Now with two kids and no real break, it's a bit more challenging. But there is hope! Whether you have one child, or you take up every seat in your minivan, you can do it.
The big secret? Be your own SOUS CHEF.
By doing some of the work ahead of time, it's easier to get a meal on the table once crunch time hits. You know, crunch time? That point in the day when you need to get food in the oven (or on the stove top) and at the exact same time one child wants to be held, another child is getting frustrated with a Lego tower and wants your help, the cat is meowing at her empty food bowl while giving you stink-eye, and the phone is ringing. Good times.
Battle crunch time with ROCmomma's Tried & True Secret Dinner Strategy:
- Find a meal-prep time that works best for you - kids' nap time, in the morning before you leave for work/school, or even the night before once the kids are in bed.
- Place the recipe in a convenient location - tape the page to a cabinet door, stand the cookbook in a holder, or set your smartphone in a stand on the counter.
- Chop veggies and place in storage containers in the fridge. If you have time sauté or roast as indicated in the recipe, and then store in the fridge. TIP: Invest in a few varied sizes of storage containers (plastic, glass, or steel; whatever makes you most comfortable). Also, keep chopped onions and garlic separate from other veggies to minimize the odor.
- Assemble all dry ingredients, utensils, and cutting boards on your counter or work surface. Don't forget a can opener, garlic press, et cetera.
- Measure spices and store in an airtight container at room temperature.
- Take out all pots and pans as needed and place on the stove top. If needed, place a colander next to the sink, et cetera.
- Move frozen ingredients to the front of the freezer, so it's easy to grab them later. Move all cold ingredients to the front of the fridge, or group them together on a refrigerator shelf.
Now when crunch time hits, it's like a clever army of sous-chef elves have visited your kitchen and left you wonderful presents. Almost all of your ingredients are either prepared or they are within easy reach. All of the gadgets you need are out and ready for you. YOU CAN MAKE DINNER!
You have the know-how...do you need some culinary inspiration? The weather has turned back on the chilly side, so how about Butternut Squash Pizza (adapted from Real Simple, March 2010, p. 206) and Creamy Broccoli Soup (adapted from Real Simple, February 2011, p. 154)?
Butternut Squash Pizza
1 lb. store-bought pizza dough (thawed if frozen) or 1 Boboli whole wheat thin crust pizza shell
1 lb. butternut squash (pre-cut is fine)
1/2 red onion
1/4 c. pine nuts
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves (or 1 tsp. dried thyme)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
6 oz. extra-sharp Cheddar
Cornmeal, for dusting
During Prep Time:
- Peel, seed, and slice butternut squash 1/4 inch thick. If using pre-cut squash, just slice the chunks 1/4-inch thick and store in a container in the fridge.
- Thinly slice red onion; store in container in the fridge. NOTE: If using a Boboli crust, roast the red onion and butternut squash slices, with a light spray or drizzle of olive oil, at 400 F for 20 minutes before storing.
- Grate the Cheddar; store in container in the fridge.
- Measure thyme, salt, and pepper into container; store on the counter.
- Place pizza stone or large baking sheet, a mixing bowl, a mixing spoon, a 1 tablespoon measuring spoon, and cornmeal on the counter.
- Heat oven to 400 F.
- Gather the storage containers and the dough (or Boboli) from the fridge.
- Shape dough and place on a cornmeal-dusted baking sheet.
- In a large bowl, toss the squash, onion, pine nuts, thyme, salt, and pepper with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Scatter over the dough and sprinkle with cheese.
- Bake until golden brown and crisp, 25-30 minutes for dough, or according to package instructions for Boboli. Enjoy!
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion
1/8 tsp. crushed red pepper (optional)
2 c. low-sodium vegetable broth
1 bunch broccoli
2 large russet potatoes
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
2 c. water
2 oz. extra-sharp Cheddar
Bagel chips, for serving (optional)
During Prep Time:
- Chop onion. If time, sauté in a large saucepan over medium heat with olive oil and crushed red pepper. Saute 4-6 minutes, until soft, then store in container and place in the refrigerator.
- Roughly chop broccoli florets; peel and slice stems. Store in container, in the fridge.
- Peeling the potatoes is optional; cut potatoes into 1/2-inch pieces and store in the fridge.
- Measure salt & pepper; store in a container on the counter.
- Grate Cheddar and store in a container in the fridge.
- Place a large saucepan or soup pot on the stove top with its lid. You'll also need a measuring cup (2 cups), a blender or handheld immersion blender, carton of broth, and bagel chips.
- If using fresh dough for the pizza, make that first and then start the soup once the pizza is in the oven. If using Boboli, start with the soup and then make the pizza while the soup is simmering.
- Gather storage containers from the fridge.
- In large pot/pan over medium heat, add the sautéed onion, broth, broccoli, potato, water, salt, and pepper; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until the vegetables are very tender, 20-25 minutes.
- In a blender, working in batches, puree the soup until smooth (alternatively, use an immersion blender to puree the soup right in the pot).
- Top with bagel chips and cheddar before serving.
I hope this strategy works for you; it's honestly the only way I can put food on our table...other than running out to Wegman's for their $6 meals. And believe me, that is so tempting. But I'm a bit of a control freak and I like to know what goes into our food the majority of the time.
Be sure to let me know how the Secret Dinner Strategy works for you, and if you have any other time-saving, sanity-saving tips in the Comments section. Thanks for reading!