, veggies, proteins I put everything in these incredible containers (the BEST), and throw them in the fridge. You only have to clean up once, and really for the rest of the week all I have to do is reach in the fridge, and basically mix up the ingredients enough that the kids get a variety, but really it's the same few things for the rest of week. For example night one: it's chicken, broccoli pasta, night two: chicken quesadillas, with a veg on the side, night three: mixed veggie pasta, with a side of fruit, night four: chicken tacos... you get the idea. Having everything already cut up and ready to assemble makes it so easy, and effortless, it is always worth the labor up front. Usually my husband comes home right when the kids start eating, and he sits with them while I finish up our dinner, and then the boys have dessert while we eat our dinner. Since I've already made the dressings, all I have to do is re-heat a vegetable and saute or bake our fish. Sometimes I'll make a pasta or soup from scratch, but I always make plenty so the leftovers will be used as part of the next day's dinner!
A few other shortcuts I've adopted include:
- Pre-bagged kale. We eat so much of it that it is such a time saver just to be able to throw it in the bowl and massage it with one of the pre-made dressings.
- Pre-steamed lentils, beets, and peeled garlic. Same deal, you really are able just to throw it in the salad and call it a day.
- Half a rotisserie chicken. Certainly most families will eat a whole, but did you know if you ask most stores to half one for you, they will? Most weeks instead of making chicken at the beginning of the week, I will get one of these guys and break it down when I get home. The kids seem to love it in almost everything, and there is no cooking required.
This system has really worked for us, and I really can't imagine going back to making things to order. It was something that I don't think I would have thought up on my own, so I figured I share what works for us, in case some of you are struggling with the weekly dinner drag. I'd love to hear what time savers you all employ, so please share what works for you in the comments!