And then I had a baby.
I still try to cook 4-5 nights a week if I can, but I've changed how I do it. I do this for a couple of reasons. 1. It really does seem to save money (if I meal plan and shop wisely). 2. I think we eat healthier if we eat at home. 3. We live in the boonies and I'm too lazy to drive to a restuarant. 4. I've developed a system that works for me and makes it a little easier. and 5. I married a food snob (more on that later-I've got a whole other post devoted to this one).
Most nights, we usually have a main dish and at least two sides. I don't wear an apron when I cook, I almost always have a baby clinging to my ankles, and my makeup is usually smeared all over my face by dinner. Most nights I serve dinner on Dixie paper plates because I'm too lazy to wash dishes (we don't have a dishwasher). I'm not a Stepford wife or a supermom. I just developed a little system that works for us. I wanted to save some money and time, eat healthy, and look like I'm superwoman to my husband. So far, I've got him tricked ;)
My goal is always to have NO MORE than 20 minutes of prep time during my weeknight cooking. And I really like to keep it within the 10-15 minute range. That gives me more time to attend to more important matters, such as playing ninjas and smelling baby feet.
Here's how a typical weeknight workweek's (that a mouthful) meals might look:
Monday: Baked lemon fish, mac and cheese, broccoli, and 'fancy' baked potatoes.
Took all of 10 minutes to prep. Pop the fish in a baking dish, add my seasonings and toss it in the oven. Boil some water for my broccoli and (extra) macaroni, and add it to the pot. Bake my potatoes in the microwave and toss them in the oven for a couple of minutes and I'm done.
Tuesday: (Extra) Shake N' Bake chicken, macaroni (leftover from the night before), peas, and rolls. Again, no more than 10 minutes of prep. Add the seasoning to the chicken and pop it in the oven. Put some frozen peas on the stovetop, throw a couple of rolls in the oven, and heat up my macaroni. 10 minutes of prep time.
Wednesday: Chicken salads and loaded baked potatoes. Use the leftover chicken from my Shake N' Bake chicken the night before (because I made extra) and add it to a salad. Pop a couple of potatoes in the oven (if I've remembered) or the microwave (if I've forgot). Add some butter, bacon, and cheese (the stuff dreams are made of). No more than 10 minutes prep time.
Thursday: Skillet spaghetti, green beans, and Texas toast. Toss some rotini in boiling water. Fry up my hamburger meat in a skillet, add some tomato sauce and seasonings, and add the rotini to the skillet. Top with cheeses (a little twist on regular spaghetti). Add some of my canned green beans to a pot, throw some toast in the toaster, and we're good to go. 15-20 minute prep.
Friday: Leftover skillet spaghetti (if you use a whole box of rotini, this stuff makes a ton!), mashed potatoes, and salad. Here, all I've got to do is make the mashed potatoes (10-15 minute prep), and toss the salad together.
For the weekends: We usually just wing it on the weekends, meaning we'll have leftovers, make a meal, or go out to eat. I try not to cook huge on the weekends because I like to spend that time with my fellas. But if I do, I like to make a casserole or something similar so that we can eat on it during the week too. My mom cooks (like a superstar) and we usually eat with them at least twice on the weekends (didn't I tell you it was fabulous to live near your parents?!?!).
*Please note that 'prep' time differs from 'cooking' time. Prep time, to me, refers to the amount of time I spend preparing something to stick in the oven or on the stove. Once I've done that, I just periodically check on things until its done. Please also note that I still eat like a little kid. If I make some 'big boy food' I still always make myself some 'kid' food to go along with it ;)
I try to cook like this as much as possible. If my 'main' dish is going to take a little longer to prepare, I try to make easy sides (such as a can of beans, frozen peas, or a packet of brown rice). I also try to 'load' up on some of my dishes. For instance, I always try to make extra chicken, so that we can eat it on a salad the next night. I always make extra macaroni as a side for the next night, too.
I've found that if I cook in a big/little system, it stretches our food further. I cook 'big' one night (which just means I make extra of something, not that I spend an enormous amount of prep time), and then the next night I can cook 'little', meaning we could have leftover skillet spaghetti and I'll only have to make mashed pototoes. I was never really a fan of leftovers until I had PB. I still don't love leftovers, but I don't mind having one or two leftover sides.
Although I love to have variety, my main goals with my weeknight meals are to spend as little time as possible in the kitchen and still make a decent meal. So, for instance, one week we might have potatoes 3 nights a week, but I will try to alter the way I cook them (mashed, baked, roasted). Having at least one vegetable at every meal is important to us too.
I realize that these are far from gourmet meals. My goal here is not to share my ho-hum cooking skills, but rather to show you how we eat meals at home most nights of the week and how I prepare these meals quickly. This nothing fancy or nothing that's probably even blog worthy. But it works for us. I work every day. I come home tired, hungry, and missing my babies. I want to eat a good meal at my own house, and not spend a fortune. I want to fix a meal in the quickest amount of time possible and I want it to be good for us, too. I love to try new recipes and make things from scratch. Sometimes I do that on weeknights and other times I 'practice' on the weekends. But during the week, I'm most interested in saving my time and still eating at home. So far, this works for us.
Also, please know that I don't cook every single weeknight. Some nights I'm just too tired or flat out lazy or just want to watch the Bachelor. On those nights we usually pick something up or I pray that my momma has cooked a supper and has some leftovers!
By the way, I've got a post on my meal planning coming soon!
So tell me about you! Do you eat at home during the weeknights? Or mostly eat out? Any tips or tricks you have for quick and easy cooking at home?