Running the Home Kitchen Like a Restaurant, Revisited

Recently, I blogged about running my home kitchen like a restaurant kitchen in order to ensure we get a nutritious, home-cooked meal each night, even though my hands are full taking care of a 2-month-old baby. I was going to try to prep ingredients for meals ahead of time so that when it was dinner time, I only had to finish up the cooking.

So how’s it going? On many days, I am able to prep when my son takes his afternoon nap, and on those days, we have a great dinner. On those days when he doesn’t take a nap as expected, or I get caught up doing other things and forget to do the meal prep, we are still not resorting to takeout. Rather, I am keeping the freezer stocked with a few quick and easy options that might not be as healthy as a fully home-cooked meal but are certainly better than carryout pizza. These include:

  • veggie burgers
  • chicken sausages (which are already fully cooked and only need to be thawed by poaching in a pot of boiling water and can be served hoagie-style)
  • the old fallback, scrambled eggs
  • frozen potatoes for a side — I love the organic Alexia brand, which includes oven fries, red potato wedges and the perennial favorite, tater tots; these are the best frozen potatoes I’ve found, and they make good dinner rolls too
  • salad, either quickly made or using a vinaigrette I made earlier in the week

We have managed to reduce our meals out to once a week, which was my goal, and I think my husband and I are both seeing the results at our waistlines.

Here are some things I’ve learned so far:

  1. Plan a week’s menu ahead of time. Even if I don’t manage to make everything on the menu, I don’t have to think each day about what we’re going to eat. Meals I don’t get to can usually be carried over to the next week. Also, planning the menu ensures that we eat all the fresh produce I buy.
  2. Simple recipes are key. I look for recipes that have fewer than 10 ingredients — the fewer the better — and don’t have a lot of complex steps. It is important to read the recipe ahead of time, preferably when making up the weekly menu.
  3. Look for recipes that cook quickly. Once all the prepping is done, the final cooking time should be 30 minutes or less. So if I start dinner when my husband gets home and can take the baby, we’re not eating at 8:00. Or…
  4. Look for recipes that can be adapted to the slow cooker. I just broke down and got a slow cooker, but I need to use it more. Soups, stews, chilis, roasted dinners and braises can all be done on the slow cooker.
  5. Adapt and substitute. Sometimes I start to cook and realize I ran out of or didn’t get an ingredient that’s called for. But I don’t have to be a slave to the recipe. I usually can find something that will work as a substitute in the fridge, freezer or pantry, which saves a trip to the store.
  6. Make extra and refrigerate or freeze for later. I used to try to cut down recipes to serve 2, but now I just go ahead and make the full recipe and freeze or refrigerate the leftovers (some dishes aren’t well suited to freezing). Then I know that I always have a home-cooked meal on hand when I don’t have time to prep beforehand. I usually pull something out of the freezer on the weekend to thaw for the upcoming week. Refrigerator leftovers often make healthy, no-prep lunches as well.

Over at BabyCenter, Andrea Frazier has also been blogging her tips for advance meal prep — she preps all her meals for the week on the weekend! (And thanks for mentioning my blog.) I am not quite there yet, but I do have the goal of making 2 or 3 dishes on the weekend, especially those that freeze well. I also want to start using the weekends to build up a stock of healthy snacks and lunches.

And let’s not forget the most important meal of the day. It’s critical to keep a large selection of fast-cooking breakfast options around — granola, yogurt, fresh fruit, oatmeal, English muffins, frozen waffles, mini-bagels — so that I’m never tempted to skip my favorite meal of the day. It’s also a good idea to use the weekends to boil eggs or bake for the upcoming week’s breakfasts.

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One thought on “Running the Home Kitchen Like a Restaurant, Revisited

  1. andrea frazer 6 May 2008 at 9:48 pm

    I can’t even believe you’re blogging so consistently with a newborn around. That is great. You sound together! I hope you are feeling as great as you sound. Congrats again.

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