Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Prep it up

I’ve always had trouble cooking dinner… at dinner time. This is because I’ve always been a morning person and am completely useless by 4 pm. I would be up at 6 am singing and baking bread, but when I got home from work I would just want to go straight to bed.

Despite spending my days at home now, having a child has only amplified the problem. She is a morning person too, which means when I’m tired and cranky and trying to cook, she’s tired and cranky and climbing my legs. It doesn’t mix well.

Many times my husband has come home from work to find me in tears at the thought of cooking even a simple meal. We ordered so much Thai in my daughter’s first months that they remembered our names. It was delicious, but at $30-40 a shot in a one income family it was dangerous.

I tried a few solutions. I would have Jason play music for Sera to keep her out of my way, but even the noise made me want to hide. I tried to take a quick rest before cooking, but it just made me want to keep sleeping. I tried making big batches of food and freezing them, but with our tiny fridge top freezer and our mutual dislike of frozen leftovers that idea wasn’t so popular. I wanted a fresh meal EVERY day.

Eventually I found that the easiest way to make dinner was to make it… at breakfast!

Here is how I manage….

Mix it up (obviously). I either make my seasoning mixes in big batches so I can just use them several times, or I pre-measure my spices into a small bowl in the morning.

Use the slow cooker. Chopping your food, dumping it in and turning it on is the easiest way to make dinner in the morning. I love slow cooking. It’s awesome.


Some foods just can’t be slow cooked and taste much better made fresh. This is where you need to prep it up. I have worked dinner prep down to a science these days. If it can be done in advance, I do it.

Set the stage….

For pasta, fill the pasta pot with water and put it on the stove with the package of pasta next to it.

For mashed potatoes, peel and chop your potatoes and leave them in a pot of water on the stove. If you add a splash of lemon juice the potatoes won’t brown or go bad.

For stir fries put the wok on the stove with a splash of oil inside and leave it on the stove with the lid on. Chop veggies and put them in various separate salad bowls in the fridge and chop and marinade your meat in a covered bowl in the fridge.

For casseroles or baked meat dishes mix the meat/sauce in a Pyrex dish with a lid and put it in the fridge. I love Pyrex. I wish everything I owned was Pyrex.

If a dish requires sauteed onions, chop the onions and place them in the wok with some oil, then cover the pan.

Place any canned goods you plan to use on the counter with the can opener beside them. If you are using canned beans get out your strainer and place it next to the cans of beans.

Lay any stirring utensils you need next to your pots and pans.


My sister gave me one as a gift years ago (Thanks Andrea!) and it’s my secret weapon in dinner prep.

I measure the water and put it in the cooker, chop the vegetables and put them in the steamer basket, and measure out the rice and put it in a bowl on the counter.

Steaming the veggies above the rice causes all those ‘lost’ nutrients from cooking to drip into your rice (and if your husband or child won’t eat their greens you can secretly know that they’re still getting some nutrients from the rice!).

I used to just leave it on the counter, but one very muggy summer day I went to make dinner and found my veggies covered in mould from their hot day on the counter. Now even in winter I take the pot, put the basket of veggies inside, put on the lid and put the whole thing in the fridge.

It’s show time…..

When my husband walks in the door I turn on the elements or the oven, and spend less than 5 minutes cooking (if even that). The rice cooker basket is inserted, rice is dumped into the water under the veggie steamer basket and the on switch is flicked. The wok gets meat or veggies thrown into it to flash fry. Or a casserole dish is popped in the oven. Or pasta is boiled. Or if we’re having something like stew the food is ladled right out of the slow cooker and into our bowls.

If you are not a morning person, most of this stuff can also be done the night before if you prefer. You might find you have more energy to cook for the next day, AFTER you've eaten dinner.

There are no more tears before dinner these days, and home cooked meals feel effortless. We still order Thai sometimes, but just because we feel like a treat.

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