Crispy suckling pig from Maialino NYC/Photo by Ellen Silverman

I spent a couple days in New York last week meeting with two very good publishers, one of whom, a veteran and very smart editor, asked whether I’d thought about how busy people can actually integrate real cooking and real food into their daily lives. He wasn’t talking about the crispy pig I had at Maialino hours later. That, as you can see, is real food and real good. (Two standbys for me in NYC, where I go just to feel good, because NYC makes me all jittery and my eyes go out of sync like that Mad-eye guy in Harry Potter but not in a useful way: Bar Boulud and any one of Danny Meyer’s restaurants. It’s not just the food, it’s the service [and yes, I paid full price, even left my VISA the check fold, and they were kind enough to mail it on! It's a measure of my respect for them that I didn't even bother to put a hold on my card]. They put you at ease. And it’s not just because it’s me, it’s because that’s their business—service—and they know it.)

But I said to this veteran editor, who lives and works in books and probably doesn’t cook a lot but wants to be able to put a decent meal on the table when called upon even if the day has been crunched, “Yeah, I think about it all the time, because it’s important, and it’s not easy.” Especially in Manhattan, but they’re an unusual case—most people live like me—that is, not in LA or NYC.

Mainly it’s a matter of planning ahead, just like anything else. If you’re not a plumber and the toilet’s leaking, you don’t just go in there and wing it. It takes some planning and some work. But in the kitchen, after you do it once, it just gets easier and easier. You need a few techniques, five or ten, maybe twenty if you’re ambitious, and the ability to make a list of stuff to buy ahead of time. That’s it.

But this editor was obviously on to something. People like him do want to know.

Having hours to kill at Newark, waiting for my direct United Airlines flight to CLE, I read most of Peter Kaminsky’s fine book published this week called Culinary Intelligence.

Peter, a fellow jack-of-all-trades—fly-fisher, cook, ghostwriter, television producer, author, etc.—eats as part of his occupation and found himself, in later middle age, getting plump, and not liking it. In the book he talks about being smart about food, thinking sensibly about cooking and eating. Getting middle-aged and plump myself, it was my kind of book (the subtitle says it all). And for parents who want to raise food-thoughtful kids who eat real food, there’s this, from the publisher I met with before I met with the aforementioned: French Kids Eat Everything.

Well, when it comes to matters of sexuality and food, DKS aberrations excluded, the French know how to live. Again, the subtitle says it all. It’s not a cookbook, it’s a thoughtful book.

Thoughtful readers, I’d love to hear from you. What are your strategies for integrating real food and real cooking into your lives? Donna and I live and work at home, so we’ve got it easy. I’d love to hear from couples of families where the partners both work outside the home. How do you do it? In fact, I’m so interested in this subject, if I get more than 50 comments, I’ll choose one at random and send you a signed copy of Ruhlman’s Twenty (or any book of mine you’d like). Seriously, this is really important to me. (Update: 50 comments have been surpassed so one lucky commenter is going to get that signed copy of the book. Comments must be posted by 8 a.m. tomorrow, 5/4, and only U.S. readers are eligible, sorry!)

So glad to be out of NYC. But all of it—Meyer and Boulud, two smart publishers, two smart authors, a country hungry to make good, delicious choices—it makes me hopeful. Just nobody make me go to Skyline Chili in Lyndhurst with Bourdain again, please.

If you liked this post on April in NYC, check out these other links:

© 2012 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2012 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved.

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161 Wonderful responses to “Culinary Intelligence—An Emerging Trend?”

  • MarkR

    Here’s what we do:

    Go shopping once per week.
    On Sunday all the dinners are planned for the week. We check the weather forcast and the calendar to make sure we don’t make any faux pas, such as baking in 90 degree heat, or trying to make a complicated meal on a day where we both are scheduled to work late. A list is created, then divided up by areas of the store (Veggies, Dairy, Meat, etc.) I do that for two reasons– primarily so I am not backtracking all over the store, but also as a reality check: if my Dairy list is longer than my Veggies list, I know something’s out of whack with the planned meals.

    When we buy food, we stick to items in which the ingredients are knowable and make sense. (Corn syrup in dill pickles? No thanks! Same with powdered cellulose and mold inhibitor in cheese.)

    Then, once home, it’s prep time. Veggies get washed. Cheese gets shredded. It takes surprisingly little time.

    Once we’re at that level, the weekday meals are fairly quick to make. And, despite buying more “foofy” food– my word for foods in the Organic/Whole foods section, our shopping bill has actually gone down.

    Another strategy is to plan multi-meal dinners. So day 1 (Sunday) is a slow roasted chicken. And then make and freeze chicken broth. Day two might be a chicken pot pie, or chicken pasta. Any day 3 leftovers might go into lunches.

  • Wendi @ Bon Appetit Hon

    My strategy is that I plan our meals in advance and shop for what I need to execute the plan. On the weekends, I cook with an eye to having leftovers that can either be frozen or used as a “freebie” dinner during that next week.

  • Larry Lootsteen

    It is beyond important to plan. I’m home more than my wife so I do most of the cooking. I make lists of meals first, then ingredients to build the next week’s shopping list. And the key is sticking to it. Too easy to pick up the phone.

    I also spend my time poking around on Twitter (I made your mayo last weekend and it blew both my and my families mind. So simple yet so good) for new recipes, ingredients, combinations.

    In a busy week a slow cooker can be your best friend. Prep the night before and turn it on in the morning. Dinner’s ready when you are back.

    It doesn’t always work out. It isn’t always easy. I am not a chef and I make lots of mistakes, overcook, forget a key ingredient. I just don’t let that stop me. You end up with a standard slate of dishes. I get lazy and then things get boring. Then something sparks my interest and gets me motivated for new.

    That is just the reality. We live in this fantasy world of chefs as foodies (or should I say foodoisie!) but the reality is that few of us can afford a) the time and b) the cost of the premier ingredients.

    I pick up a little something – a truffled salt, some really good smoked paprika or whatever, when I can. That gives a little extra oomph to what can often be the same old, same old.

    Anyway, my thoughts…

  • Jake Anderson

    My wife and I both work full-time, and we have a 4 year old. She is gone from about 7:30am-5:30pm. I work from home and my office (about 10 minutes away) with pretty flexible hours.

    For us, it’s all about having a plan. Every Sunday we write down 5 meals we want to make (considering what supplies we have left from the last trip that are perishable) the following week. We usually eat out once a week and have left-overs once.Then we check our supplies and make a grocery list. We used to buy bulk and frozen once a month.

    Since we’ve been going once a week we can buy fresh food and get perishable ingredients (like fresh herbs). This allows us to be much more creative in the kitchen, and it actually saves us money. We eat better and healthier. We make an effort to stick with our plan because we bought the ingredients and don’t want them to go to waste. That keeps us accountable. We also try to make sure a few of the meals are quick and easy to prepare to prevent week night cooking overload. Occasionally, we will even cook a couple of dishes on Sunday that can be left in the refrigerator and warmed up later in the week. It’s all about making an effort to get it done.

    Overall, committing to a plan and sharing cooking/clean-up duties is what works for us. It only takes an hour of our weekend to plan/shop. I recommend that people find what works for them, learn a few simple techniques, and stick to a plan.

  • Eric Salinas

    My girlfriend and I both work about 45 minutes from our home and eat great! I get off of work around 4 and am home by like 5-530 which allows me to stop at the store to grab some things for dinner. I definitely agree with the premise of PLANNING, its so important because it gives you a plan of attack so when you get home you can start making that delicious meal. Great food doesn’t take rocket science or genius culinary talent, it’s all about great ingredients, having your prep in order then doing the cooking! One of my go-to meals during the week is either a roast chicken w/ some veg (asparagus, carrots, the sky’s the limit) or a grilled piece of meat with a fresh salad. I love to making big meals but during the week I don’t have time so i try to keep dinner simple. It’s so much more satisfying having a great home cooked meal then ordering out. Keep cooking people!!!!!

  • Dan

    It’s simple. We do 90% of our shopping and cooking on the weekend and eat very very well on the bounty of that work during the week.

  • @hadleywright

    It’s all about leftovers. That is, cooking things that work well for lunch the next day or dinner the next couple of nights. That way I don’t run out and buy and sandwich for lunch or come home so hungry that I feel the need to pick up a burrito or something…

  • Jamie Samons

    For us (no kids but we each work 60+ hours a week), it’s a mixture of (1) plan, plan, plan — cook up a bunch of stuff on the weekends and live off leftovers; (2) use the pantry — some nights it’s going to be pasta with anchovies and capers or an omelette; (3) pizza delivery on speed dial — a really crap day will mean ordering a pie and eating it while we sit on the living room floor (these are often my favorite nights).

  • TheSlats

    During the week we live and die by stir fry. On the weekend I make up our sauces and anything that we can keep for a week. When we get home it is easy enough to chop things up and toss in the sauce.

  • Julie T

    My three tips are (household of 3)

    1) Cook big on Sunday. By that I mean a very large roast something (bone-in pork loin roast.. I get the ribs and I don’t share , 2-3 chickens are go-to’s) or a big casserole or stew type dish (chili is a favorite) which can be switched up all week long quickly.
    2) Make a soup on Sunday to have as alternate meal (soup and salad) to also mix it up during the week…. also freeze in small containers to take to work for lunch with a hunk of bread or crackers.
    3) Salad Base – Lettuce (washed and spun dry), shredded carrot, chopped broccoli, bell pepper, red onion layered in a shallow and wide pasta bowl (mine is about 3″ high by about 14″ diameter) that fits on the bottom drawer of my fridge. Layer of paper towel in the bottom, layer of paper towel on top covered in plastic wrap (or be more green and use large kitchen towel). Stays fresh for 7-9 days but is usually eaten before that. Use this as a base to add other things (leftover roast, tuna salad, chicken salad, hard or soft cooked eggs and prosciutto, etc) to make dinner salads quickly.

  • Jason W. Hamner

    This comes at a good time since I’ve been eating out non-stop lately and feeling very guilty about it (and plump).

    We’re only two people, so no complications with regards to feeding children… an omnivore and a vegetarian… live and work in Boston/Cambridge with one car (hers). We have slightly different strategies though both involve heavy use of leftovers. Usually I cook one or two big (meaty) things during the week, while she will cooks tons of small things throughout the week that she can mix and match for a meal. In addition we try to cook for each other or together (obviously all vegetarian) when we can, but that’s probably not as much as we should… usually cooking together happens on the weekend.

    Luckily for me I walk by a good quality butcher (though expensive) and a grocery store (and farmer’s market in season) on my way home from work, so I can do my shopping on a meal by meal basis. Anna on the other hand, will take the car and make big trips for a whole week or more. I find my way a lot easier, but it’s not very efficient… and not practical for most I would imagine. What she does is print out every recipe she likes from the food blogs and food sections of newspapers, while also marking recipes from cookbooks and puts them all in a pile. When she’s ready to go to the store she goes through them and picks out good ones and makes her grocery list.

