One thing I have quickly figured out about being a parent is that the days are unpredictable. I can no longer count on having a quiet hour to prepare dinner in the evenings. Rather, my quiet hour may come in the morning, after lunch or who knows when.
I don’t want to fall back on takeout or frozen meals too often, though. So I’m adopting a few restaurant prep tricks to ensure we still get a nice home-cooked meal at least most nights. The rule of thumb is to prep as much as possible ahead of time so as to minimize the actual cooking time required.
I will rely on preparing a menu for the week, so I know exactly what I have to buy, and I don’t have to think too hard about what’s for dinner each day. I hope that using a menu will also help us eat up all our fresh vegetables and other ingredients before they have to be tossed, reducing waste. This was something we weren’t very diligent about when we were both working and could go out for dinner any night of the week.
I intend to maximize my weekend time, when my husband is home and can watch the baby. The end of the week is usually when we do our big shopping trip, so I can take the extra time I have to properly wash and store vegetables, freeze meat I’m not going to use and otherwise get ready for the week as much as I can ahead of time. I can also use that time to prepare healthy lunches and snacks for the week ahead, as well as make one or two large meals that can then contribute to leftovers or be frozen for later.
Each day, whenever my quiet hour comes, I’ll prep for the evening’s meal. I’ll read through the recipe, if I’m using one, and do as much as possible ahead of time: cut up vegetables and meats, precook sauces and other components that can be reheated later, and assemble the mise en place. When it’s time to put together dinner, the effort required is minimal — just heat the pan or oven, and cook!
I tried this yesterday. I roasted chicken breasts with carrots and served them with rolls and pan-roasted asparagus. Because I prepped all the ingredients earlier in the day, and even took the extra 5 minutes to brine the chicken (see below for instructions), I was able to preheat the oven and throw everything in the roasting pan when it was time to cook. It was easy!
Now let’s see if I can keep it up every day.
Brining chicken before cooking it is the simplest way to ensure that your chicken is moist and juicy, no matter how it’s cooked. This method works with boneless chicken breasts, bone-in chicken parts and whole chickens.
Combine in a gallon-size Ziploc bag or sealable container for 1-2 pounds of chicken:
- 1 quart water
- 3 tbsp. salt
- 1 tbsp. sugar
Immerse the chicken in the brine for 30 minutes for chicken parts or 1 hour for a whole chicken. Rinse and pat dry before cooking.