Working moms (or any type of moms) have to find tricks to simplify life in order to juggle the day-to-day. I'll talk more about the tricks I've discovered and use in future posts. Today, I will talk about the trick that has made the biggest improvement in our life...nightly meals. Up until about a month ago, I just could not get that together. I would pick up Jack from daycare every afternoon at 4:00 and from then on, it felt like a race to the finish line (bedtime). Late afternoon is Jack's crankiest time of day and he pretty much demands undivided attention and a lot of entertaining!!! My mom told me that I should put him in the highchair and cook dinner after work but...that does not work. A neighbor happened to offer me a freezer they had laying around...this is what sparked the idea in my head to begin cooking on weekends. I accepted their offer...only, the freezer did not work. I had Sears come out to repair it...the repair would cost $300!!! I posted the freezer on Craigslist and gave it away for free to someone who could fix it themselves. I then invested in an upright freezer for the garage. It was about $400. Worth every penny!
I started a new routine. It goes like this:
Friday night: Order my groceries from Harris Teeter
Saturday morning: John watches Jack, I Pick up groceries from Harris Teeter (more about this trick later) and make a quick Costco run if needed. This is typically during Jack's nap so I do not miss much with him.
Sunday: Begin cooking during Jack's naptime and after Jack goes to bed. Freeze meals for the week ahead.
The first couple of weeks I did a lot of extra cooking even on weekday evenings after Jack was asleep to build up a stash of meals. This was an AMAZING feeling!!! My new routine allowed me to have dinner on the table every night...not just Five Guys or Pizza but a nutritious and delicious (hopefully) meal. Usually, you will need to supplement your frozen meal with a salad. You might try making a huge salad on Sunday night that you can eat throughout the week. I also buy the "Steamers" when they're on sale at the grocery store. You can just pop this bag of vegetables in the microwave for five minutes and Voila!, you have your vegetables and a balanced meal.
The nice thing about having this nightly routine is that...new routines can then be tacked on to this routine. John has started going to the gym after Jack is in bed while I sometimes do extra cooking. When your life lacks these basic routines, it can feel pretty out of control. You may feel like you have no "grounding"...I felt like I was just making it through every day and collapsing into bed at the end...then, not even feeling very good about how it went. This nightly routine has given me something to hold onto...and I feel a sense of MAJOR accomplishment, "Yes, I did that...we had dinner, ate healthy, can have leftovers for our lunch tomorrow." We spend less on going out to dinner and buying lunches. I also think it's important that Jack can be part of our nightly meal and it gives us family time.
After a few weeks of cooking, I ran out of ideas on meals to make that are freezer friendly. I ordered two cookbooks on Amazon.com for freezer meals. I'm not a big believer in cookbooks with websites out there like http://www.myrecipes.com/ and http://www.allrecipes.com/ but it is hard to find freezer meals on those sites. Then, you have to adapt the meal yourself to double or tripple it...often it does not turn out quite how you like it when you do that. I am going to tell you about the cookbook I like the best, first. Once I work with this cookbook for awhile, I'll move on to the next.
The book is called "Fix, Freeze, Feast" by Kati Neville and Lindsay Tkacsik. So far, there are many many things I love about this cookbook. I will highlight a few of those and as I begin experimenting with the recipes, I'll continue to let you know how it is. I'll then move on to the next cookbook.
Here are some Fix, Freeze and Feast highlights.
1. I love the binding on this book...it is satisfying to hold and read...very unique. I know, this is a strange "highlight" but I do love it.
2. Designed for people who shop at the "Warehouse" clubs. Costco! You know when you go to Costco and buy a "tray" of beef...it's usually 4-6 pounds and you split up the meat into 1 lb portions and freeze those? (That is what I do.) Or, you run out of time to do that and throw the whole thing in the freezer and end up with a solid brick of beef...6 pounds worth? Well this cookbook uses the entire tray of beef for each recipe. For example, one of the beef recipes is "Cheese Chilada Bake". The first ingredient is one tray of beef (about 6 lbs). The recipe makes four entrees, 8 servings each. So you will be able to freeze four meals after cooking this recipe...or eat one that night, and freeze the other three! Or give one to a neighbor, make their day, and freeze the remaining three. They have created their recipes based on the large packages of meat from warehouse clubs. Genius!
3. I love the book's intro. It outlines EVERYTHING you need to know to get started. And it makes you excited to do it! It discusses the basics of make-ahead meals, how to get organized with your shopping list, how to select ingredients/ingredient substitutes, how to shop, how to set up your kitchen before your cooking session to make it painless, how to prep your ingredients, how to put it all together, how to correct mistakes (like measuring an ingredient incorrectly, forgetting an ingredient, buying the wrong meat, finding something too salty, etc)...and a lot more helpful information is included as well.
4. In the back of the book you will find an appendix...the appendix contains sample labels for your convenience! You can photocopy these and tape them to your freezer containers...they are printed with baking instructions, times and temps. Very similar to those you use at those meal preparation kitchens like "Let's Dish" or "Dinner Done"...
5. The appendix also lists resources that include helpful websites, books, magazines, etc. It also talks about community cooking options like a cooking club or a cooking co-op (which I may consider joining/starting).
So these are a few highlights of this new book I am beginning ("Fix, Freeze, Feast" by Kati Neville and Lindsay Tkacsik.). I will let you know how the journey goes. This weekend, I'll discuss how I've learned to simplify grocery shopping and make that a routine and easy part of my weekly life.