Eating Dinner Together – Part 4 (Cooking Strategies)

Nearly every day, at least one menu item on our table finds its way there via the freezer.  It might be a loaf of bread baked the previous week, precooked ground beef intended for a quick skillet meal, or a spare lasagna assembled last month.

slow cooker freezer cooking family meals real food easy fast cheap good

Any given week, we also utilize our slow cooker once or twice.  We use it to make soups, casseroles, roasts, and a variety of other dishes.  The option to dump and pour several ingredients in a pot and walk away from it until suppertime is an enormous blessing for this busy mom.

Judicious use of the slow cooker and freezer are not my only dinner making tools in my toolbox, though.  If you followed my posts earlier this month, then you know that having a menu and planning ahead are my two primary methods in getting real food on the table for our family to eat together every day of the week.  You can see those posts here:

My strategy this week?  Do as little work as possible in the kitchen.  I enjoy cooking.  But the truth is I do not have a lot of time to spend preparing food.

Instead, I am occupied shuffling kids around town, cleaning the house, teaching math and spelling, or completing tasks for volunteer projects.  In order to save my sanity, I minimize my workload as much as possible.  I make adaptations in the kitchen constantly and streamline tasks.

Our food is not gourmet.  It is not gross, either.  Well, most of the time it tastes good.  We had a little incident with underripe bananas at supper tonight.  That is a story for another day, though.

Strategies for getting supper made in a hurry:

1. Cook for your table and your freezer.

Honest to goodness, freezer cooking has been one of the most effective ways I have saved my sanity over the years.  I prepared for the arrival of babies, the transitions into new jobs, and moves into new homes by stuffing weeks worth of meals into our freezer.  There are many different strategies and opinions on how a person should freezer cook.  Personally, I think you just have to try it a few times to see what works best for you.

Back when I started freezer cooking in 2004, it was actually a little challenging to find a decent freezer cookbook.  There were only a few options at the bookstore and the concept of eBooks had yet to really take off.  The funny thing is, my ratty old freezer cooking favorite is still an option many people turn to.

Nanci Slagle, aka, the 30 Day Gourmet, has a book chock-full of freezer friendly recipes.  It is hands down my best freezer cookbook.  Her ingredients are “normal,” everything is easy to make, and our family has liked everything we have tried.

30 Day Gourmet’s Big Book, by Nanci Slagle

2. Become best buddies with your slow cooker.

My mom used her slow cooker a ton when I was growing up.  It never occurred to me what a genius she was for using it so much until I had kids of my own.  Mom, I apologize.  I should have known.

We received our first slow cooker as a wedding gift.  It went completely kaput about a week before we loaded our family in the car for a two week road trip to Washington, D.C., this spring.  That was a huge problem for me, because my entire dinner plan on that vacation centered around the use of a slow cooker.

So I did something I almost never do.  I went into the store and impulse shopped for the first thing I could find.  I did not pay full retail on a brand new kitchen appliance, but I did not save much, either.  I absolutely had to have a slow cooker.

While we were in D.C., we almost never ate out.  Instead, every day before we left from our rental unit to see the sights, I loaded the slow cooker up with our supper ingredients.  At the end of the day when my feet were tired and my brain was more than a little fried, all I had to do was find a big ol’ spoon for dinner to be served.

Here at home, we use the slow cooker on nights with crazy dance lesson schedules and before heading out the door to Awana or confirmation.  Plus, it is a great little device to cook up large batches of meat or produce that can eventually find their way into the freezer for another day.

3. Have some go-to meals that can be prepared in no time.

I have mentioned on the blog before that I am impatient about getting dinner on the table.  If I cannot get the entire meal competed in less than thirty minutes, I probably will choose to make something else.

A long time ago, before I was raising kids, I thought Rachael Ray was pretty cool.  Her whole 30 Minute Meals idea really appealed to me.  I even bought a few of her cookbooks.  The problem with Rachael, though, is that she likes fancy (aka expensive) ingredients.  I do not cook the way Rachael does, so I ended up selling all of her cookbooks and looking for a better alternative.

My favorite?  This one, by Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross.  I mean, seriously.  The title alone is enough to win my heart.

Cheap. Fast. Good!, by Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross

Next week, I will share some of our strategies for brown bagging meals.  Packing meals does not have to be limited to lunches at work and school.

What are your favorite cooking resources?  How do you make sure you get dinner on the table?

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