Cooking Dinner Every Night: Is It Always an Epic Fail?
“You don't have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces - just good food from fresh ingredients.”
- Julia Child
Disclaimer: This post is therapy for me, so if you have suggestions, please, pretty please, add them in the comments.
I’m struggling with weeknight dinners.
During the week, I fail at dinner.
It’s not that I fail to plan. I have a recipe binder. I pull it out most weekends and set aside a recipe for the week.
I buy the ingredients and stock them in the fridge.
But at game time, I fail.
What’s for dinner?
At 5 o’clock, I’m spent from teaching seven classes and a 1.5-hour drive. (If we beeline home from school, it’s 4:45. If we kick it at the park, it’s pushing 6).
Once home, we get situated – hugs, coats away, backpacks unloaded. Often, the girls head to the fridge – Mommy, I’m hungry. They’re chomping at the bit, so instead of saying, the kitchen is closed, I shoo them off with yogurts to watch an episode of Austin & Ally or Sophie the First.
Then I stand in the kitchen decompressing - opening mail, re-organizing our school bags, and mindlessly eating a bag of Pirates Booty while staring at the t.v.
What’s for dinner?
The thought of preparing what seems like a 30-minute meal stresses me out, so I fall into the rut and break out quesadillas, pasta, or some hodgepodge from the fridge. There’s always a fruit and a vegetable on their plates - even if they are raw. So that’s a win.
What’s for dinner? overwhelms me.
V is allergic to eggs and nuts, so that eliminates omelets for brinner. I am a semi-vegetarian. Yes I eat fish, but rarely meat. S, my youngest, is in a mac ‘n cheese phase. She’ll pound Niçoise olives, but turns her nose up at pizza. Go figure! I’m picky too.
What's for dinner? It's looking like quesadillas ... again.
And I feel like a failure.
Am I putting too much pressure on myself? Likely. I tend to do that. I have a streak of perfectionist. But with summer break approaching, now is the time to set up new routines. Here’s where I am at, and I’d love to hear from you:
- Cook Double What’s Needed. Unintentionally, we do freeze weekend lasagnas, stews, and crockpot classics. I’d like to plan more of this. Once we land on a winner, I’d like to whip up two or three portions. It’s easy to separate the leftovers into containers and freeze. This way I can pull a dish out of the freezer in the a.m., pop it in the oven/on the stove at dinnertime and presto, one meal down!
- Weekend Homework. My goal is to prep ingredients on the weekend – even if it’s only 15 minutes. This is a minimal time commitment for a substantial health and flavor payoff. A stitch in time gives me a jump-start on ingredients I would like to cook with but am overwhelmed by when it’s game time. This simply requires assembling ingredients into zip-lock baggies and containers in the fridge. My husband currently grills a surplus of meat on the weekends, and that’s already a helping hand for weeknight meals.
- Embrace the Crockpot. I’d like to cook one meal using the slow cooker each weekend. The prep is generally fifteen minutes, so it’s a no-brainer for me. Then I’ll put half in the fridge for a fast weeknight dinner and freeze the other half. I’ve done this three times in the past weeks, and it’s working. Although, I do find the slow cooker recipes to be hit or miss. What’s your top-rated slow cooker recipe?
- Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance. A repertoire of quick and nutritious recipes is key. It will take time to figure it out, so I plan to make a note of which recipes my family liked best and which ones made it to the table with the most ease for me. Then I’ll add these into my regular monthly rotation. I also want the girls input, so my husband suggested putting cookbooks geared for kids and weeknight dinners on the couch and letting the girls pick out what they want to try.
In asking friends and considering the girls’ flavor preferences (and pushing their palates), I came up with three weeks of meals below. It makes sense to me to decide on a protein that serves double (or triple) duty, so that’s what I did.
Week 1 – Rotisserie chicken
- Day 1: Baked Penne. I will toss in extra vegetables, such as thinly sliced zucchini and spinach. I’ll section off a portion sans meat for me.
- Day 2: Chicken and Guacamole Tostadas. I will use a hybrid of this recipe, letting the girls choose their toppings.
- Day 3: Crockpot Tortilla Soup – unfreeze – add in chicken. Use toppings from Day 2.
Week 2 – Hamburger meat
- Day 1: Cheeseburgers on pretzel buns with zucchini oven chips. My husband will grill the burgers on the weekend, and I will pull out a frozen veggie burger.
- Day 2: Pasta with hamburger meat (crumbled from a burger), shallot, peppers, basil, spinach, left-over pasta sauce, Parmesan and little Mozzarella balls.
- Day 3: Crockpot vegetarian chili – unfreeze – with grilled cheese (ham, spinach) sandwiches.
Week 3 – Fish
- Day 1: Pick one
- Roasted carrots, rice/quinoa
- Roasted Salmon with Potatoes and Green Beans - I like the frozen wild Alaskan salmon from Costco.
- Orange Crush Salad.
- Day 2: Fish taco bar with romaine slaw. Taco bar is fun because the girls can create their own plates based on their gouts.
- Day 3: Crockpot chickpeas in curried coconut broth – unfreeze – with grilled asparagus spears and couscous.
I’m hoping this gives me better plan (most of the time).
But bottomline: Keep calm and carry on, to whatever Plan B may be. And if it’s cheese quesadillas two days in a row, so be it.
What do you typically cook? Do you have a weekly menu? What are your dinnertime shortcuts? Please post.
Ciao for now.
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My driving force comes from my mom, who always said: "I gave you roots to guide you and wings so you can fly." I've built my life around that motto. My aim is to pass on to my daughters what my family secured in me.
I want us to slow down, grow roots, and build a solid foundation. I also want to strengthen our wings and soar.
It's a balance between holding on and letting go, between planning and being.