  • Reuben Varzea

    I think planning is key. I have a full time job, and my wife works part time. But, the greatest caveat for us is we have a four-month old. Therefore, our world revolves almost entirely around her! We need to care for ourselves too, though, so planning is one of the main thing that helps us to be sure to eat (and eat well). We also use a divide and conquer strategy. Not putting it all on one person is extremely important.

    Another thing that is important to us is getting together with other folks that like to cook. It helps us because we can learn new tricks from them, and maybe impart a little knowledge of our own.

  • Meghan

    Both my husband and I work and we have a 4-month old daughter and my younger brother is living with us while he gets settled in Atlanta. My husband often works out of town but I do work one day a week from home and my in-laws live close by. We have dinner at home 6 nights a week and I also take lunch to work each day. Oh, and I have a culinary degree.

    Just like you said – it takes some planning and some fortitude, but it doesn’t take nearly the time most people think. I grocery shop and hit the farmers markets on Saturday. I usually plan 3-4 meals and then pick up a few staple things that help make some of our go-tos. I pretty much always roast a chicken and cook a (crock)-pot full of beans. I make a bean/grain/veggie salad – and we eat the roast chicken in various forms throughout the week. All of this probably take about 3 hours of active time on the weekend, but helps me throw together meals in a few minutes during the week. If I have extra time one weekend I cook more beans and freeze them or make stock and freeze it. I try to help my future self out as much as possible.

    I keep a bag of shrimp in the freezer, along with edamame and peas. I keep good bacon, eggs, and parmesan on hand. We can have “carbonara” any night of the week. Shrimp and grits and breakfast for dinner are in regular rotation.

    I recently read Tamar Adler’s Everlasting Meal and it was a good reminder that or what real good food and cooking is. It doesn’t mean you have crispy pig every night. It means sometimes you have leftover take out rice fried in some bacon fat with greens and a fried egg. I think we need to re-adjust our cultural thinking of what good food means.

  • LisaM

    My strategy is similar to MarkR’s second option. We shop for the coming week over the weekend and then I cook something a little more elaborate on Sunday. This meal on Sunday is prepared with the intention of making that last through at least Wednesday night in various incarnations. While we are not eating strictly leftovers during the week, our meal prep time is cut down considerably because I loath cooking during the week. Our evenings are simply too hectic for that to be a realistic scenario.

  • Laurie

    Advance planning. I get veggies from the CSA on Wednesdays. There’s a small farmers market near my office on Thursdays and I usually go to the grocery store on Saturdays. I keep my list on my iPhone so it is always with me and updated.

    I bake bread and make pancakes on the weekends so we usually have toast or pancakes for breakfast. Or oatmeal.

    Weekday lunches are either leftovers from supper or salads/soup/sandwiches. And my husband and I usually buy our lunch one or two days a week. Weekend lunches are eggs or soup or out.

    Weekday suppers are grilled or crockpot meals or old stand-bys I can make in my sleep. Weekend suppers may be a little more complicated or something new.

    And, like this week, sometimes nothing goes as planned and I improvise!

  • Trase Passantino

    We have a pretty unique situation: my husband and I own a small farm. We started three years ago when I was downsized out of my job in the IT field, and we wanted to improve our own food supply. It started with vegetable gardening, and then the chickening occurred about a year later, and now we have dairy goats and ducks, too. My husband still works in IT off-farm. In addition to running the farm, I also have a part-time job writing “J, Peterman Style” copy for chicken coops for a poultry supply company. So needless to say, we are busy folk! My strategies include planning, of course, but also, the crockpot, and making things like soups and stews so that it’s relatively low-interaction on my part, but also, there are usually leftovers, either for lunch or dinner in the days following. I’m also a big fan of my cast-iron cookware. I can dredge some cubed up pork (country ribs, often) in a dry rub and have that cooked up in a few minutes – I get rice cooking in another pot along with some veggies, and dinner is on the table within about 45 minutes start to finish. We have been challenged lately because my husband has been working a LOT of overtime with his new job, and so there has been quite a bit of eating stuff that comes through a window (thankfully, neither The King, The Clown, nor The Colonel, but still…it’s not home cooking!). But I’m determined to get that crockpot out and then it doesn’t matter when dinner needs to be served, it just bubbles away until we’re ready. Ha!

  • Hema

    My husband and I are both full time attorneys, which doesnt leave us much time to prepare elaborate meals after work. I agree that planning is the key compnent. I go to the Shaker Sq. farmers market every saturday morning. Based on what I get there, on Sunday I plan the menu for the week and buy whatever additional supplies I’ll need.
    In addition to planning, I think the best thing new cooks should do is learn to make the types of easy dishes that have endless variations – e.g., tacos/quesadillas, stir fry, hot/cold salads. That way you can quickly improvise with, say, some leftover snow peas or broccoli.
    Just as with working out, inertia can be difficult to overcome. But once people incorprate a few fresh meals here and there, they will grow accustomed to the routine.

  • marcella

    While I have it easy now working at home I spent quite a few years as a working in an office single mom. I used to employ a combination of planning, weekend prep and the freezer. Shopping on the weekend for ingredients followed (during cartoon watching for the kidlet) with prepping ingredients like washing produce along with making a batch or two of things for later in the week – a big batch of red sauce could be frozen in bags for quick pasta meals and some turned into pans of lasagna also into the freezer for future dinners. Ingredients could be prepped for a slow cooker meal or two and stored in the fridge or freezer and just put into the slow cooker on the way out the door in the morning. After work it was easy to make a salad and steam or sauté some veggies that were washed and ready in the crisper. Oh, and baked potatoes made using the time bake feature on the oven were a treat as well.

  • John Kealing

    My wife and I both work. We have one daughter still at home and one son who lives close. Depending on who will be at the house for meals, we plan meals both in advance and short term (surprise guests for dinner on short notice).

    The challenge is that I have a restricted diet due to a recent diagnosis, my wife is on a diet (son getting married soon), our duaghter is a picky eater, and our son has been to culinary school and critiques everything his mother buys.

    We try and eat healthy (chicken, turkey, fish) as much as possible. Our daughter is a part time vegetarian so we have a lot of vegetables with our meals. My wife plans meals based on her work schedule. If she works early, she plans more elaborate meals that take more prep and more time to cook. If she is working late, she plans meals that are easy to prepare and cook in a short amount of time.

    On a regular basis, we have surprise visitors for dinner. My wife keeps extra ingredients on hand and we have a good grocery store less than 5 minutes away. I have to admit that I enjoy pork products more than the rest of the family. My wife and daughter enjoy asian more than I do. My wife will also coordinate meals based on whether I am in town (I travel for my job quite often) or whether our daughter will be home for dinner.

    We constantly plan our meals based on the items listed above. We toss the plan out on occasion depending on who shows up for dinner unannounced or on short notice ( we also have a daughter away at college who comes home on short notice). The meals are based on who will be there, who is working, food preference, and time of year (we also grill out when possible). Hope that helps your process.

  • Mark S. (@_Mark_S)

    With two young kids, over the past year, we have made a very deliberate effort to start them on healthy eating habits. One thing that we have started to do lately, as Spring has arrived, is to always have a plate of raw vegetables in the center of the table as we have dinner together. Allowing them to chose to eat the colorful veg has proven more successful to getting them to eat vegetables than plating them for them. This take little time or effort and frees us up to spend more effort cooking proteins and whole grains. We plan our meals at least a day in advance and, if we know that we’ll be cutting it close, we’ll cook grains and braise meat the day before, allowing us to simply warm the food and serve. If we have time, we’ll grill or roast.
    The best part about this is that we can involve the kids in the cooking and meal prep process because it is not just unwrap and microwave. They can peel, measure, and stir. The kitchen becomes a spot where we can interact not a place to stay away from.

  • Kay J

    We are now both retired, but we live in a rural area with no local grocery store so the plan is much the same as when we worked. We shop once a week for pantry staples. By living in the country, we buy locally during the summer for vegetables and fruits. There is a local butcher/meat locker 30 minutes away, so we plan ahead to buy our meats and poultry. Once a week, we travel an hour to the Italian Market for our specialty items there, and twice a week we travel to the wholesale fish market for fresh fish. When we worked, many of these trips were on the way home, and planning ahead was the thing – we just ate much later than we do now. And we keep insulated bags and coolers in our Jeeps at all times. I still make as much ahead of time as possible, and often make a double recipe and freeze things for another meal. And because we’re in the Dairy State, the local cheese merchants offer us many tempting things that we enjoy! So, by living in the Midwest countryside, we are able to buy much of the things that most people have to buy in specialty stores, virtually from our neighbors the minute it’s harvested. Happy joy!

  • Skip

    I work at home in NYC. I make most meals from scratch usually for two people. Living in an apartment I can’t do the grilling stuff (indoor grilling is a smoke alarm disaster!) I don’t grow vegetables and herbs. But there are some pretty fine street markets.

    I do a bit of curing and pickling (bacon, salmon, vegetables), stove-top smoking with my Cameron unit, and I even do sous vide meats, poultry and seafood. I shop daily or every other day. There are many small specialty stores for ingredients as well as a couple of supermarkets.

    Even though there are some fabulous bakeries in Manhattan, I will make the dessert myself – maybe once a week – gotta keep those baking skills practiced! I always share with my neighbors when I bake! Creates good will and a narrower waist line.

  • Susan Rizzi

    I am currently on weight-watchers so I have the added task of tracking what I eat each day. Getting the most taste, nutrition and hunger satisfying meals can be done but it takes planning. If you don’t have a plan, you are going to fall back on convenience foods. Buying the best looking veggies at the market and prepping them on the weekend is key . I like to make stock from the carcass of a roasted chicken during the week – it’s really no extra work to simmer that for an hour after dinner while you are watching tv and the you have a wonderful base for recipes or soup – throw it in the freezer in zip-lock bags. The common thread is preparation for the week is essential – even knowing if you are planning on eating out so you can pack a lighter lunch for that day.

  • Mark D. Sawyer, M.D.

    My wife and I are (if I do say so myself) gourmet-level cooks and foodies. We are also both working hard at being fit and healthy.

    We eat lower carb most of the time, and have much smaller portions of carbs when we do have them, and allow ourselves indulgences so we don’t feel deprived or that we’re “missing out”.

    Like many others here, we do a lot of cooking on the weekends when we have the time to spend on it as well as prepare healthy fare for the week so it’s ready for us in the evenings after busy work days and heads off making poorer food choices.

    We made a conscious decision to turn our cooking talents towards making healthier food taste awesome. Some examples are stovetop smoked salmon; long braising times for flavor, tenderness, and defatting meats; lettuce wraps instead of sandwiches; nicoise style salad with fresh seared tuna and just a few tiny potato fingerlings; grill when we can…the list goes on. When we have something you just can’t substitute for, like duck fat fried potatoes, we have small portions.

  • john phipps

    Plan? Not so much. I like to buy what is in season, and that changes week to week. Saturday mornings I head downtown to Pike Place market to visit my veggie monger. I take my time and browse the stall. Buy my regular staples. Talk with the staff to see what is new this week, what I should try, what I should avoid. Once my baskets are full, it is off to the butcher shop to purchase meats.

