Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Hearby Resolved: Eat More Take-Out?

Lately I have been obsessed with how people manage the evening routine. Without peeking into other people's windows (which I am not entirely above, but it is time-consuming if you want to do it right) I am not clear how people get their young kids fed, bathed and in bed at a decent hour without completely tearing their hair out. Or rather, how people do this and WORK.

Chris and I (usually Chris, but whatever) cook most nights. We grocery shop on the weekend, guided by a plan for at least 4 nights of meals. (How people just go into the store and get what looks appealing and then manage to turn that into dinner every night is another thing that confuses me. I mean, I can do a single meal that way, but how do you shop for a week that way?) Our prep is good, but we have never really amended our cooking style to meet the needs of life with small kids. Our dinners are mostly not 20 minute affairs. We brine chickens, knead pizza dough, (AND) chop endless vegetables. Delicious, but not entirely conducive to quick completion.

The babies need to eat by 5:30. There is just no way we can have our dinner on the table by then. We have taken steps to make dinner easier, mostly by making meals that last more than one night or that can be transformed (roasted chicken becomes burritos or arroz con pollo). But it still does not seem like enough to get us fed before we need to put the babies in bed and Ada in the bath.

I have been obsessing about this for a couple of weeks and I think the universe is listening in. While I was solo parenting last week I decided that making dinner was too much effort. While at the burrito hut with the kids I ran into two neighbors. They both said their families regularly get dinner there. Then I was talking to a neighbor who spontaneously asked me how we deal with dinner.

I know some people take Sundays to make meals for the whole week. I doubt that is going to work for us, at least in our current state. So what else? And as long as I am asking, how do people who work outside the home get home early enough to do dinner and bedtime routines? Some days I work at home, but on others I work an hour away from home.  The only thing that seems to really help is having Ada eat at a friend's house. However, this doesn't seem like a viable solution for more than one or two nights a week. 

So how do we make this easier? How do we get us all fed by 6:30?

(and don't forget to click over and tell me about your favorite animal for a chance to win a wooden growth chart!)


  1. I am at home with an only child and I sometimes struggle to feed us. I can get inspired to cook something yummy for myself and my husband, but I KNOW that Violet will not eat it. I am caught in a cycle of cook two meals or eat cheese and crackers for dinner. I must admit that I eat a lot of cheese and crackers.

    How anyone with multiple children and a job manages to produce edible food and keep up with the laundry and the shopping etc., is a total mystery to me. I read blogs about long-term meal planning and think, these ladies are either lying or on a lot of meds.

    Most nights I present my child with a plate of something green, buttered bread and cheese. If I'm in the mood for a showdown I'll slip a piece of chicken on her plate.

    I salute you, mother of three. I'm getting anxious just thinking about feeding all those persnickety little faces.


  2. I have no experience with that kind of juggling, but this is actually something I already think about and I wonder how we'll handle when we have kids. Do you ever use a crock pot? We just got one recently and haven't used it a ton yet, but do love throwing things in there in the morning and coming home to dinner. Of course, that means morning food prep which can be difficult too...

  3. I'm at home all day and I find it har to make dinner. With two kids running around and wanting attention it isn't easy to chop and cook.I usually wait until the husband gets home at 5pm to make dinner.

    This week I have been making lots of casserolls and putting the leftovers in the freezer. I have been trying to make everything the night before so all I have to do is cook it. But you know what, I have spent all this time making healthy meals and th kids won't eat them! Grrr.

  4. Here is my secret - for the first two years, we did not eat with the boys. They were hungry at 5:30 and we were not. Since they were our only kids, we fed them then made dinner for ourselves after they went to bed.

    My other not-secret is that Jon and I both work from home. One of us does pick up while the other cooks. Also we took a knife skills class before bebes and we are wicked fast chopping vegetables.

    On the weeks Jon is gone a lot, I do more crockpot or faster meals. But generally we only hit fast food once a month or so. Reading Fast Food Nation made it so that I can't eat tons of fast food.

  5. There's a reason they call it the witching hour, eh?

    What helped when my kids were younger was appetizers. I'd cook a good meal for my husband and me, and then on the table I'd also have a pile of fruit, slices of cheese, slices of bread and whatever other finger food I could find: peanuts, sunflower seeds, raisins, you name it! That way the kids would fill up on food that was not very interesting but was healthy, and my husband and I got a good meal. --- Now that they're older, they pretty much eat what we eat. Our meal smells a lot better and it's hot : )

  6. I get home around seven, and THEN my husband starts cooking. Most nights, we're not done with dinner until well after 8. So, yeah. I have no answers for you.

  7. Second the appetizers - that way I usually get some fruit, protein, or veg into him before I offer anything else.

    Sunday nights I cut up enough fruit for the week, because we eat more if it's already cut up. I also try (try being the operative word) to make a curry/tagine/stew or two that will last for a few meals.

    Then we do one-pot/pan meals like store-bought pesto with veg & pasta, black rice with edamame & tomato, peanut noodles and broccoli, chard with cream sauce & pasta, ham/gardenburgers, baked potato, and about once a week we buy a roast chicken from the store and that gets turned into other stuffs. I've been trying to cook more lately, but it's hard even with one, and it's just going to get harder.

    Other things that help:
    Knowing what you can freeze. Did you know you can freeze rice, fresh ginger, overripe bananas, kale, ripe summer fruit/corn, lemon juice and lime juice cubes, and pesto cubes? All those help me throw together quick meals on short notice.

    Once a week "kids choice" - invariably leads to pb&j or boxed mac & cheese or corn pancakes they can help make (when older) and which are v. easy.

