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Healthy Meals in a Hurry

December 10, 2010

Every mom that I know, working or not, single or married, struggles with putting home cooked meals on the table every night. I know that I do! I didn’t really realize what I was up against until I had my own daughter, and all of a sudden, finding the time to peel a carrot or dice an onion was an insurmountable task (especially in the early days after she was born). It’s still challenging, but with a little extra planning and effort it is not impossible. And yes, I still keep the pizza delivery guy on speed dial for those nights when I am too tired to even look at the stove, never mind turn it on.

The following tips will save you time and money:

1. A well stocked pantry. This includes your freezer! This will minimize last minute trips to the store and assure that you will always have something on hand to eat. 

These are my valuable kitchen basics that I always have on hand:

  • Rice, brown and white varieties
  • Pasta (at least two different kinds)
  • Beans, Lentils and other Legumes
  • Canned tuna or salmon

In the freezer, I always have my favorite ‘emergency’ vegetables:

Broccoli, carrots, corn and edamame; these can easily be thrown into a stir fry or pasta dish. (Examples of inexpensive and tasty options are Whole Foods 365 brand and Safeway has ‘O’ Organics brand).

2. Plan your menu at the beginning of the week or month and shop accordingly. I do all of my dry goods shopping at the beginning of the month and just shop for perishables once or twice a week.

3. Invest in one or two practical, step by step cookbooks (not the complicated French Laundry or Jean George cookbook).
I highly recommend America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, available on Amazon. This easy to use cookbook covers every course in the kitchen and is presented in an easy to use format with lots of how to instructions and pictures.

4. Keep your knives sharp. This will make preparing dinner much easier. You would be surprised at how much energy you use up by cutting something with a dull knife.

5. Learn how to use your knives properly. Do you know how to hold a knife and chop an onion quickly and efficiently? Learn how to use the Cuisinart that you got as a wedding gift.  The Cuisinart, blender and rice cooker are all tools to help you get dinner on the table fast.

6. Learn how to cook a couple of different recipes inside and out; this way you don’t have to reach for the cookbook every evening.

7. Have an emergency ‘survival’ meal at the ready at all times. Mine is an Asian inspired rice bowl. It always starts with rice, then I add in whatever veggies I have on hand, some protein (smoked salmon, tofu, poached eggs, canned tuna—whatever is available) and garnish it with crumbled nori, soy sauce, sesame oil and siracha hot sauce. To make this even easier, I have some pre cooked rice in my freezer.

8. Serve just ONE meal for the entire family. This will make the dinner hour much less stressful for you. 

9. Take a deep yoga breath and do not take offense when one of the kids says ‘ewww, I won’t eat that’. Keep offering it to them. One day they will surprise you and not only eat it but like it too.

10. Finally, involve your family during the cooking process! This is a fantastic opportunity to teach your kids about math, (my daughter and I always count out cups and teaspoons together) science, reading as well as the less appreciated senses of smell and taste. 

11. If you have like minded friends, try getting together and having a ‘batch cooking day’ once or twice a month.  I do this once a month—we’ll make mac n’ cheese, Lamb Moussaka, Chicken Pot Pie all for the freezer. You’ll get to socialize, see your friends and get some cooking done, too!

12. Remember, sometimes cooking is like the math homework that you just couldn’t bring yourself to do in the 8th grade.  However, once you started it, you quickly finished.

Phoebe Schilla is a Mom, Private Chef and Cooking Instructor in San Francisco, CA. For easy weeknight recipes, check out the videos on her blog Studio of Good Living.

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