    Sunday morning I clean and prep veggies and meats for use. Package the veggies that need cooked in the sous vide and drop that to cook. If meats need smoke, they go in the smoker. If destined for the sous vide, meats get vac bagged and go in after the veggies are done.

    Daily stops at the grocery store on the way home from work provide the rest of the supplies. Salads, eggs, milk, breads. Having most veggies already cooked sous vide means reheat and finish. Smoked meats get warmed thru and seared. Fresh meats get cooked as needed. I consider my kitchen time cheap therapy!

  • Jeff

    We could not do it without planning. My wife and I both work, we have two children, she handles the morning shift so I can get in earlier and I handle the evening shift so she can work later. Every Sunday morning, I make a weekly menu and put it on the fridge, then make my grocery list and me and my youngest son (age four) head to the store to shop for the week, he loves going to the store with me and it has turned into a great way to have some one on one time but more importantly, teach him about food as he asks questions about everything especially the “strange” looking vegetables which has allowed me to buy them, cook them, and have him try them.

    So our night time ritual is I feed the kids and by the time they are done and we have cleaned up my wife arrives home, takes care of baths/etc. and I begin preparing our dinner. While I understand how important it is to eat as a family, it is just not possible for us on weeknights, but every Sunday, that is the night for all of us to eat together.

  • Teri

    This post just came at the perfect time. After 10 years of working from home I am going back to full time work outside of the home and have been worrying about how I can make this all work.

  • Ed

    The wisdom of having a few reliable techniques keeps being made clear by the pressure of trying to get something good and healthy on the table on a weeknight.

    We keep a fairly standard collection of fresh produce in the fridge that pairs up with whatever protein we have ready (farmer’s market pork and chicken, usually). We try to keep the pantry well-stocked with pasta, beans, canned tomatoes, etc. And, probably most important, I keep stock (and Bourdain-style ersatz demi-glace) ready for pan sauces.

    But, the techniques are the most important component–with them, it’s a lot easier and faster to get real food on the table.

  • Rob

    Like many of the others, cook a big meat based meal on Sunday, such as roast chicken or pork, then use that in other things throughout the week. I buy what’s fresh at the farmer’s market, and after having done this a while have a good feel for how much I need. I have a variety of starchy type items, like quinoa, pasta, rice, cornmeal, etc…, and I prepare this with some of the produce at my whim, whatever sounds good. I also almost always have cooked beans on hand that can be thrown in, or made into their own salad with added veggies. I find that I use less seasonings and fancy stuff because the produce itself is already so flavorful, being local, fresh, and naturally/organically grown.

  • Jim Amos-Landgraf

    I am not going to state what has been stated already. of course planning is key, but planning always has a way of getting lost unless you truly anal. Luckily we have jobs that allow some flexibility, so I usually go to work early and then leave early to get the kids. IF I had planned something I can work on either finishing the dish or preparing dinner while the kids do their homework. Better yet, have them help me! If planning has gone out the window, this gives us the opportunity to stop at our favorite market and put together a meal as a family, of course with some of my input.
    Having my kids involved in the preparation I think is key to their heathy life style. I have them help out all the time, as frustrating as it can be sometimes. They started by making easier dishes like salad and have moved up to using the oven and stove with me. I think this not only is a benefit to me (most of the time) but it gives them a repertoire of foods they know and use. Now that they are in middle and high school I can come home and they have actually prepared healthy meals for themselves!
    I think having a few favorite go-to dishes that are healthy, everyone knows how make them, and that you change change up are very helpful. Have a good sauce dish, like a curry or even and fresh italian tomato sauce that you can add whatever is around or in season into is very helpful.

  • Nina

    My husband and I both work FT. I have the type of job that occasionally requires an entire month of overtime, like the back to back 80 hour weeks I just finished up at the end of April. I’m also somewhat active in my true passion, theater, regularly participating in at least 2 recurring monthly theater gigs and other events that fly by and don’t require too much time committment, like table reads of new works, benefit performances, and occasionally getting to SEE stuff my friends perform in as well. The way we make it work is a combination of buying the best “fast” stuff we can (I do NOT mean fast food) and a weekly dedication to shopping and cooking, which requires hours of my time and involves driving far away to either farms or stores that stock local products like the Mustard Seed. My toddler turns 3 in a couple of weeks, and while he’s not the best grocery shopper, he REQUIRES that you let him unload the bags from the store so he can name each item. “Oooh, olives!” he will exlaim excitedly. “Cucumber!” “Onions!” (yes, he is excited about all food). The “quick” items are things like Niman Ranch and Applegate Farms meats of all varieties, the latter is a staple in my son’s daily packed lunch, Ezekial breads (I just am NOT a baker. I even screwed up boxed Dr. Oetker organic muffin mix last week), Cascadian Farms frozen veg (quick side in the microwave, or throw into soup), and sometimes prepared deli foods from Mustard Seed, where they use as few ingredients as possible, and nothing terribly processed. The crock pot is my friend (tonight – polenta for tomorrow’s dinner). I sometimes have to start roasting a chicken at 8:30pm, like I did last night, so it’s ready for tomorrow’s dinner. It takes dedication and practice. And sometimes, giving up on being perfect and ordering pizza.

  • Kathy Brophy

    Planning is key. I like to plan my meals Sunday morning, grocery shop and spend Sunday prepping and cooking. But, I have weekends where I’m winding down Sunday night and haven’t even thought about what I’m going to do during the week. I’m teaching my daughter, who is about to move out on her own, how to eat healthy also. When I can’t plan or for those nights that I’m just too tired to cook a nice meal, I have a frig and freezer full of back ups. I have eggs and vegies in the freezer for a quick omelet. I have chicken and vegies for a quick stir fry. I have salad fixins’, provided I didn’t forget about the greens that have now turned brown. And I try to have lots of leftovers from those nights when I can leisurely make a nice dinner. I always intend to plan and cook ahead but I make sure I have lots of backups for those times when I’m rushed (or forgot to plan for the time to plan).

  • Kellie

    Planning is ideal, yes, as many above have said. But with a husband working 50+ hours per week, working 30+ hour per week myself and caring for a 10 month old, sometimes my brain cannot plan. That doesn’t mean that we can’t eat well on busy nights. A 5 minute stop at the local grocery store to pick up a bunch of kale and some bacon, some bonelss pork chops-badaboom-dinner. Takes a half hour from start to finish. Easy. I think people, myself included sometimes, think that eating well has to be some multi-step, 4 course affair. Not so. Coming into spring in NW Michigan means farm-stand asparagus and steaks on the grill. Nothing more needed besides salt and pepper, maybe a pat of butter.

  • Todd Enyart

    A simple change in our food/shopping philosophy and the commitment to stick with it were the most important decisions at my house. Now the grocery list is composed of ingredients rather than food. We look for inspiration to find something that we want to cook rather than something we simply want to eat.
    We joined a local food co-op that doesn’t give us a specific choice concerning what we get. Fruits and veggies with a few options such as organic or a theme pack that usually coincides with an upcoming holiday; but that’s it. If a new veggie that I’ve never used before shows up I’m left with two choices; waste it or plan a dish/meal around it.

  • James R. Gordon

    I have two little Moleskine notebooks that help my cooking immensely. The first one is an “address book” that I put helpful basic ratios and recipes for go-to dishes and sauces (e.g., vinaigrette, hollandaise, aioli, etc.). This is really helpful for not having to hunt through several dozen cookbooks trying to find a recipe. I’ve put the best of Ruhlman’s The Elements of Cooking and Ratio in that book and use it often. The second is a small lined notebook in which I have lists of food ideas that I get while surfing the Internet (e.g., came across a great barbacoa recipe last week, so it went in the book), reading Twitter, and eating out (e.g., my wife and I had a fabulous dish of ramps, marcona almonds, and romesco sauce at The Publican in Chicago several weeks ago, so I put the dish in my notebook and made it myself the next week with a filet of cheap pan-roasted Whitefish on top…amazing!). I also list seasonal standbys such as pasta with morel cream sauce, rhubarb crumble, and asparagus for early spring. This gives me a reference to come back to each year and keeps us in the flow of the seasons.

    So, this week in our house, it looked something like this. We go shopping on Sunday afternoon, and Sunday evening I make simple lunch dish to get us through the first couple of days of the week. I made a quick masala curry with some basmati rice that lasted us through Tuesday. I had some leftover marcona almonds from the ramp dish the previous week, a chicken breast in the freezer from a dish I made earlier in the month, and some dried cherries from making the tart cherry mustard in Ruhlman’s Charcuterie. So, I looked in my notebook and had a quick template for a chicken salad into which I added the almonds and dried cherries. This is today’s lunch. We typically plan to have a fish and vegetable one or two nights a week, some kind of meat one night a week, a salad one night a week, and some kind of grain (pasta, rice, quinoa, etc.) the final night. Then we do something a little more special on Saturday. Sunday night is wine, cheese, and charcuterie night.

    The bottom line is that it takes preparation and planning. However, once you invest in taking the time to stock your freezer and pantry and to plan meals in some way, you will be less inclined to say “Let’s just go out tonight.” In that way, you’ll save money while at the same time eating healthier, better-tasting food!

  • Jeff

    We have a few strategies that serve us well. We have two kids, ages 3 and 1. On weeknights by the time we get home from work the kids are hungry so we try to make sure we have food that can be made fast. On weekends we take it slow and have more involved dinners like roasted chicken, cassoulet, homemade pasta sauce, long-smoked BBQ.

    On Sunday night will boil pasta so we have it on hand for the kids and sometimes for us for a quick meal. We also try to make a braised meal (stews, pot roast, etc), a casserole type dish (enchiladas, lasagna, etc) or a soup on Sunday for dinner on Monday and Tuesday. That sort of stuff always tastes better the second day anyways.

    Monday we usually eat what we prepared on Sunday or we will just make a quick pasta dish with jarred sauce and a nice salad.

    Tues and Wed we try to have simple stuff that can be cooked within 30 mins – grilled sausages, grilled burgers, tacos (using leftovers from roasted chicken, steaks, etc from Sunday dinner or with fish or shrimp), steaks, etc.

    Thursday is usually pizza night. I’ll make Jim Lahey’s no-knead dough (or Ina Garten’s grilled pizza dough) the night before and have it ready to go. All I have to do is roll it out, top it, and either cook it in the oven or on the grill.

    Friday we tend to go out or get carryout fish fry or Chinese. If we don’t do that, I’ll try and stop and get some fish or shrimp.

    I think the key when you have kids is to plan your meals a week at a time but be flexible. If you can do your prep work the night before it makes cooking the next night go so much more smoothly. Like for pizza night I’ll have the toppings all cut up and put them in a ziploc container the night before so they are ready to go.

    Also even though we try and avoid eating too many prepared meals, I will admit to buying some frozen pizzas and frozen meals in a bag like PF Changs, Bertolli pasta dishes, or one of many items from Trader Joes. Sometimes its nice to just have something that takes no effort, especially after a long day.

