Anyone else find it challenging to cook with little ones in the house? I’m past that stage since my kids are older, but not so far past it that I’ve forgotten the challenge. Recently a Casual Kitchen reader asked how to find time for cooking when working full time and raising a one year old. Daniel asked for reader input on this issue. After starting to write a several-hundred-word comment on his blog, I realized I was actually writing a blog post, so I decided to share it here. These tips will help busy homeschooling mamas as well.
If you’re a mom of little ones, do you think that you could find 2 hours every Saturday or Sunday to devote to some projects that would make meals easier? Maybe in the afternoon during naptime? If so, here’s what I’d do:
1. Saturday morning first thing, fill up your crock pot with bone-in chicken legs and thighs and cook with a quart or so of water until the meat is tender and falling off the bones, probably about 4-6 hours.
2. When the meat is cooked, save the broth for soup and remove the meat from the crock pot. Let meat cool and remove it from the bone, cutting into bite sized pieces. This is a bit messy, but 15-20 minutes of work can net you prepped meat for 4 or more meals, so your labor is not in vain!
3. Put some of the meat into several zip-top baggies in 1-2 cup portions, depending on how heartily your family eats. This meat will make easy stir-fries later in the week.
4. Set aside two other 2-cup portions of meat. Use one portion to make a big batch of chicken enchiladas. A small family can cut my recipe in half and still get two 9×9 inch pans of enchiladas, one for next week and one to stick in the freezer for a couple weeks down the road.
5. The other portion of saved chicken can go back into the saved chicken broth from the crock pot and be the beginnings of a BIG pot of soup. Make enough for dinner tonight (maybe with cornbread or rolls?), some for later next week, AND stash a container of the soup in the freezer for a future week. (I try not to serve things more than once or twice in 7 days to keep meals more interesting.
6. After you’ve got the chicken squared away (or maybe the next day if you’ve used up all your baby’s nap time?) do something similar with a big (5-8 pound) package of ground beef. You can form some of it into a couple of meatloaves for the freezer (or maybe mini-meatloaf frozen in muffin tins?)
7. Make some meatballs to toss into spaghetti sauce, and broil them in the oven before sticking them on a cookie sheet in the freezer.
8. Then cook the last of the ground meat in a skillet with onion and garlic. Some of it can be frozen and used in beef stroganoff later next week. Spice another portion of it with taco seasoning for easy tacos on another date.
With already-prepped meat and a few meals in the freezer, your meals are going to feel so much more doable during the week. Cleanup afterward is going to be easier as well. Stick an inventory list on the side of your fridge so that you won’t forget what you have prepped. You will most likely find that prepping ahead will also save you money. There are lots of other ways to simplify your time in the kitchen, but prepping meat ahead is the FIRST one I’d do if I only had a few hours a week to devote to the project.
If you have other ideas for Daniel’s readers, will you go comment there and share them? This is definitely one of those cases where more ideas are better, because then folks can pick and choose and decide what will work for their own situations.