Keep the Family Meal Alive Despite the Chaos of Back to SchoolSaturday, September 7
It’s that time of year again. By now you are likely fully entrenched in the chaos that comes with back to school. Chances are the kids have already come home from school with yet another list of supplies they need that never made it on the original list, leaving you frantically racing from store to store, chasing down those must have items. If that weren’t enough, there are soccer registration and hockey tryouts to get to. In the blink of an eye the family unit goes from leisurely summer days filled with fun and spontaneity, to rigid structure and routines that can stress even the most organized parents.
Sadly, in all of the chaos, it’s typically the family meal that suffers the most. Time around the dinner table is replaced by grab and go from the strip mall food court or take out pizza, as we frantically race from one event to another.
It doesn’t have to be that way though. With a little bit of planning and organization you can prepare delicious and somewhat nutritious meals in the same time it would take for the delivery driver to get to your door, maybe even quicker. Let me share with you a few quick tips that will make your life a whole lot easier.
1) Have a Plan
There’s an old saying that goes “fail to plan, plan to fail”, it couldn’t be more true than when it comes to planning family meals. Before anything else happens, you have to plan what you are going to eat. My wife and I try to make a habit of figuring out what we are going to eat during the week on Sunday. To this day I still remember some wise words that one of my first chefs taught me. He said that my soup of the day should never require more than 15 minutes of preparation and an hour of cooking on the stove. That same mindset should be considered when selecting your meals. Think of dishes that require little active cooking time, leaving you more time to spend with your family or attending to other important activities.
2) Have a Detailed Grocery List
It’s key to know everything you need, as well as the quantities you will need.
There is nothing worse than getting home to find you forgot something or didn’t quite have enough of something, heading back to the store just eats into your precious, so plan wisely. Also, take the time to organize your list roughly by how things are found in your grocery store. It will save you wheeling a loaded cart from end to end of the store.
3) Shop on Sunday
Don’t try to cram your shop into a half an hour after school with a baby in your arm and a little one throwing everything they can into the basket. Have your partner stay at home with the kids and give yourself a good hour just to focus on getting what you need for the whole week, including the dreaded lunches. I like early in the day on Sundays because it seems to be a quieter time of the week.
4) Preparation is Key
Here is the real make or break for your week. You can simply throw the supplies in the fridge and come home every night after a long day’s work and try to scramble to prepare a great meal, or you can get some preparation done. Look at your list of meals for the week. Is there a meat sauce on there? Why not let it simmer on a lazy weekend afternoon rather than frantically try to cook it on a weeknight? While you’re at it, why not make a quadruple batch and freeze it. How about mashed potatoes? If you peel the potatoes now and store them in water in the fridge, you’ve saved 10 minutes later in the week. What about dishes like shepherd’s pie, or meatloaf? That can be prepared in advance and then simply thrown in the oven when the first parent gets home. No pots or pans to scrub or time needed slaving over the stove. Just like meat sauce, meatloaf and shepherd’s pie freeze wonderfully, so why not make three or four of each? It just makes sense to only make the mess once and not have to do it each and every night.
5) Keep it Simple
Mealtime with the family isn’t the time to pull out your best culinary moves. It took me a while to turn off my chef brain when it came to cooking for the family. Chances are the kids aren’t interested in the two hours of preparation you went through to present them with a seven layer salad to go with dinner. They want simple, approachable meals that don’t scare them too much. Stick with items you know they will enjoy and then maybe slide or two new ingredients onto their plate as you go. You will likely find more success that way than continuing to change up the roster week in and week out. We probably have fifteen or so dishes that make it through the weeknight meal cycle in our house. They are all quite straightforward and approachable, leaving little room for disappointment.
If you follow this simple set of guidelines and spend a little more time planning and preparing in advance you can still enjoy those few precious minutes around the family dinner table that are so valuable. It’s that time that we gather around the table as family that allows us to connect as a family and forget the chaos and hectic pace of the outside world, even for a brief few minutes.
Here is an awesome and simple way to make a classic, with a little twist that will have you spending less time with an apron on and more time with the ones you love. For more great recipes like this, head to my website www.chefpaulshufelt.com and look for “meals in a hurry” for great ideas on dishes that are easy to make at home!