  • Bill McBride

    We also go shopping once a week. We do hit some of the local farms for eggs and occasionally chicken or beef. We buy all of our lunch items for the entire week along with fruit and yogurt to make smoothies every morning for breakfast.

    Dinners on Saturdays and sundays are days where I am more creative with my cooking. During the winter months these could be days for stews (carbonnade, osso buco, bourgingone), soups, or braises. These dishes can usually span at least two evenings. Summer months could include smoked ribs or pork shoulder. Red meat or fish are a staple on Saturdays and sundays. A nice roast chicken ala Keller’s appearance on No reservations’ techniques special is another staple on the weekend.

    Monday through friday we stick to a recipes that use easily prepped ingredients like chicken breasts, pork chops, or ground beef (rarely).

    I grill spice rubbed chicken breast, make chicken or pork milanese, make chicken or pork tacos without that yellow envelop of crap. We usually have pasta once a week. We grow tomatoes to make and freeze sauce or I make carbonara. Sides usually include lots of green beans, broccoli, or asparagus all steamed. We usually have steamed mashed sweet potatoes.

    Being organized isn’t my speciality, but I am usually able to keep the food my family eats well at hand.

  • Jason Parsons

    We don’t plan meals ahead. I come home from work and then go to the store, putting together a meal from what’s available and what we feel like eating each day. Unless it’s pasta, it usually gets cooked on the grill. I have a few simple techniques that can apply to a variety of meats and vegetables, so we don’t get bored. Total time is usually about an hour to prepare a meal, but actual hands on time is more like 20 minutes. My wife puts our twin girls to bed while I cook dinner for us and then we eat.

    We use all fresh ingredients with minimal processing to prepare them. Lots of grilled corn, grilled veggie salads, baked potatoes, steak salad, pork chops, shrimp, fish. Sometimes we make soda bread, but most times I will grab a french loaf from the bakery that was made that day.

  • Landen

    I’ve adopted Tamar Adler’s practice of “roasting vegetables for the week, all at once” which she describes in An Everlasting Meal, chapter 3, How to Stride Ahead. I tie this practice to my weekly visit to a local farmer’s market. Having jars filled with roasted veggies in the refrigerator really does help to stride ahead at mealtime.

    I also grow vegetables in a backyard garden, and put up some of what we grow. There are a times during the year when the gardening and canning demands a fair amount of work. But once the work is done we get a surprising amount of food for very little effort.

    These food related activities take time, but it is often less than a round of golf, or a shopping trip, or a sporting event, or any of the other leisure activities with which people, who complain of having no time, fill their time. Growing, storing, and cooking food is central to my life, and the time spent on food precludes some other idle passions, but it’s a trade I’m glad to make.

  • Karen

    For us (family of 4 – two working parents, a 3 years and infant), like many above, planning is the key. As with many, the bulk, if not entirety, of the shopping happens Saturday morning. This allows us to buy fresh ingredients to use in the biggest meals for prep (Sat/Sun dinners).

    I use a spreadsheet that includes around 4-5 meals for the week but not tied to days, so circumstances and energy levels might dictate which meal for which day. Anything more than 5 meals leads to buying ingredients that don’t get used and/or too many leftovers to consume in time.

    The spreadsheet has 4 main functions (all printed on one page, so nothing crazy here).
    1. list of anticipated meals
    2. list of groceries to buy for said meals and replacing standard items. It also may include notes for anything not from the grocery store.
    3. A grid of meal planning for my daughter – primarily to make sure that we have good stuff to send with her for breakfast and lunch at day care and for dinner if that night’s meal won’t be ready before bedtime
    4. list of an ‘extras’ to be made – e.g., make a batch of vegetables to freeze in small baggies and send to day care as needed.

    The list, once used for shopping, goes on the fridge as a reference in the crazy grabbing of food items for the day for everyone in the morning and to help the first parent home in gathering stuff for dinner.

    Karen

  • iliana

    Ironically, it’s being financially poor most of my life which has contributed the most to my incredibly rich & healthy diet. Also, living in the boonies of Vermont. Not having a lot of money means I need to be thrifty in sourcing my food, which prompted me, many years ago, to start growing the majority of the veggies that I eat.

    Early years spent traveling the globe also prompted me to grow my own simply because most of the local supermarkets, even now, carry a narrow range of the world’s vegetables, and if I want to eat radicchio, fava beans, Chinese chives, Principe Borghese tomatos, bitter melon, Danish asparagus potoes –I need to grow them myself. Also, growing my own produce means I’m insulated against the distressing economics of a food that sudden becomes trendy or hip and subsequently shoots up in price.

    An advantage to living in Vermont, which has a rich food-growing/raising tradition, is that I can source a good deal of my meat from either barter or my butchery apprenticeship, and by hunting & fishing, and by the excellent Vermont tradition of the game warden’s Road-Kill-Deer list. Nothing more organic than 80 lbs of venison harvested from a deer which might otherwise end up in a landfill. I make at least %75 of my cured meat (bacon, sausage, salumi, simple little hams, etc.).

    All of the above means that I tend to eat less meat, but better meat.

    A key to my cooking healthy is that I almost always cook with actual ingredients: carrots, potatoes, peas, pork, trout (that I catch). There are a few exceptions: I don’t press my own olive oil (like I did when I lived at a monastery in Italy) or churn my own butter. Much. From a lifetime of reading food labels, I steer clear of ready-made anything. I’m not militant about it, but I prefer popcorn to crackers (or I make my own crackers) and I’d rather make cookies than buy them. I make all my own bread. In general I prefer to keep a close eye on exactly how much sugar, salt, and fat are in my food. I love sugar, salt, and fat, but I believe the majority of ready-made foods are ridiculously over salted, sweetened, and fatty, and I prefer to use them judiciously and consciously.

    I also forage a good deal of food, particularly in the spring: dandelions, fiddleheads, salad burnet, sorrel, ramps, and these bits add delicious sparkle to the last wrinkly potatoes & apples, frozen chard, etc.

    I think I have an excellent core diet. When I stray from it, it’s not because of physical hunger.

    I think the key positives in my diet are growing most of my own produce, cooking local and seasonal while remaining flexible, mindful, and open to ideas & ingredients from around the world, and possibly the most important: allowing that cooking good food does take more time. I’m grateful to have a little more time than most.

    Finally, I often excuse straying from an actual recipe by deferring to the dictates of my larder. In a larger sense I think we have to defer to the realities of where we live: I’m aware that my solutions might not be useful for someone who lives in a city, or who needs to support a family.

    I’m eager to read Peter Kaminsky’s book as I wish to tweak my own eating (portion size) and I hope to find support for adding more exercise (indoor rowing, on-water paddling, and fly-fishing).

  • sheiladeedee

    Right now I’m cooking for three – an invalid friend staying with us while he recovers from a heart attack, my husband whose cooking is limited to hot dogs and hamburgers, and me. I cook dinner every night when I get home, planning two or three days in advance and shopping about that often on my way home (I like grocery shopping, so I don’t count it as a chore). I start in the produce section (after checking the garden in the morning before I leave for work), see what’s good there, and choose protein items to go with what I pick. I have been cutting back on starches a bit because our friend is diabetic, and on meat in general for health and environmental reasons. If I’m pressed for time it’s usually a stir fry or hash or some kind of casserole.

    Part of planning ahead is pre-cooking things that can be reused – when I cook chicken breasts or beans for dinner I make a double quantity so I have something ready to use for a second meal. When I do roast a chicken or a pork loin, which I can use for days, I make sure to capture the fat and pan juices for flavoring something down the line.

    I don’t make lists for these or use recipes very often – after all these years of cooking I have a kind of running inventory in my head of what’s in the pantry or the freezer or fridge, what needs to get used up, what it would taste good with, what the people I am cooking for like to eat… but when I first started out I would make extensive lists and plan menus in advance. I love feeding people well, and enjoy the challenge of making really tasty and healthy meals for them within a budget and without using processed crap.

    The four books which have influenced my cooking the most in recent years are Bittman’s Food Matters, Tamar Adler’s Everlasting Meal, Ratio and Twenty. I am now anxious to try Kaminsky’s book, which is waiting for me on my iPad. I hope you get your 50 comments.

  • Guy

    I get ideas from your site all the time!

    For example, we now have a pressure cooker. Last week, it took about 20 minutes to make some collards (which were made with a hambone that I’d saved, and 1C of some awesome chicken stock I’d made a couple of weeks ago, and froze); after that, it took about 5 minutes to throw together some black bean soup, with a cooking time of a about a half hour (hey, maybe I should get an immersion blender, as you’ve suggested, for the finishing step on that soup!).

    Our overall strategy is to have a couple of quick “go to” meals that we can always throw together on short notice. Having the chicken stock on hand helps (30 minutes until finished soup). A 20-minute marinara sauce recipe. Grilling some protein and some vegetables. When we think ahead, we press the crockpot into service.

  • Andrea

    Single full-time working mom of three, 10, 13, 17, each interested in learning to cook well. We have a weekly meeting at which we discuss which of our ‘standards’ we want to eat that week, which new foods or techniques we want to try, who is sous chef for which dinner, etc. From that we develop lists for the grocery and the farmers’ market. At all times, it’s a collaborative work – the process provides a million opportunities to learn what matters, in the kitchen and far beyond. It’s one of the most rewarding aspects of parenting for me.

  • Melinda

    I am home with my kids (homeschooled, so not a lot of free time for any of us) and due to many food allergies cook most of the meals. I think my biggest help is buying eggs and meat in bulk (just got a 1/4 of a cow last month) so I always know I have something that can be quickly turned into a meal. I also keep track of the meals I make (via Google Calendar) so I can quickly glance through and see what we haven’t had in a while. Lastly, a group of friends and I buy organic vegetables from the local wholesaler ever 3 weeks which ensures that we almost always have healthy choices in the fridge.

  • Liz @ Butter and Onions

    I’m going to buck the trend a little bit here, and say that I don’t plan a whole lot right now. There have been times in my life where that has happened, and maybe once every month or two I do actually go to the store with a list for ingredients for more than one meal.

    Right now I am a full-time student, and my husband works 50-60 hours a week. I am the one who loves to cook, but I’ll admit that I often have to wait until “the spirit hits me” so to speak. Lately what I’ve been doing is going to the store after I get done at the gym. Usually I won’t be craving anything too unhealthy, and since I predominantly shop at Whole Foods, I tend to make better choices since their produce section and meat/seafood section are so much better retailed than most grocery stores. I’ve gotten to the point where I know as long as I have some basic ingredients around, I can usually finagle something that is healthy and delicious. Also, as much as I can get smitten with wanting to make some challenging recipe with a ton of ingredients, I find the meals we like best are the simple ones, made with quality ingredients, and without much fuss.

  • Mary aka The Culinary Librarain

    I’m not a couple, but I live in Manhattan and have roommates. The key to making good, real food and feeling capable of it is to make time to cook. NYC is so crazy because there are a million things to do everyday and so many places to eat that you hardly ever need to worry about not being able to find a place to eat that’s open.

