how to simplify mealtimes

how to simplify mealtimes

When I was a wee one, it was my life goal to be a chef, and by the time I was twelve, I was baking bread to sell and creating regular family feasts. But the hormones of puberty took soon after and my interests were hacked and diverted to boys and hairstyles and boys and boys and boys.

My cooking interests did return but not until my late 20’s, and then with an intense passion. I wanted to cook everything and for years basically lived to do just that, but when I got pregnant my hormones hacked me once again and I couldn’t bring myself to lift a finger in the kitchen.

The apathy continued once R was born, although by that time I could force myself to cook large batches of healthy soups once a week and throw rice in the rice cooker every day so I had nourishing food to eat. But anything more did not happen.

Although after the 3 months mark it was hard to continue that trend. My partner works hard all day, and I’m not proud of myself when the only options he has when he gets home is to raid the fridge. I’m so privileged to stay at home with R and it’s all because of him- the least I can do is make him something hot and good to eat in the evening.

But the hard truth is that I don’t have large chunks of time to devote myself to cooking. And at this moment in my time, I don’t even want large it. I want shortcuts. I want hacks that don’t involve a microwave or pressure-cooking. I want food that tastes like it took all afternoon to make, but took only a few increments of fifteen minutes throughout the day.

I know I’m not alone in wanting this, either. Moms everywhere want to keep their families well fed and healthy without wasting away in the kitchen. That’s why the Instant Pot is a hit. That’s why you’re here reading this post. We all want to uncomplicate and simplify our lives, and mealtimes are the best place to start.

I thought this was the plight of the modern mom, but it turns out it’s not. I recently snatched up a copy of The Foxfire Appalachian Cookery at a thrift store, and I was surprised to read a quote from an old-timer elder women who was interviewed say something similar: “…I can wistful of home cooked meals- as long as I don’t have to be the cook. As ninety-two-year-old Aunt Addie Norton, one of many women interviewed for this book, said, “I have moods, honey. Sometimes I’d rather somebody take a hickory and whip me from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet as to say for me to get a meal.” I guess this sentiment is as old as the human race.

Because of this, I started playing around with different ways of making food that involved the least effort possible. Through a lot of determination and pressures from the time-constraints imposed by mothering a baby, I’ve learned a few golden ways that I can’t wait to share with you. These methods will give you the power to create deliciously healthy meals for your family without much fuss at all. And by doing this, you get your time back so you can do things like play with your little one, go on long walks, or read a good book.

I’m going to start here with my very favorite way of simplifying mealtimes, write a ton about it, and then work my way through a few others.

Oven Roasting

This has become my very dearest, go-to method of making dinner because it’s simple, minimal, elegant, and delicious. I can prep veggies at lunchtime when I’m already in the kitchen anyhow, assemble them into a deep lidded casserole dish, and slide that into the oven a few hours before dinner. And that’s just the beginning because there is a lot you can do with the juices and leftovers. You can make stews, stews, salads, hashes, and shepherd’s pie.

You can roast almost anything, and one of the reasons I love this method is that when root vegetables are roasted whole with the peels on, they slip right out of them when they’re done. No peeling required! How cool is that?!

I roast veggies every few days and make different versions of hummus, which is pretty much all I eat for lunch anymore. I promise you this: if you get comfortable with roasting, and start using this method to make most of your meals, you will begin to have a completely different relationship with and to cooking. It makes it a truly satisfying experience.

When you set down a steaming casserole dish of a slowly cooked mishmash of veggies and meat, you will feel a mishmash of feelings yourself- proud of your accomplishment, amazed that it took no time at all, and excited that you just found the key to unlocking all your future dinner frustrations.

Here’s an excerpt from one of my favorite cookbooks, one that is solely focused on roasting…well…everything:

“It seems to me that less cooking is done today than used to be and that when it is done, it is so much work because we have lost the habit of the continuous kitchen. We start each meal from scratch with fresh shopping and brand-new independent recipes. Our predecessors didn’t, and we can save ourselves a great deal of work and have better, more economical food with greater depth of flavor by seeing cooking as an ongoing process”

“Bones and scraps should be routinely set to cook for stock at the end of the meal or the morning after. This will eliminate the need for cans and cubes except for under the worst of circumstances. Stocks are the basis for soups, stews, and sauces that contain just small amounts of the leftover meat.”

“Today’s leftovers can be turned into tomorrow’s elegant first-course salad, a simple sauté, or a curry. Having roasted leftovers is like having a good sous chef in the kitchen, someone who has done half the work before I turn up for the finishing touches. The sauces for the transformations are often based on stocks.”

She includes recipes in her book for all of it- the soups, stews, and sauces. It’s an older book and doesn’t include photos with each recipe like I prefer, but if you want to master the art of roasting, you need this book. I love it to pieces and couldn’t live without it.

Slow-Cooking

I pretty much only use crockpots to make overnight oats so that breakfast is already done before I even wake up, because how is that not awesome? I throw stuff together the night before, and like magic, breakfast is simplified. I use a 3-4 quart-sized slow-cooker because those fit my family’s needs and don’t take up much space.

If you want to use the crockpot for other meals as well, then think of a recipe you want to make and then Google for the crockpot version of it. And if you try making soups and stews from the roasts you bake, try them in here too.

No-Boil Pasta Bakes

I’m a really big fan of these even though I’m not a huge pasta-eater because they make Chris very, very happy. He’s a hardcore cheese lover. I’ve made mac and cheese, lasagna, ziti, and fettucini alfredo using this method and they’ve all turned out surprisingly perfect. I will toss everything together in a casserole dish an hour before dinner and throw it in the oven. So little clean-up and so little time spent.

If you’re like me and don’t eat much pasta, then do like me and throw a few sweet potatoes or regular white potatoes into the oven next to the casserole to bake, and then eat it with a salad or whatever you have in your fridge. Check out these recipes for some inspiration.

Feed Zone Portables

I know this is a weird name but it’s what the cookbook is called that they’re taken from. This is a throw-back to my Boulder days because I learned about this cookbook from some of the pro-cyclist clients that I worked on years ago. Allen Lim is a guy who started Skratch Labs to develop energy-dense, real-food alternatives to the popular sports bars and gels and powders that athletes usually depend on.

Enter, among other things, the Feed Zone Portables, customizable recipes for rice cakes and hand-pies that make snacking and on-the-go eating very delicious and very convenient. I bought this book long before I had R, but I knew back then what a goldmine it would be for moms. These portables do take a little time to assemble, but if your family are big snackers than a few hours on a Sunday afternoon will be well spent to fulfill their munchies for the week. And these aren’t just good for snack-they make very nice light lunches, too.

No-Knead Bread

This has become a big thing lately and is the only method my mom uses to make bread anymore. I’m really impressed at how amazing it turns out considering it lacks the kneading part, which I thought was a non-negotiable. It turns out it’s not.

Well gosh, I think I just might have run myself dry on this one. I’ve got nothing else to give you which I think is just fine considering I’m getting close to 1,500 words and have turned you onto to roasting. If you change up your cooking style just a little to incorporate a few of these things, you will bask in the glory of simplicity and the beauty of a little uncomplication.

Let’s make cooking enjoyable again. It can be done.

Can you please let me know if you know anymore ideas to simplify mealtimes? We all would love to know :)

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