I love food. Like really, really love food. I read recipe blogs (for fun), discuss favourite foods at greath length with friends and family, reminisce about best meals, and, above all, love eating.
That said, food is a lot of work: from keeping a running list of what needs replacement in the cupboard, to shopping at the store (or sitting in the curbside pickup line), to putting things away, to prepping and serving food – and don’t forget cleaning up after it’s all over. In many parts of the world, for women at least, acquiring water and preparing food are the predominant activities in their lives.
We have a lot of time-saving advantages in the West – many of which are arguably very detrimental to our health (I just finished Hooked, a book all about food, free will, and how food giants exploit modern consumers).
For the most part, I prepare the food we eat from scratch. This takes considerable time, but it doesn’t have to be prohibitive (I spend a lot less time in the kitchen than I used to). I buy most bread products, though we’re pretty low consumers in that department. But I make all our soups and casseroles; I chop the veggies and hardboil the eggs and cube the cheese. I’m getting a bit better at letting myself spend money on conveniences – I did buy pre-sliced cheese for the kids lunchboxes this year – revolutionary – and have bought some Zoodles (getting bits of zucchini out of a spiralizer is about as fun as ironing in my opinion…and ironing ranks right up there with getting a root canal).
I don’t have a specific meal-planning schedule. I tend to plan things out for the week ahead on Saturday or Sunday afternoon, but this is usually just a rough sketch. I shop sales – and try to use seasonal veggies – so often base our menu off what is available/economical.
I think one of my biggest tricks has to do with a predetermined culinary bent – I love to eat the same thing. Don’t get me wrong, I prepare a broad range of dishes and enjoy experimenting with new recipes, but I rarely get tired of rotating standard favourites.
Back when I was completing my undergrad I ate the same thing 90% of the time for breakfast: an English muffin with peanut butter and banana. I never once got tired of it. Last year I went almost a month eating the exact same salad for lunch every day. While I prioritize making healthy meals, I don’t necessarily aim for novelty. I rotate about 15(ish) primary meals and have another dozen or so that I cook less frequently. For me holidays and special occasions have their own pre-set menu, and most of those dishes are unique to specific times of the year.
WHEN DO I COOK?
My part-time work schedule can be quite flexible and since COVID, I work exclusively from home. What I’ve found works best (and something I instituted last year for the first time): setting aside 2 hours twice a week (I did this from 9 – 11 AM on Tuesday/Thursday mornings) for cooking. I haven’t stuck with this over the summer – when our schedules and menus change dramatically anyway – but plan to go back to the same system this fall.
In those two hours I’ll prep veggies for lunches, make a soup that’s destined straight for the freezer, prepare a different soup (but one that shares some of the same ingredients) for supper that night and prepare some protein (a chicken, for example) that will get used a few different ways during the week.
I’d say this new system has halved the time I’m in the kitchen. It is a MESS by the end of the two hours, but I usually get 4-5 items (several mains, several sides/a baked good, and some lunchbox prep) completed in those two hours.
While I might not always have a specific menu in place at the start of the week, it does follow a predictable pattern:
Monday (a day I don’t cook): I pull something from the freezer. Sometimes this is frozen leftovers, and sometimes this might be a dish I’ve prepared to go directly in the freezer. If it’s something like meatballs, I would cook rice and warm up a veggie, but nothing that involves chopping or pureeing. Minimal effort is key.
Tuesday (a day I cook): this will be a more involved meal. Sometimes I’ll cook the whole meal up in the morning (like I might actually prepare a stir-fry and then refrigerate it). Sometimes, though, I’ll just get the components ready in the morning and cook them fresh at supper time. These meals tend to be heartier and more involved. I always make sure to cook extra – either for the freezer or for Wednesday…
Wednesday (a day I don’t cook): leftovers. This will be a mish-mash of what’s in the fridge, typically a combination of leftovers from Monday/Tuesday evening.
Thursday (a day I cook): again, this is a fresh meal. Ditto Tuesday’s directive.
Friday (a day I don’t cook): Waffle day! I know this is traditionally pizza night in many households, but last year I started making a new waffle recipe. The kids and I usually go sweet – peanut butter, fruit, and bit of maple syrup – while John prefers savory (topped with bacon and eggs, for example). I almost always prep the waffles in advance (in that 2-hour cooking spree on Tuesday or Thursday morning; they refrigerate and freeze well).
Saturday and Sunday: These are date nights at home; John usually cooks or orders takeout, so I’m off the hook. One of these nights the kids will eat leftovers from Thursday/Friday, and the other night they usually have some fun and fast item (boxed Mac n’ Cheese, scrambled eggs, homemade pizza, toast and fruit).
I happen to enjoy cooking and while I can find it all overwhelming at times, I don’t really want to eliminate the responsibility from my life. I get pleasure from experimenting with new recipes and like knowing what’s gone in to the items we’re consuming.
That said, cooking is definitely something that can be outsourced with zero guilt! Delivery/take-out, meal-delivery baskets or skipping some steps (pre-cut veggies, pre-sliced cheese for the win) to expedite the process are all great workarounds!