In my What I Do post, I mentioned that I try to cook most of our meals from scratch, and this prompted a reader comment,
“As much as I like cooking, I get so tired of the planning and cleaning up, day after day. It’s so much easier to go out.”
I get tired of it too. In fact, if you ask my husband and kids, they will tell you that when we’re all sitting around the table after eating, and everyone is full and content, I usually say (with unmistakable despair), “Now what am I going to make tomorrow night?”
While it may be easier to go out, or get takeout (I mean, of course it is. Let’s not kid ourselves), restaurant food is not easy on your budget, or your waistline. Restaurant meals cost, on average, 3 times as much as food cooked at home, and in spite of what certain restaurant chains may claim, the sodium, sugar, and unhealthy fat content of most restaurant food is outrageously high. This is why I try to make as much food as possible at home – because I know the consequences if I don’t. However, eating out is still a temptation for me because it’s much easier on me when I don’t have to plan, shop, cook, and clean up after making a meal for my family.
But…this is my job, and nothing truly worthwhile is easy. Also, who says that we, as homemakers, must do all of this alone? Of course, in some households there is no other option, but I’m a firm believer that at family mealtime, my husband and children can and should contribute to the preparation and clean-up. It’s a team effort!
In this post, I want to show you how we handle family meal time, so you can see that while it isn’t pretty, it IS possible!
I don’t like to make a long-range menu plan because I prefer to decide each morning what I’ll make for dinner. I do this so that I can incorporate any leftovers from previous meals, and food that may be nearing the end of its useful life, into the day’s menu. I have always done this, for all of my married life. We just bought a quarter of beef, and when I organized our freezer, I put the oldest meat on top so it would get used up first. We had several packages of stew meat and soup bones leftover, and while I was at a loss as to what to do with them (aside from stew, obviously), I decided to get several packages of stew meat started in the crock pot. Even when I’m on the fence about what to make, I always begin my meal plan with protein because it usually needs to be thawed, and it takes the longest time to prepare. Then, I work out the rest of the details.
I surveyed the contents of the fridge, and saw that we had a red onion and a cucumber that needed to be used up (I always try to use up fresh food first). This made me think of Greek salad, which then made me think gyros! My husband happened to be on the road, looking at houses, so I texted him to ask if he could bring home plain yogurt, a tomato, and some feta cheese for me. He agreed. His actual response was “I’ll bring anything you want.” (Ahem). If he hadn’t been on the road, I would’ve had to run across the street to the grocery store, so I probably would’ve come up with a different menu plan. I try to avoid making special trips to the store if at all possible.
I let the meat simmer in beef broth and spices all day, and at 2:00 I started some pita bread dough in the bread machine. When the dough cycle completed, I rolled out and baked the pitas.
I also made tzatziki sauce, chopped lettuce, red onion, and tomatoes, and started some basmati rice cooking in chicken broth and homemade garam masala seasoning. At 5:15, when my husband came upstairs, he and Bee set the table while I put everything into serving bowls. At 5:30 we all sat down to eat some delicious gyros and rice.
The meal was fantastic, but when we were all finished, the kitchen looked like this:
Waaaaahhhhh! For any cook, this part is a real heart sinker. I’m also not a very neat cook, which drives my husband crazy. He always puts things away as soon as he’s done with them, but he is rarely cooking an entire meal with sides, and trying to get everything ready at the same time. I just start cooking and keep going until everything is done. I never stop to put anything away unless I’ve completely run out of work space.
In the past, a disastrous kitchen like this has been known to reduce me to tears, particularly if I’m already tired and overwhelmed. However, as a family we now have a clean-up system that works for us, so as soon as the meal is over, and we’ve all reminisced about how good everything was, everyone leaps into action.
My husband immediately starts unloading and reloading the dishwasher.
The kids work together to clear the table, and I start packaging up leftovers for the fridge.
I also work on putting things away, and wiping down the stove and counters, while the girls team up to get the dining area back in shape. Cakes wipes off the table and chairs, and Bee sweeps the floor. DJ usually runs the Dustbuster under the table, but last night he was super-grouchy so I made him get in the shower right after dinner so he could go to bed early.
Together, we return the kitchen to this:
My husband then takes out the trash, we send the girls to take showers, and then we can relax…..until tomorrow, when we get to do it all over again!
Today, because we have a lot of shredded beef leftover, as well as chopped lettuce and onion, I’m thinking beef enchiladas? We’ll see. With already cooked protein, I can put off the “what to make” decision until at least 3:00![print-me/]