For twenty three years I had to cook supper almost every night. With international students, children and their friends, my dinner service for twelve was well used. I decreed supper was at 6:30 and anyone who wanted food better be home by then. After cleaning up, the
kitchen was closed until the next morning. Now with a house of adults, everyone’s school, work and social schedules vary and the days of organized meals are gone.
It got to the point where I hated coming home after work. The proverbial “What should I cook tonight?” depressed the hell out of me. A never ending parade of people coming and going, the kitchen was never closed. Days, weeks, then months went by and finally one day I decided enough already. This has to stop!
So I put my career credentials to work and took an operational approach. I was intent on freeing myself from the ten hour supper dilemma. I looked at the time prepping, cooking, and cleaning up. Then I looked at the weekly grocery shopping and the meal planning. The time expended in feeding people was an eye opener! Finally, I added the “happiness” factor. Did I enjoy the task, did I feel it contributed positively to my life and if not, could I do something different? After that I compiled some personal statements which helped me move forward:
What I Learned:
- I AM TIRED AFTER WORKING ALL DAY. (Yes, screaming loud!)
- I like cooking and trying new recipes when I have time to enjoy the process. I hate cooking when rushed.
- My meals are boring as I am focused on getting things done quickly.
- I am drawn to routine during the week as I don’t like to think too much after a tiring day.
- I hate cleaning up. Zero on the happiness quotient. Oh, you too?
- I dislike shopping. I like to zoom around the store and get out. My husband likes to take his time and find the best possible deals.
- Sitting down and enjoying my meal was important to me. I could not get around the issue of different meal times so I had to give up trying to find one meal time that worked for everyone.
I focused on what I could do to disrupt the routine. What I undertook was quite revolutionary for my household. After three months I have to admit my husband and teenage boys are still recovering, but the amount of push-back has resided. At first they thought they had a right to a fresh cooked meal. I heard more than once, “but supper is a mom’s job”. I told my husband that if he wanted a fresh cooked meal he could take it on. He did. For one week and it took all my effort to find something to do each night so I was not at home for supper. He did a wonderful job, but even he admitted he didn’t want to do it every day. That’s when I felt I had won the battle.
I started sharing with my friends because of the wonderful impact on my life. Some adapted the approach to suit their household. and soon there was extra time to get together more often. You too can find some freedom from the daily stress and carve an hour or more for yourself out of your day.
Weekly Steps to Take:
- Schedule a weekly shop time We shop early Saturday or Sunday morning right when the store opens at 7:30 am. The parking lot and store are empty and the shelves all stocked. Who does the shopping vary between my husband or me or both. I make a conscious effort to relax and enjoy it. I am building up to passing this task on to my sons. It is a life skill they need to acquire. I will let you know how that goes.
- Make a menu plan and shopping list I block off an hour Thursday nights to make a menu plan and grocery list. I grab a nice cup of tea, pick a quiet spot, I ask everyone what they need/want for the next week, I review any recipes I have tagged that I would like to try and build it from there.
- Schedule a cook off time Either Saturday afternoon or Sunday I block three hours. I clear everyone out of the kitchen and I put on the tunes loud. Motown clears the place I find. Then I pour a glass of my favorite wine, light a couple of nice candles (even on sunny days) and I begin cooking. I’m using the Queen Bae for inspiration. via GIPHY
- Start with baked goods I start by mixing up muffins or a brownie or cake and put it in the oven to bake.
- Prep Vegetables I peel and chop all the veggies for the meals and salads for the week. I end up with bowls of carrots, potatoes, beets, cauliflower, onions, diced and thick chunks, broccoli, yams, red peppers, squash and mushrooms.
- Oven Roast Veggies I toss the vegetables that need baking with olive oil, sea salt, fresh ground pepper and a bit of lemon juice. (Line baking trays with parchment is a trick from my industrial cooking days and helps minimize the tray clean up. I can switch foods quickly and keep the oven filled with trays.) You can mix vegetables, just make sure they have similar cook times.
- Package Raw Veggies I package up the raw vegetables in containers that have a layer of paper towel on the bottom and one on the top. I sprinkle cold water on the towel. I keep containers rectangle or square so they fit easily in the fridge. We buy salad, spinach and coleslaw pre-mix containers.
- Prepare and Roast Meats Next I prepare the chicken. I do two types. We focus on thighs, which work well for lunches and is easier on the checkbook than the breast. It goes on the trays and into the oven next. Honey Garlic, jerked chicken, lemon dill are some of our favorites.
- Stove Top Cooking I do the stove top cooking next, making one ground beef/pork dish like chili, spaghetti or lasagna and one bean soup. I make a pot of lentils or coucous for salads and hard boil some eggs.
- Make Dips: Homous or Tzatziki keep well.
- Oven Baked Potatoes and Bacon My last trays in the oven are Greek lemon potatoes (see Eat Delicious for the recipe) and one of bacon.
- Clean Up I do the cleanup while things are cooling down, ice the baked goods and then package everything into large ziplock baggies or containers. I find ziplock bags take up less space.
Supper is cooked for that night. I do not cook for the rest of the week. As a compromise on the fresh food, midweek my husband or one of the boys BBQS up their favorite meal of pork chops.
Another change I made was to offer a standard selection of items that can be personalized with toppings for breakfasts and lunches.
Breakfast: Yogurt, berries, cold or hot cereal, hard boiled eggs work well for us.
Lunches: Everyone takes wonderful personalized salads with their choices of chicken, beans, cheese, nuts, avocados and dried fruit. My one son who is trying to gain weight, also takes sandwiches.
Suppers: People look at the menu and dish up their supper from the fridge. They can microwave (3 minutes on high) or pop it into the oven (covered in foil 15 minutes at 400deg).
Everyone puts their plates in the dishwasher and I turn it on before I go to bed or in the morning.
What I Love:
- We are eating healthier. (A lot more veggies and fruits and less bread and pastas which were quick)
- We spend less money on take out and pizzas.
- There are no pots and pans to clean every day.
- “What’s for supper tonight?” is not a question any longer
- Treats are on hand to fill a sweet tooth attack.
- I sit down by myself or with my significant other for a pleasant stress free meal. If anyone is home, they join us.
- I feel much more relaxed and happier.
- I have more time during the week for pleasing personal endeavors, rest and exercise.
- My cooking time on the weekends is fun and fulfilling.
- Please follow food safe procedures. Not all food choices will keep five or six days. Make sure you cool down hot food appropriately before packing. Use fresh produce and meats as starting ingredients. Take care not to cross contaminate meat and vegetables.
- A convection oven makes cooking multiple trays at once much more successful. Using a traditional oven will require longer cooking times.
You can implement this approach if you cook for one or a house full. Try a version that works for you and your home. Then decide what you are going to do with the new free time!