    I feel the pressure a lot of fill up my week with events after work, seeing friends for drinks or dinner, doing extra work on the side, or shopping/exploring. If I don’t make time to have food in the house and make dinner sometimes I would never cook. New Yorkers have the option to never cook, even if they eat all their meals at home.

    Cooking is a choice and if its something people are serious about, they will be making time for it. It’s not difficult and depending on what you’re making its not that time consuming. But a few hours on a weekend will go a long way for during the week. That’s one of the reason’s Tamar Adler’s book is so great, she really recommends bringing home your vegetables/groceries and prepping them to have for the week. This way they don’t go bad and they are ready to eat. A little time, a little organization/planning.

    It is deciding cooking is worth the time.

    I understand some couples may be even busier with work, but that’s a choice in most ways. And others may have kids with a million things going on. Those are also choices. In the US I think we get so caught up in *always* being busy and doing *something* that we can easily lose sight of the importance of the good, simple things people have been doing for years- cooking, making bread, reading a book, etc. It is all about choices.

  • Christopher Hall

    We plan our next weeks meals mid week and then do the grocery shoping on the weekend. Most of the ambitious meals are prepared on the weekends.

  • Russ Schoemer

    Sunday roasts really help, leftovers become str fry’s and quesadilla’s and pastas for quick weeknight dinners. We plan other intentional leftovers as well. I never cook italian sausage without planning to have a few leftover for either pasta or a good hearty kale soup dinner. Learn to love your slow cooker (nothing like coming home to Red beans and Rice for a Monday dinner) and your pressure cooker (Alton Brown’s Chili in under an hour). Buy lots of non-salad veggies! Put them in all your stirfrys and pastas to cut back on meat. And stock! Make and/or keep stock on hand at all times.

  • Cooking with Michele

    It’s about the basics:

    1. Keep a refrigerator and pantry stocked so that you have the things on hand to easily combine into meals

    2. Learn to cook by combining ingredients and flavors and don’t get trapped into following recipes (if you do, you’ll bail as soon as you figure out you don’t have 2 ingredients listed)

    3. Make use of easy ways to add flavor – herbs, vinegars, citrus, spices – so that you don’t become bored with your food

    4. Make meals that work double duty – roast chicken on Sunday can be a stir-fry on Tuesday, flank steak on Monday can be beef enchiladas on Thursday

    5. Make in quantity and freeze things like soups, stews, sauces – it’s great to be able to grab something homemade when you have no time at all to cook

  • Maria

    Oh I obsess about feeding the kids and ourselves balanced healthy meals during the week. We both have long commutes, we have activities with the kids 3 out of the 5 week nights so we don’t get home until 7 PM sometimes plus homework and caring for our pet sugar glider who needs just as much attention as an infant sometimes (she is cute and spoiled). We don’t always succeed in getting it all done without a trip for takeout, but we try to plan the meals and do the prep in advance so we just have to put finishing touches and dinner can be on the table in 20 minutes.
    As in the previous comments, I try to do a large meal on Sunday and use some of the leftover protein (chicken, pork shoulder, beef roast) in the weeknight meal. My fall back meal is a Spanish Tortilla since it incorporates vegetables, egg and ham/chorizo in a quick hearty meal.
    As you say technique and planning are key, I try to have fresh stock available for a quick sauce or I save leftover reduced braising liquids for quick glazes. I use them quite a bit for fast cottage pies or grilled proteins. As quick and yummy as pasta and rice are, I try to not overuse them since I can get used to how easy they are to throw together and put on the table.

  • Philip B

    I think the biggest contributions to quick good flavors at my home are a variety of homemade stocks and sauces in the freezer. I copy recipes from the web and get these made on a weekend, enough to last for many weeks. If you can chop an onion and work a blender, you can make a delicious sauce. A label on the container, and a list on my computer reminds me of everything I’ve socked away. Last night’s dinner was a sauteed chicken breast – how quick and easy can it get? – low calorie (I’m reducing my weight) but not a ton of flavor. A few tablespoons of Curried Apricot & Tomato Ketchup, microwaved straight from the freezer for 60 seconds then spooned over the chicken, made it delicious!

  • Kelly

    I’m a dreadful planner, mostly because I never know what I’m going to FEEL like eating until a few hours before dinner. On the weekends, I stock up on what I consider the basics and occasionally make a stop at the store on my way home from work. During the week, our meals are pretty simple but healthy and fresh. I choose from one of maybe a dozen or more of my “go to” recipes until the weekend when I feel more ambitious.

  • Pallavi Manay

    I work full-time in IT and am a line cook on the weekends. I’m single and live alone, so the weekends at the restaurant are ideal. The week is a much larger challenge. I’m a horrible planner, but I try to keep staples around so I can quickly make tacos, sandwiches, or pastas. I roast a chicken or grab a smoked chicken from a fantastic local Mexican place. I keep a combination of fresh and frozen vegetables. Eggs are also a staple. It’s not a a lot, but switching up the vegetables gives me a lot of variety, and it keeps me from shoveling fastfood in my pie hole all week.

  • Jen

    Between work and commuting, I’m gone from 5:30am-5:30pm. Husband about the same – he doesn’t cook but is a non-picky and appreciative eater. I’ve never been able to get into planning a whole week’s worth of meals in advance – I think because the creative part is what I like about cooking, so not doing that during the week takes all the fun out of it (for me)! No kids, so maybe necessity would drive a different approach if we did have kids. Anyway, roasting veggies is a hugely important technique for me (I have one of those oversized toaster ovens which is quick & doesn’t heat up the kitchen.) On the weekends, I make sauces/condiments, cook beans, and meat/fish in the SVS. Then during the week it’s mostly mix and match and heat with pasta, tortillas, brown rice stir fry, polenta, etc., just making each as veg-heavy as possible. I also lean on quick-cooking meats (like sausage, that you don’t need much of) and veg (like chard/spinach/kale to give a fresher element).

  • Christine

    My husband and I both work full-time and have a 14-month-old daughter. As someone mentioned upthread, even more important than planning is having a well-stocked pantry and having a few solid techniques in your back pocket. I suspect that often when people say it takes a long time to cook dinner, it’s because they don’t cook that often, so it takes a long time to slice an onion, for example, or they have to consult a recipe to poach a piece of fish, which prob. doubles the cooking time.

    The big part of our meals that does take planning is our daughter’s lunches. She’s home with a babysitter then, and I have to figure out what will give her a healthy variety of food and not be too much work for the sitter. To do this we also stole the vegetable prep idea from Tamar Adler. I roast, steam, or saute all of my daughter’s vegetables once a week and cut them up and put them in tupperware.Then we use those in a few different ways and serve them with sides of fruit. For example; Monday, hummus with roasted carrots and parsnips with a side of mango. Tuesday, wheat pasta with steamed mixed vegetables and tomato sauce and cheese with a side of strawberries. Wednesday, black bean, cheese, and spinach quesadilla with a side of banana. With the vegetables and pasta and beans precooked, these meals take about two minutes for the sitter to assemble.

  • Natalie

    I think that planning is easy to say if you enjoy cooking, which most people who follow you probably have some interest in it. But many people look at it as a chore and the last thing they want to do is think about what they are going to cook for dinner on the two days they have off from a busy schedule. Personally, I plan my meals, but I do not plan how I’m going to tackle cleaning the house on my days off. I think the importance lies more on teaching people the importance of eating real food. Changing the way people view food. As well as a few simple solid techniques. I also try to encourage people to learn a few solid recipes that can be made every week but interchangeable with ingredients.

  • trent

    Our motto is “Cooking is easy, organization is hard.” My wife and I both work, and we have a two year old daughter. We us a combination of what I imagine everybody does. On the weekends we cook things for the week which would take longer than we have, Monday thru Friday. Braises, soups, beans, BBQ. Our daughter really enjoys this because it allows us to take the extra time to let her help us, which would be much harder during the week. And what we cook during the week, that hasn’t been prepared ahead of time, are things that are meant to be cooked quickly. Tacos, sandwiches, breakfast, grilled things.

  • Renee

    Planning is absolutely key, but I tend to eat based on cravings and the weather on a particular day. So, full week meal planning has never really worked well for me.

    My planning involves having a well stocked pantry and freezer. I love leftovers, but have never cared for the idea of making a large meat and then re-imagining the entrees all week long. I like more variety than that allows. So, I tend to make extra and freeze things for quick meals later on. If I’m making twice baked potatoes as part of our dinner, it’s just as easy to make and stuff a few extra. Then, on a busy night, I can throw a pork tenderloin or roast in the oven alongside the frozen potatoes. Dinner has very little active time involved that way.

    My freezer is almost always stocked with frozen tomato sauces, pesto, stocks, chili, breakfast burritos, ham/egg/cheese sandwiches, homemade black bean burgers, perogies, ravioli… The time it takes to make and freeze extra when I’m already preparing the meal is negligible. However, the time savings and health benefits when I’m pressed for time is great.

  • KarenLM

    Planning and organization are good, but I practice ‘investment cooking’ with the goal of a week of meals out of 3 or 4 days of cooking. We have a roast every week, which results in 2 or even 3 ready to go meal, from simple leftovers to made dishes. I go ahead and prep more veg than needed for whatever night I’m cooking, whether it’s chopping onions or going ahead and sautéing them. Even simply cooking two seperate entrees one day, so another night it just needs to be heated and finished. the system works best when I can get into the mode of a continuing cycle rather than a 7 day pattern. I don’t have the freezer space to stock very far ahead, but can commit to a pot of marinara which can be divided into tonight, a refrigerated portion for next week and a frozen portion the week after. A big enough roast or chicken can be similiarly divided. I can have 3-4 major meal elements waiting, and find that much more useful than frozen raw meat.

  • Christine

    Looks like the key is the same for everyone, planning. We do the same for our household of three full time workers. Sunday is planning and shopping day. We like to take lunches to work so we always double the meals so that tonight’s diner is also tomorrow lunch. This way we can plan only dinners which simplifies the process.

  • Paul Kobulnicky

    Wow … lots of good advice above.

    My particular take is not so much planning as a series of Bittman’ish go to menus that are easy to do and easy to stock. So, I have a series of healthy and filling salads that can be put together quickly and eaten with a good bread (stores well in the freezer and if sliced easy to take out and toast) for a quick carb. I do pasta and veggies, veggies are sometimes from the freezer too … frozen fresh red peppers, smoked-on-the grill eggplants done when I am grilling other things and others from the fridge done once, steamed broccoli … and such. I have a set of legume based indian dishes with brown rice … legumes are cooked in batches in the evenings (no real attention time) and then frozen in small containers for quick use), rice in the batches in the rice cooker and then frozen … reheated in boiling water for a sec. Egg fritattas or tortas.

    The bottom line is not having to think of what to have for dinner (the first barrier to success) or to have to shop for ingredients. You just need to be able to “round up the usual suspects”. You also need to be comfortable eating similar things more than once a week to use up fresh ingredients that are prepped in bulk. Healthy and good eating is not fine dining. It is good ingredients turned into freshly made and tasty dishes that are reasonable fuel for your body.

