I am tired of every blog, magazine, or website making me feel inadequate about cooking dinner. I would love to say I cook everything from scratch and only buy organic. But that would be a lie. That would be putting my fake self out there in Pinterestic perfection. In reality, I am exhausted after work, especially when it comes to making the effort to cook in the evenings.
So when I do cook, I try not to stress about it. It’s got to be easy, quick, little prep-time, etc. for me to even consider it on a week day. Weekends are different, but weekday meals need to be fast–seriously, like 15-30 minutes max. So how do I do this? Compromise. If I don’t even have the energy to roast veggies for 10 minutes, I steam them in the microwave. Yup. I glare at my pantry full of long-simmer rice and night-soak beans and reach for the quick-cook grain packages. Seriously. The 90 seconders (Central Market has tasty organic ones that make me feel better about myself). I forgo that organic chicken breast sitting in my freezer for rotisserie chicken. A lot. I prefer vegetarian sometimes simply because it takes too long to thaw and cook protein. You will regularly find me in the fresh prepared foods section at my grocer. I rely heavily on my go-to pantry, frozen, and fridge staples. And I regularly pick up takeout, though I try very hard to make it from health-conscious places. But sometimes pizza is the answer. For everything.
I don’t have a ton of time to follow intricate recipes on the weeknight, so my meals are kinda made up after years of trying different things. Now I use a simple combo of fresh and frozen ingredients paired with stocked pantry foods on the weeknight. You can do this all organic or not. You can do this all fresh or not. I don’t care. If I’m being completely honest with myself, I probably use 60-70% organic foods, but I don’t stress out over it. I’ve known too many super healthy people get cancer or have an aneurism and too many geriatric smokers. It’s a genetic crap chute so I cannot give myself a hard time over eating USDA-approved, non-organic broccoli every once in a while. But that’s just my reality and what works best for my family. You do you.
So here are some dinner tips that have made my life easier and kept this semi-homemade mother sane. Go Bon Appetit crazy on the weekends, but on the weeknights, no more stress.
1. Don’t stress out about planning full meals in advance and getting everything perfect. You are not Martha. Expand your go-to pantry, fridge, and freezer staples and find foods that go well together in many different combinations. (It’s like packing only whites and grays on vacation. Any combo works well together.)
2. Don’t stress out about meal prep. Try buying some of your fresh veggies already chopped up (even that chopped garlic in a squeezy container). It may seem like a waste of money, but I think it is worth the extra cash to save that time and energy typically used for fighting those pesky sweet potatoes (seriously, it’s like going into battle cutting those damned things!).
3. Don’t stress out about a ton of side dishes on the weeknight. If veggies or fruit are not already in the meal itself, just throw in some berries or a simple veggie side (i.e., shredded carrots with vinaigrette) that you don’t have to cook or chop. Or just don’t do it that night (see #4).
4. Don’t stress out if you don’t have all the food groups in every meal. Go carb heavy or pizza one night and super lean protein/veggie the next. It evens out over time. Plus, the lean nights are more survivable when interspersed with pasta nights.
5. Don’t stress out about proteins so much. Rotisserie chicken is your friend. Frozen fish is your friend. Or no meat at all is even friendlier…because it’s quicker (see #4).
6. Don’t stress out about tolerating kid-friendly foods. Cook for you. Your child is living under your roof, not the other way around. But when you can’t or you have a picky eater, adding truffle oil, goat cheese, and sea salt to just about anything to makes completely fabulous and adult worthy. Add them to your plain pasta dishes, mashed potatoes, salads, mac ‘n cheese, hell even a kid’s pizza and you’ll find you can tolerate kid-friendly food much better. If you can’t stand truffle oil, I weep for you.
7. Don’t stress out about not cooking altogether. Find go-to delivery options and order out, health-conscious restaurants, but ONLY on your way home or nearby. Going out of the way in traffic is not realistic. Also try Instacart for grocery delivery and try local meal-to-go places like Snap Kitchen or delivery services like The Studio Kitchen.
Some of my pseudo-recipes putting these tips into action will follow in a separate post.