    ...um, I struggle with this too, so yeah. Appetizers, freezer stocking, one-pot meals, and Sunday meal prep is pretty much all I got.

  8. I was trying to remember the other day how we did this when we both worked and commuted and had a small child in day care. I seriously can't remember. I think we DID eat a lot of takeout. And we fed the child those prefab toddler meals.

    We now eat earlier and that sometimes means it's just me and the kids. They simply can't wait until my husband gets home, and since I don't like making dinner in the first place I am not about to make it twice.

    So. I cook during the week and I do simple things with lots of shortcuts (precut veg, crockpot, whatever). My husband cooks on the weekends and for special occasions and goes all out then.

    Good luck. It's a problem!

  9. I, like many, struggle even when I'm home all day.
    Have you heard of once a month cooking? I'm thinking of trying it out. Also, crockpot cooking can be nice and easy too and ready when you get home.
    Here are a couple of links that might be interesting to check out:
    and I saw this blog on pioneer woman the other day for crockpot cooking: http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/

  10. We do slow cooker meals a couple of times a week that are thrown together as I'm making the kids' lunches. If there's time after we get home and the kids are not begging us for food, we will make meals that take longer to cook or a bit more prep time. We also have grilled cheese and tomato soup frequently since it seems like a pretty healthy meal covering all the bases.

  11. I have no idea. Even without kids, we can't figure out how to feed ourselves. The biggest hurdle is getting to the grocery store in the first place. That was one of my favorite things about being unemployed for a couple months. Time to plan, shop, cook. I've been thinking lately, why isn't there a common profession, like house keeper or child care professional, but someone that helps you take care of this stuff you can't do when you work. Meal planning, shopping, food prep. I would be in heaven if I found help with that.

  12. What's for dinner is constant question in the evenings at our house.
    You could try getting a Susbscription to Simple and Delicious(Taste of Home is the brand it's under) magazine. That works for us.

  13. I'm going to stand with those who recommend a crock pot. Some recent parents gave one to us before the little guy is due because they said it changed their lives. I can already see how that would be the case. It means eating a lot of soup, but good soup. I also make beans and rice once a week, almost every week. With a rice cooker, and either canned or pre-slow-cooked beans (add hominy - soooo good), it's takes about 35 minutes to get on the table even with grating cheese, and cutting bell peppers, cilantro, and fresh tomatoes. Also, it is always good. Always. It's amazing. B&R also serve as good bases for other things, burritos, on baked potatoes (I cook a bunch of those on Sunday - easy because they pretty much cook themselves). I realize I'm not a parent yet, but with A's ever changing schedule, there's a lot of difficulties with meals.

  14. Another SAHM who struggles with this on an almost daily basis...can't even begin to wrap my brain around how working parents manage at home.

    It's always been a huge priority for us to a) feed our kids what we're eating, and b) sit down as a family for dinner every night. Those are things that we believe strongly in, but make the day-to-day dinner prep a nightmare at our house! My husband works long days and usually doesn't walk through the door until 6:15-6:30. My goal is to have dinner ready so that the minute he walks in we can sit down to eat. Getting dinner ready in the middle of the witching our is often a disaster, but somehow we manage most nights...

    I have found that if I give the kids a pretty hearty snack mid-late afternoon, I can often tie them over until dinner without major meltdowns. Sometimes they get cheese/crackers, a bowl of cereal, yogurt with granola, etc. But we usually eat the minute Papa walks in, and then the race to bedtime begins to try to get the boys down before 7:30. It makes for a stressful evening and unfortunately, my husband spends many less waking hours with the boys than he would like...

    I recently went to a locally owned version of "Dream Dinners" and in about an hour was able to prepare 6 meals for my freezer for about $130. Although I have very mixed feelings about some aspects, (in a perfect world, I would eat all local, all organic, all fresh--this food did not meet any of those criteria) and the amount of waste (lots of zip lock bags, plastic containers, etc.) almost kept me up at night...the process is appealing. Take a bag out of the freezer the day before and serve it the next day. The food was good, and my kids loved it too, which is a super bonus. I know that Portland has a more local, more organic version of this same idea--maybe you could check it out!

    I also really like Martha Stewart's Everyday Food recipes--8 or less (easy to find) ingredients, prep that takes less than 25 minutes, and good, healthy food. If you're an iPhone user, you can download the app for it too.

    Sorry for the long comment!

  15. My husband and I both work so we're never home before 6. Our 4 year old goes to bed at 7:30 so its always a rush to get everything done AND actually spend some time with him. Our routine is to get him showered while I cook dinner, it helps that his bathroom is right next to the kitchen. To help timewise, I rely on menu planning for the week, preparing the night before, and frozen precut vegetables. So on Monday night after we've eaten, I prepare everything for the next night so I have the ingrediants out, meat defrosting, vegetables precut and even in saucepans if appropriate (pasta without the water so I just need to add water). All my prep is done after my son goes to bed, so it doesn't take away from time with him, and means I can cook a quick meal as cooking is usually ALOT quicker without having to do the preparation. Hope this helps!

  16. Glad to see all these comments (7 days late - no surfing or slow cooking for me these days). Same dilemma here. Basically, our answer is to be on a fairly late schedule for a toddler - dinner at 6:15, in bed at 8:30. A late bedtime for a babe, but she seems to be somewhat of a natural night owl, and it's way hard to get her from daycare, get home, and do it all any faster. I also do a lot of weekend planning and prep (chopping, cooking for mon). And my favorite place for fast, healthy recipes "eating well" magazine