  • Avidan

    It’s really not easy for me during the week. I get home from work at 7:30 and I’m just so hungry that I usually boil some pasta, top it with cheese, and then eat it for dinner. The exception to my bad dinner habits is the Sabbath (I’m an Orthodox Jew). Every Friday night and Saturday afternoon, I have a full sit-down meal with my friends. Sometimes we do a potluck where I’ll contribute something (usually a dessert since I’m a baker), sometimes I’ll host and make a main course (as was the case a few weeks ago where I made meatballs). Sabbath meal prep is where I learned my basic culinary skills, which I’ve had time to perfect over the years.

  • Margie

    I’m not a meal planner and after school extracurriculars mean on some days I’m working around runs to school, soccer, and music. So for dinners on busy weeknights I rely on a set of strategies: 1) fast easy recipes I know by heart like spaghetti with simple red sauce and roasted Italian sausage or ground beef tacos 2) recipes that make enough for 2 nights like a batch of Bolognese sauce or chili, 3) recipes that yield helpful leftovers like meatballs (with pasta one night then meatball bombers next night) or a pork roast (sliced with mustard sauce one night then pork fried rice) and 4) the occasional breakfast for dinner (scrambled eggs or French toast.) So even without a meal plan I can get by as long as I’ve shopped well and stocked up on the basics. Plus I usually have homemade pizza dough or stock in the freezer for frequent pizza or soup nights.

  • Bill

    My wife and I both work outside the home full-time and have two small kids. After picking them up from school/daycare, getting a healthy, tasty meal on the table is important to us during this stressful time. (tired from our jobs and commute plus hungry kids plus time crunch can equal terrible stress if you’re not prepared.) We order our groceries from a service that brings the groceries on a Saturday morning. This saves us a trip and we pay $8 for the delivery and $5 tip so $13 for this convenience. We alternate weeks for meal planning, so one week I’ll order all the groceries and be responsible for getting dinner on the table and the next my wife will.

    We too plan ahead and try to do a bunch of cooking on the weekends. During the week, the microwave is our friend. I like to have dinner on the table 15 minutes after I walk in the door. I also like to present a plate of cut-up veggies/fruit for my kids to eat. We only let the kids have dessert on the weekends, in part to be healthy, but more because they were rushing through dinner to eat dessert and now they eat more and hang out with us longer. The meals are usually pretty basic: meat, starch, veg and sometimes they’re duds, so I make sure we have siracha, homemade salsa, and other sauces to “enliven” the food. We alternate weeks to give the other person some time off and so both of us can experience the joy of ordering food, painstakingly preparing it advance, presenting it to our kids and having them pronounce it “yucky”. Works for us. And makes us appreciate each other more.

  • Traci G

    I am a stay at home mom of four kids that have me running everywhere at different times of the day. Our oldest son has Asperger’s Syndrome which adds its own set of challenges to preparing meals with his senitivity to textures and flavors.
    I do all of the kitchen related tasks in our home and where I have my greatest challenge is preparing meals that can “hold” with the family eating at different times at least 3 nights/ week.
    What I do to help get dinner on the table is to make sure I keep my pantry and freezer well stocked. When I go to my butcher I will grab one pound packages of sausage, ground beef, pork or bacon. They defrost very quickly and can be made into a quick dinner when I am short on time.
    My other “go to” for supper is breakfast. I always have eggs for fritattas or omlettes and makings for pancakes or waffles in the house. Then I just throw some frozen fruit in the blender for smoothies and have a complete meal in a very short time.

  • Lynda

    Reading, planning, and flexibility are key for me. I cook for one, so a strategy is critical. I make a tentative menu for 5 days, using recipes I’ve recently read, or seen (restaurant or TV), with the focus on in-season local ingredients. Shopping for necesary staples is first, then I like to shop if not daily, then every other day, for fresh ingredients. At this point the menu items may change based on what is at the market or store. Today my seafood market posted on Facebook about their steelhead trout so that will take the place of what was originally planned. I am retired from full-time work and now have time to “work” my hobby, love of food!

  • Chris

    My wife and I, both attorneys working (more than) full time, cook most nights for ourselves and our daughter, as well as our autistic son. (He’s easy–an all simple carb diet of rice or noodles washed down with a half gallon of milk a day). Fortunately our schedules allow us to break up the work day. One of us is usually able to leave a little early, hit the market 2-3 times a week, and then prepare a meal. For me, cooking is therapy. I get to use my hands to create something which I can also use to feed my family and enjoy myself. My son, who is very visual, can watch me prepare the meal, even if he won’t touch what I make. I try to plan things out in advance, so one day I may buy a chicken, a flank steak, and some veg. That night I can spatchcock the chicken on the BGE and serve in under an hour, then marinade the flank steak, which served with a salad works for the next day, and then leftovers for an easy night. After clean up, I can make up the time I left at the office. No this was not easy at first. It took a lot of learning and a lot of really late meals to get a system down and my (totally untrained) skills up to par, but I often ask questions of my daughter like last night: “So, how many of your friends do you think are eating roasted salmon with a sweet chile glaze and a side of stir fried squash and zucchini with black bean sauce?” (Last night’s dinner). The answer is always “0.”

  • Amanda

    Like a lot of people above I only go grocery shopping once a week. I plan out my meals on Saturday/Sunday and we go shopping on Sunday afternoon to get everything we need for the week. I make a menu for every day of the week so we know what’s for dinner that night and if we need to do something the night before to prep (brine, thaw, marinade (marinate?), etc.) Since the farmer’s market opens this weekend in our area I’ll go on saturday morning and grab what looks good before I plan the meals out for the regular shopping. For a lot of our meals I cook something that will be two servings and either eat that later in the week as leftovers to use in different dishes or freeze it for the next week. This works especially well in the cooler months with soups, stews, chili, roats, etch. I always feel like I’m running out of ideas for new quick recipes but I’ve found that pinterest is a really good inspiration and go there when i’m making out our menu. Also we buy most of our protein (beef, pork, chicken) in bulk from a local butcher and have a list of what we have left out of the bulk order. I refer to that when planning the menus a lot. Although I feel like I’m pretty good at planning there are some nights that I still feel like I could have picked recipes that didn’t take as long to make. We’ve been resorting to sandwiches since it’s been warmer and you don’t want something that’s been slow cooked or really heavy. Hope that helps!

  • Kate Goad

    My husband and I both work, with pretty easy commutes. We solve our real food problems with planning and slow cook techniques. First of all, we belong to a CSA, that way, we get fresh, local, in season vegetables delivered to us each week. Even better, the delivery is on Friday, so when I get home on Friday, I can put everything away and assess our grocery needs. I generally sit down with the grocery ads and see what is on sale, and go to the store either Friday or Saturday.

    When they are on sale, I buy a chicken or two and roast them on Saturday. We have chicken and veggies for dinner, and the rest of the meat is portioned out and either put in the fridge for use in other dishes or frozen in meal sized packages. The carcass goes in the stockpot, so that I can get a few cups of great stock for other meals. Those also go in the freezer in 1 and 2 cup portions.

    If a roast is on sale, we will put it in the sous vide for a couple of days, and sear it off when it is ready for dinner. That provides at least two days worth of great dinners. Same with pork loin or steaks. The sous vide has replaced our crockpot for everything but chili.

    Which we do fairly often. We are pretty adept at getting this put together quickly while the coffee is brewing and breakfast is toasting. When all else fails (or we aren’t feeling well), we make chicken and rice out of the stock, frozen roast chicken and CSA vegetables.

    On Sunday, my husband bakes bread. We have two loaves of regular wheat bread, but we also do a small experimental loaf, to try new recipes. If we have apples, I make applesauce. If we have eggplant, I make baba ganoush and pitas for lunches. Otherwise we take leftovers for our lunches.

    I try to only do one trip to the store during the week, primarily to pick up fresh fish and any additional vegetables we need in a week.

  • Jason Kemp

    Like many of the commenters, I plan every dinner from Sunday to Friday. Saturday is grocery shopping day, so, while I don’t write down what I make on Saturday, it’s planned that morning. That day we have something a little fun and gluttonous. I may decide to get fancy that day too, but, with two kids, 1 and 3, I’m less inclined lately.

    I plan to the season and the weather. In the spring, here in Ottawa, Canada, we may get a freak day of warm weather where I’ll take advantage by barbecuing. So the menu has to be flexible. Week to week, the menu doesn’t change much. We seem to always have fajitas or stir fry, meals where the ingredients may change, but they’re still fajitas or stir fry. The reasons are many and practical: they are always eaten, they are quick to make without too much thought, and quantity can vary to make leftovers if we need them.

    Taking out all guess work is essential. The only thinking is done on Saturday morning. It wouldn’t work if I winged it every night: hungry kids would eat too late, dirty pots and pans would pile up and spouses would roll eyes and shake heads and NOT BE IMPRESSED.

    One might think that that might be too constraining for their creativity, but I find those constraints let me hone the skills for cooking.

  • mantonat

    My wife and I both work, but we’re both usually home by 5:30pm and we don’t have kids. (I guess that makes things easier, but if I had kids I’d just put them to work doing all the stuff I hate!) We generally buy groceries once a week and the key is that we almost never buy any processed foods (condiments and flour tortillas is about as processed as it gets in our house). So everything we eat, we have to prepare ourselves. Sometimes dinner is something quick and simple like omelets or baked potatoes, but generally we do stir-fries, pasta with veggies and sauce, rice and beans, and other mostly-vegetarian dishes. On weekends I’ll braise, stew, smoke, or otherwise slow-cook something that will provide leftover for a couple of extra meals and we also go out a couple of times a week just to minimize the cabin fever. We bought an eighth of beef from a local rancher, so we have all kinds of beef in the freezer that we projected to last half a year. I also grow a few vegetables in the summer and was able to make it through the winter without buying garlic, canned tomatoes, or winter squash, thanks to a good fall harvest.
    On the whole, I’d say we have it pretty easy, but it still gets to me when people complain about not having the time to prepare and eat good food. I think it’s mostly about figuring out your priorities and then adjusting your lifestyle accordingly. My parents were part of a generation to whom processed foods were novelty items that were marketed as space-age time savers (Tang, TV dinners, instant coffee, sweetened breakfast cereals). They went through a phase where these were common items in the kitchen, but they quickly realized that it was not a healthy or sustainable way of eating, so they went back to what they knew and were good at – cooking and eating things that come from farms (or at least appear to). My goal now is to try hard to ensure that those foods really do come from farms and farmers, not corporations and factories.

  • Brian

    My Tuesday evenings look like this:
    * Drive out to the pickup point for my community organic produce co-op, and grab my box for the week. (Look into these things: you’ll cut your produce expenditures in half, and get a lot of fruits and vegetables that you wouldn’t think to buy at the grocery store)
    * Stop at my local favorite rotisserie chicken place (I’m fortunate to have a really good one nearby), and buy two whole freshly roasted chickens, sectioned.
    * Stop at the grocery store to fill in anything that we need, things like milk, eggs, etc.
    * At home, put away the produce and debone/fridge the chickens.
    * Drop the chicken bones into a pot, and make chicken stock. (It’s a minimalist stock – I add an onion and some garlic if I have them on hand, and usually some carrot, maybe ginger. It generally doesn’t even need salt – the seasoning that the shop added is usually enough.)

