In this month’s newsletter (out April 1!), I argue that being organized about household chores doesn’t necessarily save you time. There may be other benefits, like more interesting meals, perhaps, if they’re planned and cooked ahead on weekends. It’s not a causation relationship. Being organized in and of itself doesn’t make you spend more time on chores. But there’s a correlation between organization/rituals and spending more time on housework, because people who run a load of laundry every morning to keep it from piling up are also the sorts of people who really like having a clean and organized house — so they spend their weekends achieving this, too.
But what about the rest of us? My housework and errand totals per week are pretty low. When asked, I answer that this is a combination of outsourcing and standards best described as “relaxed.” My husband does some chunk of chores and errands too, so just because my totals are low doesn’t mean the household total is so paltry.
I do know, however, that I wind up doing at least 80 percent of the cooking around here. My husband travels a lot, so he’s often just not around for much of the weekday meal preparation and consumption (or eating, of course, so that’s one less person to deal with). I don’t spend time meal planning in the traditional sense. We go to Costco every 3-4 weeks and buy large sizes of meat, produce, cereal, eggs, etc. Somebody makes an additional quick grocery shopping trip once a week to the local grocery to freshen up supplies. We usually have the ingredients for a few basic meals on hand, and also have some frozen prepared dishes in the freezer that I’d be unlikely to make from scratch (chicken tikka masala, etc.)
I love to eat. When people ask me for my restaurant preferences, I respond, honestly, that I eat everything with enthusiasm (see my raw egg adventures in Japan). My kids, alas, are not gourmet eaters yet. They want things on the simple side. So pasta, sauce, cheese, and meat are all OK on their own, but mixed together as lasagna they get looked at suspiciously. While I love to eat, I have little interest in spending an hour cooking a meal they’re going to whine about, especially if I can get some fruits and vegetables into them in other ways. I do some recreational cooking and baking and I completely understand that cooking can be fun. It can be fun to explore new recipes, or hunt for unexpected ingredients in cute little markets. I can imagine doing a lot more of that at another stage of my life. Right now it’s not a top priority.
The kids usually like cereal, bagels with lox, waffles, pancakes, oatmeal, or eggs, or yogurt for breakfast. Of these, pancakes take the longest, but not too long from a mix. My 6-year-old buys school lunch. In a big win for peer pressure, they got him to try arugula the other day! The 4-year-old and 2-year-old eat lunch at home. It’s often mac and cheese or a sandwich, and fruit (the 4-year-old sometimes has veggies too — he’s the more adventurous one). I eat leftovers, or a Lean Cuisine type meal, usually with quickly cooked veggies on the side. I do something between steaming and sauteing cauliflower or broccoli in 8 minutes flat. Snacks are things like fruit, yogurt, cheese, pretzels, nuts.
Dinner for adults who are around is often protein with a sauce plus veggies (last night was salmon in teriyaki sauce plus broccoli). Salads are pretty quick too. Tonight was my “Southwest chicken salad” — 2 cut-up chicken tenders sauteed with red pepper and corn, served on a bed of greens with avocado, cut up cucumber, and spicy ranch dressing. I timed it tonight: 10 minutes tops. If we go with one of the prepared meals, we heat it up, then do lots of veggies on the side. I do work from home, which opens up some possibilities, and so occasionally I bake chicken over veggies, which takes about 45 minutes, but not 45 active minutes. You spend 5 minutes chopping the veggies — or not. Many can be bought pre-sliced! Stick the chicken on top, stick it in the oven, add a marinade if you so desire, go read the paper or play outside and dinner is basically ready when it comes out. I tend to skip the starch, but there are microwave rices without flavorings and added salt that cook in 90 seconds.
The kids like kid food. So their dinner is largely about putting some piece of adult food on their plates that they may try and over time come to like, making sure they eat a serving of fruit and a serving of vegetables, and then giving them something they will eat that’s hopefully got some redeeming value. We do breakfast for dinner sometimes (scrambled or boiled eggs), hamburgers, chicken strips that then turn into my Southwest chicken salad in leftover form when a kid doesn’t finish them, Bagel Bites, frozen pizza, Annie’s mac ‘n cheese, pasta in various shapes, putting cheese between two tortillas and cooking it and calling it quesadillas, etc. Two out of three will eat smoked salmon and steak, so these make appearances too.
We’ve been going out to eat once a week or so as a family. I usually grab sushi on Tuesday nights when I work late. My husband and I eat out together once every 2 weeks or so.
Because the meals are simple there aren’t that many dishes to do. While I dislike being on the hook for making a meal and doing the dishes after, when I look at the clock, I see that it doesn’t take that much time. Two pans is a 2-minute job. Unloading the dishwasher is 5-7 minutes. It only feels like it takes 5 hours.
What’s for dinner in your house?
In other news: Cloud, of the Wandering Scientist blog, has a long-running series called Dinner During Dora consisting of 22-minute recipes.
Photo: Another of my favorite entree salads — leftover restaurant steak, cooked with mushrooms.