When my wife and I met in our late twenties, we discovered that there was a substantial chasm in our respective cooking skills. Basically, I knew how to cook and she did not. Now, there are a few things she does very well… she makes incredible meatballs and a killer homemade mac-n-cheese. But that’s pretty much it. She bakes very well and often, but for daily dinner, you can pretty much count her out.
We later figured out that she drew more joy from a clean kitchen than a good meal, so throughout our respective twenty-something years, I was sharpening my cooking skills and Emily was having dinners made of baby carrots and hummus; both of which you can eat without dirtying a dish.
I’ve never done the math, but I’d say that 98% of our family dinners are prepared by me. I enjoy cooking, but cooking of any quality takes time and planning.
When we first started having children, feeding them wasn’t too tough because they would eat pretty much anything we put in front of them, and they would stay put long enough to cook and serve a proper meal. As they have grown, all of our lives have become increasingly more complicated and the children have developed… well, I’ll be polite and call it “tastes.”
Those of you with children have experienced that the hours of 4pm to 8pm are absolute chaos, worse so with two working parents. Children come and go, my kitchen is turned into homework central and any number of things at the end of the day can derail a well-timed dinner plan.
So, as we headed into a new school year one fall, I decided something had to be done to maintain an equal measure of nutrition and sanity.
For years now I have been a huge fan of America’s Test Kitchen, their magazine Cooks Illustrated and their Best Recipes cookbooks. The great thing about the cookbooks is that, each recipe is preceded by a page and a half of discussion on how they arrived at the final formula. They basically tell you how they screwed up before finally getting it right. It also shows you what parts of the recipe you can mess with and what parts you shouldn’t. I have had such good luck with these recipes that more than once I have made something for the first time for guests. Not once have I (nor my guests) been disappointed.
The September in question, I purchased two cookbooks Slow Cooker Revolution and Slow Cooker Revolution Volume 2. I also purchased the exact slow cooker they recommended, the Crock-Pot Countdown Touchscreen Digital Slow Cooker. When the books arrived I put them out for the kids to flip through and pick out the recipes that they thought they would enjoy. If three out of four said YES, then it made the list. If a child ever dug their heels in, PB&J is always available for self-assembly. Better yet for the kids, since they are responsible for cleaning up dinner every night, all they have to do is put six bowls in the dishwasher and clean the crock-pot.
You see here’s the thing… I’m a morning guy. I get up early (often to write) and I have time to make dinner at 5:30 in the morning, I rarely have time to make dinner at 5:30 pm. What’s more, even if I did have time to make dinner at 5:30, more days than not, I would be too late to feed more than one of my kids as they jet off to their activities. So by 4:30 most days, there needs to be a finished dinner ready for a child to scoop out a bowl and choke down before heading off to wherever.
Using this new approach, for the majority of dinners in the winter are done and slowly cooking before 8:00am. Most of the time it is in the slow cooker, but sometimes it was a pot of soup (made the night before) and a loaf of bread that the babysitter simply had to warm up at 4:00pm.
Bottom line… when the day is quiet and the house is still asleep may be the very best time to make dinner. Fortunately modern technology and information make this more possible than ever. Getting 75% buy-in from the kids helps too, but knowing throughout the day that dinner is already covered has a mellowing effect on some of my stress. Extra bonus… there is usually enough left over for grown-up lunches the next day.
There is a lot of technology out there to help you time-shift many aspects of your life. Keep your eyes open, you may find something for as little as $79 (like my crock-pot), that will save you thousands in both dollars and stress. What’s your time worth anyway?
Copyright © 2016 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved.