Before I had my daughter, I loved cooking. If it two hours to make Beef Bourguignon, I dove right in and didn't care if it meant I would be eating at 8 or 9pm. After giving birth, I absolutely hated the chore of finding a recipe to make, buying the ingredients and then having to cook it myself. My husband and I did a marathon Friday night of slow cooker freezer meals a month before I was due. Dude, slow cooker freezer meals suck. Everything comes out the same texture and it got boring fast. For months after the birth of our daughter we ate good take out and bad fast food, we ate so many sandwiches, bowls of cereal and eggs for more than one meal a day. I remember loving the process of making a meal and how it had suddenly turned into a chore, I wanted to get that little joy back. I tried doing all my meal prep on a Sunday - I hated devoting my Sunday afternoon to chopping and portioning. I tried using a subscription meal delivery service and felt really guilty about all the "recyclable" containers I threw away because my city doesn't recycle those specialty containers. I tried paying for an app that did the meal planning for me. All I had to do was plug in how many people to cook for, our dietary preferences and I had recipes and a shopping list. That worked the best out of all the methods but I didn't dig the idea of paying for a meal planning service - we could be using that money for the college fund or repairing the fence.
Now my daughter is over a year old. She's in preschool a couple of days a week so it's much more feasible to suck it up and put some elbow grease into my own meal planning. I was inspired by this post about meal planning on index cards. I didn't want to handwrite a bunch of recipes out so I took the same concept and made it into a Google Doc.
How I did it:
1. I made a Meal Planning folder that I share with my husband.
2. Then I create a Google Doc for each month. I picked a number of meals that's realistic for me to cook during the week (4).
3. I copied and pasted links to my favorite recipes - this is a great way to organize recipes you save on Pinterest.
4. Type out a shopping list and boom - you have a list you can print and take to the grocery store.
5. Come up with 2 or 3 months of recipes and cut and paste different weeks into the following months.
This system has brought back my love for cooking. I'm no longer scrambling to find something to make an hour before dinner time. I'm making meals that I love and have cut back significantly on eating out. Most importantly, I'm able to cook nutritious meals again, with my daughter by my side.
Other tricks I've used to stream line dinner time:
- I gave in and bought an Instant Pot. It really is as bad ass as people say it is. There is a learning curve. Expect your first few ventures into pressure cooking to not be "instant".
- Choose recipes that have repeat ingredients. For example, slow cooker meatballs and beef enchiladas both require meat - so that's one protein for 2 meals.
- Buy pre-minced jarred garlic and ginger.
- Buy frozen veggies that can be heated in the bag or a bowl. Again, another thing you don't have to clean and chop.
The most important lesson I've learned from cooking dinner with a toddler is, don't bank on the estimated hands on time in a recipe. With all the toddler entertaining and snack-making I have to do, I add on at least 30 minutes to a recipe's time estimate!