It's so easy to post recipes of great meals on facebook or your blog ---or share pictures of your perfectly put together outfits -- or show pictures of your house when its dolled up for the holidays or a party, but the truth is life is rarely as perfect as we like to paint it to be, right? Sometimes the house is messy, you're wearing sweats and dinner is burned!
I've posted successful recipes I've tried, but I didn't post a picture of my recipe that flopped so badly that Dave and I had to cook a frozen pizza instead. I didn't post the story about how I had to come up with a new recipe because I misread the expiration date and my chicken had gone bad!
You see, the reality is: Sometimes Dave and I eat hot dogs for dinner. Not some kitchy interpretation of simple American foods, not some fancy gourmet version with organic homemade chili and cheese I churned myself...actual 8 dogs in a pack, simple ballpark franks that you can buy in the grocery store -- and the worst part is, we don't have a grill (or a patio...) so we don't even grill the dogs. It's just microwaved franks on processed buns with a side of chips and carrot sticks, etc. FANCY COOKING right?
(side note: what's the nasty food that you like? Everyone has atleast one nasty food item. I know hot dogs are gross, but I don't care, I still like them!Lucky for me, Dave likes hotdogs too)
Oh, how I wish that almost every night was a homemade dinner set on a pretty table with lovely dishes and fresh flowers. I'm afraid I spoiled Dave a bit at first by cooking nightly and having everything ready when he got home from work. But, now we are both working and Dave gets home about 30 minutes before I do....so things are a bit different these days....
We still cook most of our meals (cheaper!)....the only exceptions being one meal out on the weekends and Tuesday night when we go straight to small group from work. On small group nights, I either pack us each an extra sandwich in our lunchboxes OR we pick up subway, burgers, etc.
Since we eat most meals at home, I do prefer for them to be tasty and a little fancier than simple sandwiches!! (especially since now we get to eat at a table!!) I also probably have a little bit of that newlywed "try so hard to be domestic" mentality. But sweet Dave was actually the one who reminded me that not all meals had to be homemade, that we were both working and that some nights, simple grilled cheese will do just fine!! And that took the pressure off. But even so, I try to actually cook us real meals most of the time. If we don't get in the habit now, then how will we be ready for able to cook warm meals for kids one day?
Cooking dinner most evenings is something I have far from mastered. A huge part of our problem has been timing. I get home at 6:30. Those first few nights that we were both working, I believe we ate dinner at 8:30 because I had to get home, figure out what was for dinner and cook. Now we have a bit of a schedule that really works for us. I'm offering my few pieces of advice for working women (to take with a grain of salt...):
1. Plan ahead. I generally know what meals we are going to eat for the next week or two. I don't always know which night we will cook, but I know what we are cooking. Having a flexible plan is good....if I forget to defrost the chicken or we run out of an ingredient, we can always fall back on something else! Planning ahead is good for a two different reasons: purchasing the ingrediants and cooking ahead! (On a different note, planning ahead saves money - because you can double up ingredients for more than one recipe and because you won't be tempted to go out to eat!)
2. Purchase all your ingrediants ahead of time. Occasionally I have to stop by the store on the way home from work to pick up more milk or bread, etc, but most of the time we have what we need! If I have to run to the store to pick up a bunch of ingredients, then I am more likely to say, "forget this!" and pick up dinner or make a sandwich.
3. Cook ahead. I use almost every other weekend as a time to cook ahead and freeze -- chili, enchiladas, baked spaghettis, even breakfast burritos! Its a lot of work for a few hours, but then we have frozen meals ready to eat! So, on a busy day, I can let the dish defrost then cook when I get home. Sometimes I just cook one night ahead...last week I made potato soup while watching Monday night TV and put it in the fridge for Tuesday. All we had to do was reheat it on the stove, make some grilled cheeses and tada, dinner is served!
4. Prepare ahead. LIKWISE, I do prep work ahead of time. If we are going to do quesadillas, I may have already cooked the meat and stored it in the fridge. If we are going to bake chicken, I may have it marinating to put in the oven as soon as I get home.
5. Get some help. Dave gets home 30 minutes (atleast) before I do. If prep work is done, I email or text Dave and tell him to bake the marinated chicken or reheat the casserole for x minutes at x temperature. If prep work needs to be done, I will email him instructions to preheat the oven and start peeling potatos or cutting chicken. In our family, it works better if I plan the meals (I am a planner type and Dave is well, not), but Dave is more than willing to help so long as I make it clear! Afterall, he does not want to wait and eat at 8:30.
6. FREEZER MEALS AND CROCKPOT. I already mentioned cooking ahead and freezing, but really, freezer meals and crockpot meals are your friends, busy woman. Honestly, crockpots kindof scare me, so I have done more freezing. But last month, a friend sent me tons of crockpot recipes so I am going to overcome my fear of leaving something running all day (not really scared of burning my house down, just scared of burning the meal if I end up getting home later than planned...) and join the rest of the 21st century by using my crockpot more often.
7. Freeze extras. I almost always make the full recipe and split it into 2-3 dishes for Dave and I to eat one and freeze the rest. The half we aren't going to eat go into baking dishes/tuppeware and into the freezer! Nothing better than coming home to defrosted chili that only has to be reheated on the stove!
8. Dave does the dishes! This is my favorite part of being the main cook in our family. I do about 95 percent of the cooking, lunch packing, meal planning, grocery shopping...and Dave does a good portion of the dishes. My night is busy from the moment I get home until dinner is served, but after that, I can relax while the dishes are done by someone else! Dave prefers I do the cooking and because I do, he willingly cleans up! This makes weekend freezer sessions and hurried weeknight dinner preparation so much better to know that he's got the weeknight dishes covered!
9. Use SIMPLE recipes on weekdays. Do you want to try that fancy gourmet dinner recipe you saw in Southern Living that has 1000 ingredientsand almost as many steps? Great, do it on the weekend. A good warm meal doesn't have to be complicated to be delicious and filling. We are able to cook every night because the recipes aren't too detailed...just a few ingredients, just a few steps. If it is more complicated, I try to cook it on a weekend or atleast PREP ahead of time.
(SERIOUSLY, some of the recipes we use are really simple, like REALLY SIMPLE...but delicious! I plan on posting our "go to" simple meals tomorrow!!)
10. Have a few simple "back up" dinner options on hand. There will be nights when you get home late, nights when the recipe fails, nights when you forget you have a meeting and have to call home and say "fend for yourself" and even a couple nights a month with you just don't feel like cooking. Dave and I almost always have some fall back meal plans. We always have a frozen pizza in the fridge for emergency. We keep soup and grilled cheese makings on hand. I always have the ingredients for some type of quesadilla. And, like I admitted early, I usually have hot dogs in the fridge :)
Check back tomorrow for our favorite "go to" simple meals!!