Aug 20, 2007

Changing the Way We Eat (Again)

I posted about a month ago that I was going to stop cooking most of the time because it added too much stress, what with child-care and time pressures. But after about a month of eating mostly take-out, Marc has voiced concern over the lack of vegetables in his diet. I haven't worried about it that much since I've been eating quite a few salads and Alex almost never eats veggies but eats a good amount of fruit every day. But Marc feels salads don't have enough nutritional value and he doesn't like fruit unless it's in a fruit-and-yogurt parfait. Which basically means we either start spending a lot of money on take-out so we can get food from upscale places that serve steamed veggies, or I start cooking more.

Can you guess which option is more appealing to me?

It helps that I like cooking, but I find it stressful and exhausting to cook under my current constraints. A big problem is that I have only 45 minutes to an hour from the moment we walk in the door after work until we sit down to eat (this is ideal, anyway - pushing dinner back means bathtime and bedtime get pushed back, which means cranky kids and less time for me to get centered before my ownbedtime). Another problem is that I can plan meals that don't require more than 40 minutes prep and cooking time but I need to plan those out ahead of time, and planning requires time, which I have very little of, which is the reason we started eating more take-out in the first place. Finally, even on weekends, I don't have more than an hour at a time to do some serious cooking so I can't really cook ahead for the week, or do a marathon cooking session to stash casseroles in the freezer, etc.

I'm adopting a few strategies to adjust to our new situation:
  • I will cook a few times a week, but still not every day. We'll continue to get take-out a couple of times a week.
  • will keep easy prep veggies on hand - pre-cut sweet potato sticks, edamame, and baby carrots are almost effortless.
  • Not everything has to be from scratch. Although I would rather make refried beans from scratch, I can save time by opening a can. And so on and so forth.
  • I'll use my slow cooker more than once a week. I think I can adapt the recipe MetaMommy recommended and will try it after I get some lamb and mint.
Do you have any other ideas?


paidtwice said...

What about one of those places you go in for a few hours and make a large number of meals all at the same time, then bring them home and freeze them? Our local one is called Entree Vous.

Also, they sell single serving veggies in the grocery store in microwave steam packs, some with sauces even. They are pretty easy and steam in the microwave.

Good luck!

Meredith said...

I like your new strategy; it doesn't have to be an either/or proposition.

We also like the steam-in-the-bag string beans and snow peas for quick meals.

Forgive me if you've already mentioned her, but we also like Leanne Ely's Saving Dinner cookbook or website. She gives you a week's worth of entrees, shopping list--and they are ALL quick meal preps with healthy vegetables.

MetaMommy said...

It always takes a bit of time to find a good groove. And with a busy schedule, it's that much harder.

I was thinking that if you do take-out one night, you could supplement by cooking a veggie. You could steam butternut squash (in packages at TJs) or zucchini. I also bake cauliflower, which takes little prep time, but does require about 40 minutes in the oven. You could even do peas in no time. My husband's trick is to put some frozen peas into a bowl and add boiling water (from a kettle). Stir, discard water, and do this a second time. After 2-3 times, your peas are cooked. You could also cook them in a pot or in the microwave, but this way is almost faster!

Another thought is a side salad with nutritious ingredients like bell peppers, avocado slices, tomatoes, etc. My husband doesn't request salads, but I put some lettuce in a bowl and toss in some random things, and he's more than happy to eat it.

If you have a few default veggie options around, you don't have to plan as much...just pick one.

Good Luck!

Anonymous said...

In the nicest possible way, it bothers Marc and not you. Couldn't Marc make the veggies?

Otherwise I'd honestly go for a bag of mixed frozen veggies and have those every day. They take like 20 minutes I think to cook. Yes, they're plain, but they are easy.

Jessica Galeazzi said...

Whenever I make a casserole, or anything really that I think will hold in the freezer (soup, chili, pasta dishes, enchiladas), I'll split it in two and freeze half of it (doubling the recipe if necessary, but most times it isn't). It helps when you want to eat something homemade without actually cooking. Of course, I haven't gone back to work yet, so I can only imagine how your evenings are. Good luck!

ChiefFamilyOfficer said...

@paidtwice - Great suggestion, but the only place like that that I know of near where we live is Dream Dinners, and we ended up not liking it very much. Ah well.

@Meredith - Thanks, I usually stay away from those bags b/c I'm skeptical of taste but I'll have to give the string beans and snow peas a try.

@MetaMommy - You're onto something, that's exactly what I'm planning tomorrow: BK on the way home and edamame and asparagus waiting for us when we walk in the door. Unfortunately, I don't care for the precut butternut squash at TJ's - just doesn't taste right.

@Plonkee - Ha! Marc would love to do the cooking, but that would mean I have to watch the kids and I'd rather cook! About those frozen mixed veggies ... I have bad memories of them from when I was a kid and can't eat them anymore except in creamed tuna. Hmm, haven't had that in a while, actually - I might have to make it soon!

@Jessica - I should freeze more stuff but then again I haven't really been cooking the kind of stuff that I can freeze. It's a good idea though (sigh). BTW, evenings are crazy around here - don't say I didn't warn you! :P

Anonymous said...

I have started to use various local meal assembly kitchens (Super Suppers, Dream Dinners, and Quick Time Meals) for main entrees, but I still need to come up with my own veggie sides most of the time since these recipes generally only cover the protein part of the meal.

What I do is set aside about an hour on Sunday for produce shopping, washing, and chopping. I make a huge vat of pre-cut salad from zucchini, iceberg lettuce, onions, bell peppers and spinach that can be scooped out throughout the week for quick salads with bulk-cooked chicken breast or flank steak. I also cut and wash veggies for fast stir-fries and store them in Tupperware or big plastic bags.

To make the stir-fry thing even easier, I use small sandwich bags to pre-mix and store some quick and easy Chinese sauces. These can be kept in the freezer and defrosted as needed in the fridge, the microwave, or in a bowl of hot water.

Anyway, from fridge to plate making the veggies each night only takes 10-15 minutes max, or you can always just do a big batch that will last 2-3 nights.

ChiefFamilyOfficer said...

Thanks, Maggie - those are great ideas!