I’ve been married for 26+ years. Most of those years we had three kids at home, so I was cooking for a family of five. These days, it’s usually just Jay and myself and, occasionally, our daughter, when her school/social life allows. Still, I’m cooking five nights per week, from Sun – Thurs. Friday night is usually leftovers or, sometimes (for me), just wine and popcorn. Saturday night we often go out.
I keep cooking because a) we need to eat, b) Jay takes almost all the leftovers for lunch, c) it’s healthy, d) it’s expensive to go out or do take out, and e) I like going out to be the exception rather than the rule. If you go out all the time, it’s no longer special.
Even assuming I only cooked dinner five nights/week for all those years (and it was usually more when the kids were home), we’re talking 5 x 52 x 26 = 6,760 dinners!! Just dinners; not even considering breakfasts and lunches.
No wonder I sometimes get exhausted just planning what we’re going to eat.
I’m conflicted. On the one hand, I’m proud that I’m a good cook and that I save money by making most of our meals. I like that I’m comfortable in the kitchen and at entertaining and that I routinely seek out new recipes. On the other hand, I’m big into efficiency and saving time and no way do I want to reinvent the wheel each and every night!
Sometimes, I just get tired with the whole cooking thing and yesterday was one of those days. So, I tried to look at the whole cooking thing in as simple a way as possible. In general, what were my meals centered around? How could I think of it in a way that made preparing these endless meals less daunting?
I decided that, in general, all our meals fell into one of the following eight categories:
– homemade soup
Add veggies and, possibly a starch, and voilà – dinner!
Sometimes a meal was a combination of two categories (like fettucine alfredo with shrimp) but, generally, each could be considered a stand alone meal. I just had to pick one category each night I cooked, preferably without repeating a category during a week, and I’d have an overall “plan” for dinners.
To make it simpler, I decided that one of the five dinners each week would be pasta and one would be eggs. Both are cheap and easy. I have a variety of pasta recipes – including the incredibly simple and delicious macaroni, cheese and tomato sauce. The eggs, well they’ll be scrambled and most likely on Tuesday night when I go to my tap class. Both Jay and/or Rachel can manage their own eggs. I might cook some kind of veggie and/or starch to supplement.
So, the other three nights will be meat/seafood based. If I’m energetic I can make chicken piccata. If not, I can plop the chicken breasts in the electric frying pan and just cook them. I can cut the pork tenderloin into medallions, pound them, and make pork marsala. Or I can throw it on the grill and cook it. As long as the meat is cooked – whether on the grill, in a frying pan, in the oven – it qualifies as dinner!
If this approach doesn’t work I can also consider making huge heaping volumes of food and freezing it, so I don’t have to cook as frequently. I already do this with spaghetti sauce, but not much else. I almost always cook fresh veggies or make a salad, so it’s rarely a matter of simply defrosting dinner. There’s always SOMETHING to cook. Plus, it takes a lot longer to cook a huge amount of food and that can be daunting. But, maybe if I incorporate more soups and chili type recipes into my repertoire, making enough to freeze, I can further reduce the number of meals I need to cook.
Food for thought…