Monday, June 24, 2013

Mom-on-days: The Family Meal Challenge

The Challenge
I've always had an interest in cooking.  In college, I once served Spanakopita at a kegger party at my sorority.  I've gone through spurts where I didn't cook.  I refused to pay for a meal plan in grad school but lived in the dorms.  I made it through in 2 years by living on Lean Cuisine meals 3x/day.

I completely burnt myself on these meals but couldn't figure out what else to eat with just a microwave in the room.  I can't remember if there was a kitchen in the dorm or not.  As it turns out, there is a cookbook called Microwave cooking for One, available on Amazon.  You have to go and read the reviews-they are so sarcastic, you WILL laugh out loud.  These would probably even be a good middle school activity-can they figure out the sarcasm?  

Cooking was an opportunity for me to get creative AND to unwind after a long day of work.  I could come home, pour myself a nice glass of wine and spend the next thirty minutes chopping up my food for the meal.  I loved the smell of garlic cooking.

Like many things (reading, shopping, bathing, using the bathroom) cooking became less pleasurable after I gave birth to my sweet Cheddar biscuit.

When I was still breastfeeding, cooking became a race against the baby clock.  Could I get the meal done and eat it before it was time for his next feeding?  Never.  It was like he had radar that went off when the fork touched my lips.  

Once he started crawling, I became paranoid that I would drop hot food on his head.

When he became a toddler, I needed to master chopping food while he attempted to weave in and out of my legs.  If he was quiet, it meant he'd taken my work shirt for the next day and flushed it down the toilet.

Now that he is a preschooler, here is how most of our nights go:

I work 10 hour shifts (4 days per week.)  By the time we get home, we have about 1.5 hours before bedtime.  My husband is often working later.  So before bedtime we need to: make and eat dinner, take the dog for a walk, and get a bath in.  This is in addition to errands (grocery shopping) that may not have completely gotten done during the weekend.

In order to make this work, we ended up in a bad routine.  We come home and I'd make something quick for the biscuit.  Most quick foods involve highly processed foods-mac and cheese, chicken nuggets, hot dogs.  Even buying organic, I knew that these weren't the foods I wanted to choose for my child.  Most of his meals he would eat by himself while I prepared our meal for the evening.  We'd end up eating around 9:30 after the Biscuit was in bed.

The Experience
I decided to set my goals small-even getting 2 family meals consistently set up is better than where we were at.  I prepped the first meal on Sunday-when my husband was grilling up hamburgers, I added a turkey tenderloin to the grill.  Then on Monday I was able to pull it out, add some rhubarb salsa I'd made earlier and a bag of mixed greens with store bought salad dressing.

Perfect, except the turkey was a little dry.  I might take it off the grill a little sooner knowing that I was going to reheat it the next day.

The second meal I involved my little guy in the planning: he helped me pick out the lettuce and radishes at the local farmer's market.

This ended up being a little more of an ordeal than I thought.  The first market we went to was closed due to storms and downed power lines.  I ended up driving to another which was Downtown.  We weren't able to get street parking because there was a walk to cure something.  The parking lot we pulled into required me to pay by phone which due to the limitations of voice activation (which kept disconnecting every time I had to yell to the little one to stay by me) took about 20 minutes to set up.  And it cost me over 5.00.  

I chopped the vegetables the night before and had my husband watch the Biscuit while I prepped the meal.  It turned out pretty good!

5 Quick Hints for Weeknight Cooking:
1.  Prep ahead:  If you are cooking chicken breasts add extras or different meats for your next meal.
2.  Purchase a mandoline slicer:  This is great for quick slicing for Zucchini, radishes, onions, etc.)
3.  Buy pre-chopped vegetables or prep vegetables a few days ahead.   I like to try to chop my own veggies to save money but precut lettuce and vegetables really save time on the weeknight.  I got my lettuce at the farmer's market so it tasted a little fresher than the store bags.
4.  Divide the responsibilities:  I'm in charge of grocery shopping and cooking-my husband handles all of the clean up.  I let the Biscuit set the table.
5.  Plan ahead.  I love Salads for lunch.  In order to avoid Salad burnout, I'm trying a different salad each week.  I make up my salads for the week (and can them) when making up my salad on Monday.  

Next Challenge:  Finish up at least 2 Pinterest projects (one might be the Batman cozy coupe.)

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