You made a plan. A nice, thorough meal plan for the week.
You agonized over the meals. You looked up easy weeknight dinners for hours and then picked The Perfect Five.
You shed a tear or two, because that’s what one does during meal planning, right?!
And after all your effort, after putting together the longest shopping list of your life, after several glasses of much needed wine, you went to work in the kitchen.
So there you are now, juggling your baby and toddler alongside a pot of boiling water, tons of veggies that need chopping and a sauce that needs to be made separately, all the while your husband just wants to kiss you hello.
And you snap.
You throw the carrots you were just about to peel (approximately five hours too late) into the sink, which makes the baby start screaming at the top of her lungs. You ask your husband why he couldn’t just take those kids into the living room for five minutes instead of standing in your way. And you take the whisk out of your toddler’s hand to send her away with dad, which causes her to throw herself into the water you splashed on the floor when you lost your temper with those ridiculous carrots.
Your anxiety and stress levels are through the roof, you’re breaking a sweat over a seemingly simple weeknight dinner and when you finally sit down to eat – the family dinner experience is definitely not what you pictured it to be.
And the following night? All the hours you spent planning your meals are wasted on frozen pizza, because who wants to go through this mess night after night?! You’re clearly just too busy, or simply a failure at being a good and caring mother.
But here’s the truth: You don’t have a problem with being too busy to cook. You’re not a hopeless failure in the kitchen.
You just have a perspective problem.
A lot of recipes on the Internet claim to be some magical solution. A meal you can have on the table in less than 30 minutes.
“Look at me, serving up this EASY and simple 30 minute dinner salad… Oh, by the way, it includes homemade candied pecans, a homemade dressing with pureed homegrown raspberries (you HAVE to sift out the seeds, there’s no other way!!) and a glazed and grilled and marinated butterflied breast of turtle dove. By the way, my husband and kids LOVE eating a healthy salad for dinner!”
Though here’s a fact: While a (very simple) recipe might be ready in such a short amount of time, or with such little effort, a full meal in real life mostly isn’t.
And a lot of recipes out there claiming to be weeknight fare? Ahem, they most certainly aren’t.
#realweeknightdinners don’t have a garnish of chopped parsley.#realweeknightdinners don’t have a garnish of chopped parsley.Click To Tweet
Real weeknight dinners also don’t have seven components, or homemade pizza dough, or even a side salad.
Seriously, side salads?! This mama ain’t washing no salad with two kids crying.
There’s no way you can chop two pounds of potatoes and a pound of vegetables in 10 minutes, because that’s all you get for a “30 minute” dinner recipe that needs 20 minutes cook time.
Now add the kids to the kitchen, and your timeline just went out the window and is waving down from across the clouds.
And there’s also the fact that it’s never a good idea to pick completely new recipes for busy nights.
So – what can you do to stop feeling like a failure in the kitchen and end the stress of cooking for your family?
Figure out your cooking skill level
If you don’t really know how to cook spaghetti, but you pick a recipe for white wine clam sauce over butterflied Cornish hens for Wednesday night after soccer – well.
Exaggerating here, of course.
But ask yourself a few questions, like:
- Do I generally feel confident in my cooking skills? Or do I have no idea what I’m doing?
- Do I know some basic cooking techniques like boiling, sautéing, pan-frying, grilling and steaming, or do I need to yet learn them?
- Do I know how to use kitchen knives, do I know how to chop vegetables, do I know how to cook meat?
This will make you aware of your cooking skills, and prevent you from picking recipes way out of your comfort zone.
I’m not saying to never push your comfort zone, but it’s a better idea to just tickle the sides vs jumping into the cold ocean like
me sometimes a crazy person.
Get real with your time management
The “dinner on the table in 30 minutes” lie is just that: A lie.
Sure, you can have a pasta dish with cream cheese and frozen vegetables on the table in 30 minutes. I’m not even fighting that.
But… Is it the kind of dinner you want to eat every night?
Probably not. More likely, it’s an emergency solution. Or a side dish, which definitely leads to spending more time in the kitchen in total.
I never plan to be finished in under an hour. Especially not if I’m at home alone with both kids.
So try this, if your schedule allows it at all: Set aside an entire hour for cooking dinner. Even if you’re cooking something you already know, it will totally de-stress your time in the kitchen.
If your schedule doesn’t give you 60 minutes before dinner time? Try to divide your time and get the prep-work out of the way the night before, or in the morning. Whatever works in your life, find the 60 minutes for dinner. And if you cook a double batch, you can save yourself 50 minutes on another night.
Learn basic recipes and customize them
There’s no need to look up new recipes all the time if you learn a few basics.
Disclaimer: I’m only talking about meals during the busy weeknights. I’m all for new, interesting and more involved recipes on weekends, for special occasions and to celebrate.
But for those everyday meals, pick a few simple recipes according to your skill levels and learn to customize them.
You can even base your meal plan around this.
For example, pick two “square meals” (aka starch, side, meat), a pasta dish, a casserole and a one pot recipe and learn to make them by heart.
But what if you’re just really not a good cook?
First of all: It’s OK to not be good at something.
If you’re serious about being more efficient in the kitchen, don’t learn new recipes at first. Learn the techniques.
And these tips above? They apply to anyone. It’s just a matter of what YOU consider an easy meal. What YOU know you can cook.
It doesn’t matter if Miss White-Picket-Fence next door effortlessly puts a seven course meal on the table every night. It doesn’t mean you have to, too!
And it doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom either. Let’s be honest here: Does it REALLY matter if your kids don’t know how to spell Hors d’Heuvre? Probably not.
What matters is that they know their mom cares enough to make them food, and that she’s there with them, at the dining table, talking and laughing and connecting.
And if having the nerve and capacity for positive vibes during dinner means slightly overcooked pasta and sauce from a jar on their plates… Then so be it.