Monday, May 11, 2009

Cooking from Scratch While Working 40 Hours a Week

The Passage of Time
Originally uploaded by ToniVC
Read any article or blog post about cutting expenses and saving money, and "cooking from scratch" instead of eating out or ordering in is likely to be on the list of tips. Truthfully, a cart of groceries can go farther and cost less than a couple of nights of restaurant fare. But how do you cook from scratch every night when you are working 40 (or more) hours a week without tearing out your hair and calling the pizza guy??

In a word - planning.

Everyone should have at least one or two dead-simple meals they can throw together, but on a busy night when you only have minutes isn't the time to try to think of them or figure out if you have all the necessary ingredients.

You'll need to find a few minutes of quiet time to make a plan, even if it's the last half of a lunch hour spent at your desk. I try to take some time on Sunday afternoons after lunch when we all go our separate ways to work on our own projects.

What I do is write down 5 dinners. Two should be so easy I could cook them in 20 minutes while supervising homework. Another might be a simple grilled meat that can be used in a different way on a second night. I like chicken breasts and thighs for this.

Another few minutes deciding which day to have each menu (easy meals on busy days) or I can play it by ear, deciding as I see how my schedule pans out. A quick check of my plan the night before or the morning of and I can pull things out of the freezer as needed.

Once I have my main dishes planned, a side dish or two rounds out the meal and I create my shopping list. A quick peek in my pantry to see what I have already or what substitutions could be made in a pinch and I'm off to the store.

If any of this process seems confusing or too much work, I'll be posting a few more tips this week for those times in your life when even 15 minutes of planning is asking too much (I've been there too).

Also, look for a post in the near future on cooking from scratch when you don't really cook.