Yesterday, Slate ran a blog post about home cooked meals that was so far off the mark, I almost believed it to be satire. The author slammed the tyranny of cooking for your family. The irony of this hyper feminist article is that the author assumes that women are always the ones who cook for the family. In some family units, that may be true. In my family, for instance, I am the primary cook because I happen to stay at home. When I worked, however, Al and I alternated evenings of cooking. We do, football season aside, sit down together as a family to eat. Al and I discussed this article last night in some depth. One of the points the author made is that it is easier to eat out. Al reminded me that when I worked, we did eat out more often. That made me think about why we did that: was it ease or simply that we had more money. Is cooking at home and sitting down as a family really that hard? From what I recall, we did eat out more when I worked because we had more money but it usually fell to the weekends. It was like a way to get out of the house. At times, I’m sure it felt easier to grab boston market. I can tell you, nothing runs up a food bill like eating out. There were also the constant concerns of whether the kiddos would make it through the meal without us needing to doggie bag it and head for the nearest exit. As a mom, I can understand tired and feeling a bit unappreciated as the family chef. Pizza Hut was on speed dial during Al’s deployment to Iraq. Seriously, they knew me like I was family. But, and it’s a big but, living in Europe the past two years has reconnected me to my inner chef. It’s reminded me that cooking isn’t always a chore and sitting down together to eat allows us to reconnect as a family. So, here are some tips to make cooking for your tribe of tyrants a little easier whether you are mom or dad or solo and managing it by your lonesome:
1. Pick a go-to dish.
Fast food isn’t as readily available here so I had to learn how to come up with something I could throw together in about 20 minutes. For me, this dish is spaghetti. I can always quick-thaw a pound of ground beef while I’m bringing the water to boil. The noodles are done in 10 minutes and the meat in about 10 as well. It’s as fast as any fast food I’ve ever bought. A thrifty tip: Hunts and Del Monte make great canned spaghetti sauces that are less than $1.50 per can.
2. Keep some staples on hand
For me, I heavily reference the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. The Olive Oil dough is almost always in my refridgerator. While the oven is preheating, I rollout my dough, slap it on the cookie sheet and top it with leftover spaghetti sauce and cheese. It takes 17 minutes to bake. You might also consider having tortillas and sandwich bread on hand. Leftover meats can make burritos or wraps. Toasted bread can serve as a platform for tuna or chicken salad.
3. Invest in a few good cookbooks
An absolute staple is Better Homes and Gardens’ New Cook Book. It has been reprinted for years. The reason is because it is solid. You get instructions on basic techniques and some very solid recipes. That cookbook is what I used at 14 to teach myself how to cook. There are also great websites like allrecipes.com which feature some inexpensive, easy options.
In short, cooking at home might take more planning but it can be just as quick as eating out. It can also be much healthier and definitely is easier on the wallet. Beyond that, sitting down together encourages a family to talk to each other. A family that communicates is much closer. How can that ever be a bad thing? Are your kids and spouse always going to appreciate what you cook? Nope. Should you turn yourself into a short order cook to placate them? Definitely not. They (within the bounds of age appropriateness) can get up and make themselves something more to their preference. They can also be gently reminded that it is an act of love for you to feed and nourish them and gratitude is the best thank you. Above all, it is certainly worth the effort because you are making memories together.