    I’d love to work a stop at the local butcher in, but they’re in the opposite direction, and they tend to close early anyway.

    Summary: Make use of local co-ops or CSAs, find really great vendors of fresh food nearby to help with shortcuts, and create a workflow that gets you a week’s worth of prep for great things done in one after-work evening. You often save money on your monthly grocery bill, and a little thought and planning can save you a lot of time.

  • Meredith

    My husband and I both work full time. Although his schedule is a little different, being a train engineer, and he is home more days than I am, he doesn’t cook at all, so the responsibility falls on me. Saturday is grocery day….a trip to the store, plus the local butcher. On Sundays, I prepare my breakfast and lunches and snacks for the week. I keep chickens, so breakfast is always some variation on an egg casserole with tons of vegetables added. Lunches and snacks are salads and cut up vegetables, so for an hours worth of vegetable chopping and such, I’m good for the week. I pick three or four dinner recipes to make for the week. My husband is not a healthy eater….no fruits, no vegetables (seriously, none!) so I have to prepare a meal that is healthy for me (lean protein, veggie, and usually brown rice or whole grain pasta), but also usually involves some kind of meat for him and then I usually have to also make some kind of prepackaged noodle mix for him (so annoying!). Keeping a full pantry and freezer are key…lots of rice, beans, tomato sauce, shrimp, salmon burgers, frozen vegetables from the garden etc. for when I just don’t feel like making something complicated. We rarely get takeout (a few times a year) and rarely eat dinner out unless it is a special occasion. I’m sure this sounds crazy to some people, but we live in rural Lancaster County, PA and there aren’t many nearby tempting options. Just easier and SO MUCH CHEAPER to eat at home.

  • Brandon

    I do a lot on the weekends, and learn to love and re-purpose leftovers, on nights roasted chicken is the next chicken enchiladas

  • Erin Seto

    After reading all of the other comments, I can’t help but duck down behind my keyboard and hide in shame.

    My husband is a full time computer programmer with very little experience in the kitchen so all the cooking falls into my lap. As of lately, that’s been a real adventure. My doctor recently sent me to a nutritionist to help get my Diabetes under control. It seems like all the recipes I used to know by heart either have too much sodium or too much sugar or too many carbs…

    Lately, most of our meals have turn out to be something bland, baked in the oven with a heaping serving of steamed vegetables on the side. I hate to say it, but after having the nutritionist drill into my head all the things I’m not supposed to go near, it makes me cringe to look into my kitchen.

    • Christine

      I hate how nutritionists always seem to lean toward the bland and the steamed. For example, here is a suggested menu planner from the Mayo clinic for diabetics:
      Breakfast. Whole-wheat pancakes or waffles, one piece of fruit, 1 cup of low-fat milk.
      Lunch. Chicken kabob, 1/2 cup of steamed broccoli, 1/2 cup of cooked rice, 1/2 cup of juice.
      Dinner. Pasta primavera prepared with broccoli, carrots, zucchini, yellow squash and Parmesan cheese, 1 cup of low-fat milk.
      Snacks. Six homemade crispy corn tortilla chips, 1/2 cup fresh vegetables with a seasoned garlic sauce

      It doesn’t seem very exciting and it would be difficult for me to eat like this day in and day out. Three things I noticed right off the bat that could be changed to make this menu more interesting/practical (Nutritionist please correct me if I’m wrong. I am NOT a nutritionist or dietician). 1) Except for the mention of a “seasoned garlic sauce” there doesn’t seem to be a lot of seasoning. I know you have to cut down on salt, but is there anything wrong with adding lots of herbs and spices? 2) All the vegeatbles are steamed. Most of the time I find vegetables much more delicious and easy to prepare if they’re roasted (wrap in foil, put on cookie sheet, come back in an hour). 3)Weirdly time-consuming elements: do most people have time to make whole-wheat waffles on a work day or make six homemade tortilla chips for a snack?

  • Yoshiko

    I write out the week’s menu on Saturday and take care of the grocery shopping on Sunday. Sunday afternoon, I cook large batches of food with lots of vegetable side dishes. The leftovers are turned into hearty, healthy rice bowls for lunch and are tricked out a bit for nicer dinners.

  • Jamie

    My husband and I build our weekday meals around whatever produce looks best in the store or the farmers market. (We don’t eat meat.) We’ve got a fair number of meals in long-term memory/cooking vocabulary, but to keep things from getting monotonous I collect ideas for simple but interesting dinners on Pinterest, so that if (say) the leeks look great that week, I scan my phone for what I’ve pinned, to figure out how to exploit the good stuff in new and easy ways.

    There’s also a lot to say for dinner by cutting board: bread, cheese, fruit, and maybe a cooked vegetable tossed with herbs and oil or butter.

  • David Frank

    always have a really good chicken and beef broth in the house. have been practicing making sauces with white and red wine, cognac, B & B, port. I always have a container of dried wild mushrooms in the the house. without much hassle, i can put together a very tasty chicken or beef dish with those ingredients. I think i will do that tonight!

  • Dave

    My dear wife & I use an app called Our Groceries to create shopping lists. Either one of us can add items or edit the lists from out smart phones or computers. When we go shopping, you leave the app open on your phone and tap the item to cross it off the list – very slick.

    For cooking, we’ve revived Sunday dinner – usually some big hunk o’ meat (on the grill, weather permitting) roasted above a pan full of whatever veggies are in season. This way we get a great meal with plenty of leftovers for lunch and a couple of dinners during the week.

  • Michael McGrath

    As parents of three children its easy to get stuck in a rut. To mix things up we’ve employed two primary strategies that have paid off…
    1. Subscribe to a CSA. This takes the “thinking” out of a great deal of meal preparation. Some of the better CSA’s even offer recipes and suggestions, not to mention you are getting an ever changing supply of GOOD local food.
    2. We’ve begun asking out children what they would like from a list of options. That way, they feel invested in the process. No, we’re not going for Mac n Cheese 7 days a week either. The best part is when our oldes child makes a selection, he’s required (and very excited) to participate in preparation.

    By using this strategy, our meal times have become more meaningful, the quality of our diet has improved resulting in my wife and I collectively losing almost 70 pounds since January.

  • Keith Martin

    Like many of the above commenters, planning is the key. Because of my culinary background, I’ve done a lot of “winging it”, but I’m now back in school to be an elementary school teacher. Time is short, as is money. Planning out our weeks has made things so much easier (and cheaper). I leave Saturday night unplanned so that I can play, and a few evenings are predesignated leftover nights.

  • Evan D.

    I cook and from scratch as much as possible even when getting home near 6 PM each night. The irony is that I feel that I have to stay up to date on what’s going on in cooking to feel like I’m eating well.

    By this I mean reading blogs and newspaper food sections, going out to eat and reading food magazines. It takes a lot of effort (seemingly) to stay educated and make sure that I have some good basics to apply to whatever I feel like cooking that week.

  • Sherri

    My husband and I both work full time. Our key to putting a good dinner on the table is a well stocked freezer. We always have a nice protein in the freezer ready to be thawed in the fridge while we’re at work, and then put on the grill when we get home. Our weekly trip to the grocery store provides fresh vegetables and salad fixings. We make a good meal for ourselves quite easily, certainly not fancy, but pretty tasty. I’m also a fan of an omelet and simple salad, which couldn’t be any faster to prepare.

  • Adrienne

    This is SUCH an important topic; thanks for addressing it. My husband and I both work, but no kids yet, so I only have to worry about feeding 2 people plus 2 leftover portions to take for lunch (though I am home a couple of weekdays and usually scrounge up a lunch of snacks). There are also things I like to have on hand so I cook those in large batches – beans that can be thrown in a soup or folded into a tortilla or eaten in a salad, rice that goes under a stew one night and becomes a rice-and-veggies “burger” the next. I try to do as much advance cooking like this as possible, and most of our meals (at least towards the end of the week) tend to repurpose leftovers in some way.

  • Ari Schiftan

    I am a recent college (captain of a sports team at the time) and am now an engineer working a job that often requires 10-11 hr days, and working out after work.

    In college i was living with 3 other guys, all on the same sports team, so needless to say i needed to learn ways to purchase food economically, and make quick, healthy meals that were ready shortly after practice ended.

    i think the most important things are having a few key adaptable methods, and the right pieces of technology. methods are like recipes, only they can be scaled, tweaked, and tailored to accommodate any palate, protein, veggie, etc. making them more diverse than a recipe.

    tech:
    -rice cooker is key. some rice (brown if you’re super healthy) sets up a good foundation for filling healthy meals. and once you toy around with flavoring the cooking liquid you can really up the ante on any dish. Plus you can set it up in 1 minute and then do anything else while it’s cooking.

    -digital probe thermometer. same time reasons as above. set a time or temp and you’re good to go to anything else. plus they’re really inexpensive

    good methods:
    -curry. a couple of the right spices, couple cans of coconut milk, and you can put in just about anything. veggies, meat. change up the spice. and it almost always makes TONS.

    -black beans: hearty, goes with the rice

    -whole roasted chicken: ask any chef they’ll say this is something you need to know. incredibly easy with the probe thermometer and can be used and reused for a week

    -roasted vegetables: healthy, delicious, simple. and can be enjoyed as is, or dressed up in a million different ways.

  • Zack

    My wife and I both work full time and do many of the same things already mentioned. Plan and shop on the weekend and usually spend Sunday afternoon prepping and cooking. We also try and make meals that provide leftovers for lunches or an extra meal later in the week. We’re big fans of “cook once, eat twice” We also have decent selection of ingredients in the pantry and refrigerator so we can pull together a quick meal on the fly during the week if we’re short a few meal ideas.
    Last year, we joined a CSA and that definitely requires extra planning so we can make sure we take full advantage of all the produce we get each weekend and adjust our weekly grocery list to fit that all in. It becomes quite an adventure when we get stuff from the farm that we have never heard of or considered buying at the store a la kolrabi, kale, or swiss chard but we’ve found a lot of great ways to prepare these items and some new favorite vegetables!

  • Mom24@4evermom

    I meal plan, and it takes an inexcusably long time. We grocery shop for staples apx. once a month, then weekly we shop at Whole Foods or the Farmer’s Market to fill in the blanks of fresh milk, veggies and fruits, etc. The key, for us, is planning. Without a plan, we’re sunk. We also keep a couple of meals on hand that are quick and easy for those inevitable times when the plan doesn’t work.

    Also, though I do 99% of the cooking, my hubby helps me any way he can with prep and he does the dishes 70% of the time. It helps. A lot.

