I don’t know what it’s like in your house, but everyday cooking of family meals isn’t the most fun to do. It feels like another chore to get done, it’s repetitive in that there’s no break from it, and trying to please everyone in the family isn’t easy. After all, who wants to cook the same things day in day out. Especially when it gets demolished in 5 minutes and there’s no appreciation for the time you’ve probably spent preparing and cooking it.
How everyday cooking works here
Compared to many families, we have a strange tea situation going on. (Usually anyway. This lockdown and ongoing working from home has made dinner times more normal). Tea time in our house is 5pm (hence ‘tea’ and not ‘dinner’). I don’t leave work until 5pm and after picking up N, we don’t often get in until nearly 6pm, so that 5pm tea time ends up being nearly 7pm. That’s way too late to eat, especially in the summer when the OH usually needs to go back out to work in the evenings.
So the OH eats at the farm 4 evenings, N eats either at the farm or at after school clubs. So it’s just me to cook for myself when I get home (although I tend to eat my main meal at lunch).
But even cooking evening meals Friday to Sunday was getting to be a chore.
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Cooking since lockdown (and holidays)
Once Covid 19 was widespread and the country shut down, I started working from home. That meant more time to cook, and an earlier teatime was feasible. 5pm was still a push given I’m working til then, but if I start work earlier, or have a shorter lunch break, I can finish early. Or I try and prep our meal at lunchtime, then it’s ready just to pop in the oven at 4.30 and veg to be put on. So far, every day since working from home, we’ve had our meals at 5pm as a family. It’s nice to be doing that again.
Occasionally we have a leftover meal sent over from the farm if they’ve made too much for them, but generally I’ve had a meal plan for the week with quick easy meals for the family, and have arranged shopping lists around that to ensure we’re using the food we have and having less waste.
Challenges in cooking family meals daily
Now I’m back cooking family meals daily I’m really enjoying it. It’s nice to try new things several times a month, and it’s only occasionally that we’ve had a meal 2 weeks on the trot. Slight tweaks to ingredients means protein bases can be easily switched, and generally I’ve been able to adapt a meal slightly to allow for my Keto diet of low carbs.
I am a fairly confident cook – I like to follow recipes and will happily amend ingredients as needed. But not everyone is so confident. Others feel they spend a lot of time cooking and planning, and struggle catering for all the different needs in the house. Or they think they’re a rubbish cook and just don’t know what they’re doing.
Cooking is just something that needs a bit of practice and a bit of guidance so less confident cooks find it less pressurised to cook perfect meals. If all else fails, eat cheese on toast as a back up, and if other family members moan when you try new meals, then put them on the meal rota once a week.
What else can you try to make cooking less onerous? And how can you vary more your repertoire without spending more time and food experimenting?
Here I’m sharing tips on how to try more foods and how to get cooking more with no less hassle.
Hopefully it will cover all the family, and I’ll also suggest ways you can cope with different food requirements to avoid having to cook 2 totally different meals each time. It’s not always possible, but there are things you can do to adapt meals, or that work for both those who eat anything vs those who have specific dietary requirements.
Tips to make everyday cooking of family meals easier and more enjoyable
1, Meal plan
Ok, so it’s not the most exciting thing to do, but it makes it less boring if you try new things, as well as being more thrifty. It lets you spread out the types of meals through the week
For your meal planning look up meal plans online – lots of bloggers share theirs, use reliable websites – I find BBC Good Food and All recipes have plenty of options that work well (although you can get lost in a web of recipes). Don’t forget recipe books and tv shows.
2, Keep things simple
Especially if you’re not a confident cook, stick with basic recipes. They can still be tasty, but you won’t get stressed out and using fewer ingredients means you need less of a store cupboard of spices and random ingredients you’ll only use once.
I love 3 or 4 ingredient recipe books* you can often buy from The Works or Amazon. But do make sure there are plenty of fast and easy recipes you will enjoy before buying.
3, Work out how much time you have to cook
If you know you’ll only have 30 minutes to get food on the table, then focus on simple recipes that can work in that time for preparation and cooking. Jamie Oliver’s 30 minute and 15 minute cook books are good, and while they do rely on having some of the prep already done, if you’re only doing the main or dessert, then the timings are totally feasible for normal cooks.
4, Prep in advance
If you work from home, or part time and are at home during the day, then prep as much as possible in advance. Prep at lunch time – chop your veg, prep your meat, even pre-cook some parts, then just do the final cook when you’re ready to serve up. I aim to get as much ready as possible when I’m home, so I only need to put it in the over and then do the potatoes and veg.
If you’re using a slow cooker, you can prep slow cooker ingredient bags in advance, ready just to pop in in the morning.
5, Aim for variations of meals
It doesn’t take much to change up a meal base.
If you like chicken, make variations – chicken wrapped in parma ham or bacon, chicken cooked in milk, chicken in orange juice, garlic chicken, alfredo sauce, chicken kiev, chicken coated in breadcrumbs, cornflakes or polenta, kebabs.
Or do a beef mince base and tweak it depending on what you add – stock for a cottage pie, tomatoes for chilli, bolognese, lasagne, cannelloni. Use different mince types to make different variations – meatballs, koftas, meatloaf.
Salmon can be straight up in a pan, baked, or even baked in a foil parcel. Do it in pastry, topped with pesto and cream cheese, with a tomato sauce, or cooked in a parcel on top of veg.
Alternatively find other dishes within a cuisine
6, Each week add at least 1 new meal
Meal repertoire for most people is really small, so just adding one new meal a week increases it fairly quickly.
7, Get others in the house to help out
Children love to help (although it can take double the time), so get them peeling and chopping veg, or stirring while you get on with other things. They can also help choosing meals.
8, Mix up the days
Many people have specific meal types on certain days – Fajita Fridays, Mince Monday etc. This can be great, but can end up limiting if it’s always the same meal on that day. Switch days around with the protein or base to the meal.
In our house we tend to have pasta one day, a roast (or semi roast) on Sunday, usually fish one day, then mix up the protein types on other days. The OH isn’t a big fan of chicken, so I try and have a couple of days inbetween protein types, unless it’s a leftover day. We tend to have chicken, beef, pork, fish, and then occasionally just have bacon added to make a vegetarian meal something the OH would eat (e.g. macaroni cheese).
Friday is traditionally a fast tea day here. During term time, it’s usually tennis training over usual tea time. I prep ahead of going to tennis in the hope that the OH will put the food in ready for us arriving home. It’s usually more of a ‘junk food’ or treat meals. So it might be takeaway fish and chips, or macaroni/pasta bake, fajitas or pizza.
Hopefully these tips will help with all the family meal everyday cooking and organising meals. You can get menu ideas from my meal planning posts.
How do you find cooking for the family? Do you share the cooking in your house?
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