  • Jen

    My husband and I have a 6 year old son, and we both work (him full time, me part time, 3 days/week). Like most of the other commenters, the two main things that we do are planning ahead in terms of shopping and meal planning, and cooking for multiple nights. For us, that means we eat the same main course two nights in the same week, maybe with a different side dish that is easy to prepare, like a roasted veggie or simple salad. I also have a number of go-to meals for days that I don’t want to have leftovers because I know we won’t be around to eat them, so on those nights I might make a pizza, with whatever toppings I have available, or I’ve been known to make breakfast for dinner (pancakes or waffles with bacon usually). One night a week I usually make a big meal-sized salad, with some hard boiled eggs, or beans, or tuna, some protein that makes it filling enough for a meal. I don’t have to resort to take out very often – it just takes planning.

    When I make things that take well to freezing, like meatballs or soups, I almost always make enough to have it for a couple of meals that week and freeze enough for a couple of future meals as well, guaranteeing myself a few additional meals with minimal work at some future time.

  • Greg Turner

    I work an 8 to 5 day job, and my commute is about 35 minutes. I don’t have time to make a daily shopping trip, so my weekend to do list always contains at least two entries: menu plan, groceries. It’s the planning that’s most important. Sunday dinner can be something that takes a long time. Braised pork, for example. Monday usually incorporates leftovers from Sunday’s meal, then Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are usually pretty quick. Pan-seared steaks, quick vegetable soups, black bean tacos–that sort of thing. Friday we might grab a pizza or eat up some of the leftovers.

    It also helps that I’ve been cooking a long time and don’t have to think too much about the food I’m making. I know what ingredients I need, have them at hand, and do prep work pretty fast: chopping, slicing, etc. I can’t imagine not being able to use a knife and still trying to make dinner every night. It seems like it’d be impossible.

  • Anita

    My main form of planning is a kitchen well stocked with foundation ingredients. I don’t shop sales, I shop to maintain my pantry with the basics – butter, olive oil, flour, onions, eggs, etc. (Meat is purchased only a few times a year directly from the farmer. Love having a freezer with ethically raised pork and chicken, and venison from our woods!) I’ve developed a shopping list that is actually a pantry and refrigerator inventory form. I try to make something big on weekends, like a roast, and use the leftovers during the week. I also try to cook enough for two dinners at least once during the week so that there is one night when I just have to reheat a meal. We also try to alternate meat dinners and non-meat dinners. Beyond that, I don’t meal plan except for when we are having guests. I usually dream up what we are having for dinner as I drive home from work.

  • Kendall

    I have gotten used to eating later and don’t turn on the TV before dinner (or at all). Even though I’m single and always get home after 7 pm, there’s still plenty of time to cook a simple meal. Even if I haven’t planned ahead, it’s easy to whip up something like sauteed greens or roasted potatoes or something with an egg or a roast chicken or soup.

  • Russ Schoemer

    By all means, STOP thinking of food as mearly fuel and cooking as a CHORE! When you have time, pour yourself a beer or glass of wine and enjoy creating a MEAL for your family.

  • Victoria

    You have to figure out what will work in the time you have available to cook, and what just won’t work. I can’t get home from work and try to make a meatloaf for dinner (but you can do meatballs!). And also think about the WHOLE process, from prep to washing the dishes, and how much time you have. There are some meals I can do in 30 minutes with 4 pots on the stove… but I usually think ahead enough to know I really don’t want to clean all that stuff at the end, so I may reduce what I do. And my three favorite words… “unattended cooking time.” Look for things that don’t require 30-45 minutes of serious thought… maybe just 15 minutes of work and then let the oven or the stovetop do the rest of the work.

  • andy

    I guess it is planning. I work 6 nights a week- what I do is make a batch of soup I portion out for “lunch” every day, and think all week about making something special for the weekend. Typically I’m broadly vegetarian except on the weekend, so while I might have bean soup most days (and thanks for turning me on to Rancho Gordo, BTW) saturday I might braise a beef shank to go on polenta, as an example. It makes things organized and saves me the heavy mental lifting for when I have the luxury of time to indulge it.

  • Jacquie

    Planning is an absolute must. I plan & shop for meals for the week, on weekends. I have manilla envelopes with ideas/recipes for entrees, side dishes, lunches, etc… I’ve also written on each envelope basic dishes that we know we like & can easily make in case we’re not feeling very motivated. We own a business that has to be on call 24/7 and I also work full time outside of the business. We have two daughters who are busy in sports & school functions so we are pretty busy. My daughters (11 & 14) are required to plan & cook dinner one night a week. They have made anything from breaded pork chops to chicken parmesan to fried chicken to french toast. The more experience they get in the kitchen, the less I have to help. Best thing I ever did! I also try to plan meals that use the same ingredients so there is less waste. If I’m making Indian food, then I plan on curry chicken salad, and a mexican dish so I can use peppers and cilantro & lime. If I make a pork roast, I plan on bbq sandwiches the next day. Leftovers are used with in a day or two or they are frozen. I also tend to make big batches of soup or marinara sauce & freeze. Small amounts of gravy or sauces are kept to use as a base for other meals. If all else fails, I always have breakfast makings in the house. Pancakes, french toast, bacon, eggs & potatoes or a fritatta. I try to keep the meals well rounded with a protein, starch, veg & fruit. Sometimes we’ll add bread or dessert, but we really don’t eat very many sweets. I will add that my 11 year old is a much better baker than I am so that might change!

    • Jacquie

      I forgot to add that many times I’ll start dinner when I’m home for lunch. I’ll put meat on to braise low & slow in the oven & then all I have to do that night is put the sides together. I also marinate or brine meat the night before and will do as much of the prep work as I can before it’s time to actually cook.

      Unless the kids aren’t at home because of a school function, we always sit at the table & eat together as a family. That’s when some of our best conversations are.

  • Yooli

    We’ve incorporated a few things into our life to make eating at home affordable, easier, and more pleasurable.

    1. Buy a chest freezer. I can’t tell you how important this is to us. Having a big freezer makes it possible to shop sales or snap up good quality meats and breads when we come upon them and save them for another day. Excess herbs, doughs, fruit, veg – it can all be used again later. And saving vegetable scraps and chicken carcasses for soup is a breeze.

    2. Join a CSA. We do a general shop on the weekends for basic everyday goods (milk, bananas, chips, baby carrots, bacon, yogurt, flour, etc.), but have a box from our local CSA dropped off at our door every other week. The produce is amazingly fresh so it lends itself to simple, easy prep and lasts twice as long as supermarket stuff. It challenges us to eat a wide variety of fruits and veggies and we love supporting our local farms.

    3. Go to a farmer’s market once a week. Just make it part of your schedule and take a stroll without a real agenda. Its relaxing and fun and you pick up odds and ends that inspire you to keep cooking. Fresh pastured eggs, a bouquet of wildflowers, and some local raw honey can be an incredible morale booster after a long week in the office.

    4. Have 5-10 basic, fast, go-to recipes that you can do blindfolded, and keep the ingredients for at least 2 of them on hand at all times. Nigel Slater’s chicken with cream and spices or a 1-pan faux stuffed pepper dish are the ones I’m always ready for. (Brown some ground beef with onions and garlic, throw in some rice, tomato sauce, and a few roughly chopped bell peppers until cooked through).

    5. Get a drink fridge. This goes along with our chest freezer, but we keep a mini-fridge stocked with the beers, white wines, champagnes and any other drinks we enjoy. It ensures a great, chilled drink to go with our dinners.

    6. Get a large CrockPot. If you don’t work from home, this is a key way to always have stock, soup, or braised meats on hand. I love throwing a pork butt or a chuck roast in the crock at night before I go to bed and then putting the whole pot in the fridge in the morning. When you get home, all you need to do is pull off the excess fat, reheat on the stove you’re dinner is ready. (And the leftovers can be repurposed for another meal!)

  • karen downie makley

    I cook for a living which might sound like it makes my at-home meal planning and cooking a snap, but it doesn’t. On the contrary, after cooking for 6-10 hours all day, sometimes the last thing I want to do when I get home is more cooking. It’s like asking an overworked electrician to come home and re-wire the house. It’s burnout territory, without a doubt. But as someone who has billed themselves as a healthy cook, it is essential that I walk the walk and not just talk the talk. I try to go out once a weekend to someplace I know will feed me a fantastic meal…high on inspiration, I usually go all-out and create a labor-intensive Sunday evening dinner. I always make extra portions which I immediately freeze. I also try to make a big batch of soup every couple weeks which also get frozen. So thawing out the overstock in my freezer gets me through the most hectic weekday nights. When I have a little energy on a weeknight, I’ll make a grilled piece of protein with a salad. That’s 10 minutes, tops. Who am I not to take an extra 10 minutes? It’ll take the pizza guy longer to get here. Fish, although intimidating to some, is really fast. There’s a lot of SE Asian stuff that’s really fast. Am I at an unfair advantage because cooking is familiar to me? Well, maybe now, but I was not always a cook. I powered through the feelings of intimidation with tough recipes, more seasoned cooks, and so on and just figured it out. But you have to WANT to learn. Yes, there’s going to be mistakes, burns, dirty dishes, etc. but the trade off is that your overall food bill will be lower and if you do it right, you’ll probably be a lot healthier.

  • Cameron

    Family of 4 with 2 boys aged 3 and 5; both work full time in fast pace careers in Washington DC. Given that, everyone eats the same thing–no special requests, no replacements. Like many other posters, Sunday is our big day of the week to cook. And while I would be happy to make a big pot of soup and eat it 3-5 times in a week, small boys hate the repetition. Our key is to make something that can be transformed seemingly into something else the next night. So while the protein might stay the same, a different veg, different starch, or sauce changes the entire composition of the plate.

    Another key for us is having staples on hand that can you can plug in like a good utility player off the bench. Pasta. Whole peeled tomatoes. Bacon. Good Parm. Eggs. Wine. Cream. Garlic. We can make virtually any pasta or sauce accompaniment with some part of those ingredients and make sure to always have them on hand.

    Our go-to, in a pinch meal has become crepes–using the recipe from Essential Pepin. It has all of 5 ingredients that we always have on hand, takes less than 5 minutes of prep time, gets our boys involved in helping to fill their crepes (getting them involved in making our food is a big plus–our oldest has NEVER not eaten or rejected any food that he had a hand in preparing), generally serves to help clean out our fridge, comes across as being super fancy and hard to make but isnt, AND best of all, it doubles as dessert with some butter and sugar or a spoonful of jam.

  • Christopher DelGross

    My wife and I both work as well. My strategy, if you want to call it one, is simple. I do not cook anything during the week that takes longer than 45 minutes door-to-door. This leaves me with few techniques to work with, but I primarily saute and boil! But each day I cook fresh, we are not ones that fancy leftovers. But whatever leftovers there are we pack for lunch the next day.

    As far as provisions, not everyone can follow this strategy due to cost, but there is a local farmers stand (It is called Tendercrop Farms) near where I work where I can get fresh local ingredients. They also have their own grass-fed beef, pork, and chicken. I tend to plan the menu at the last minute and head over to the famers stand immediately following work. I go for thin cuts of whatever type I buy. Something I can grill or saute. We buy only the vegetables that are organically grown. If we find something grown locally and in season, we buy that, if not, that ok too. As long as it is “fresh”!

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