Podcast discussion thread: Getting dinner on the table

Today's food themed Best of Both Worlds podcast is mostly about that common weeknight pain point: getting dinner on the table. Everyone is coming home from work, and daycare or aftercare, and everyone is tired and hungry, but someone has to get dinner on the table. (Or at least someone probably thinks she should get dinner on the table. The cultural narrative of mom-must-cook-family-dinner-nightly is pretty stubbornly out there.)

Consequently, a lot of women in particular experience a lot of stress thinking about weeknight dinners. It's often easier to resort to take-out, which can be fun, but can also be expensive and not-terribly-healthy when done nightly.

We pegged this episode off a great thread over at The Frugal Girl, in which a reader posed this exact question. The Frugal Girl's readers offered over 150 comments full of suggestions. The most helpful boil down to a few ideas:

Theme nights. This is "taco Tuesday" only expanded to include, say, pizza Friday, and sandwich night, and breakfast-for-dinner night, or pasta night, or make-your-own salad night, or whatever. The point is to have at least 2 nights per week when you know what you're having, so these items have automatically gone on the grocery list. Only having to think through 3 nights, instead of 5, feels much more doable. Or, heck, have theme nights all 5 nights!

Go simple. Sarah's family always has fish on Monday. There are many very very quick fish recipes. Throw a sauce on a piece of salmon, bake it in the oven, and throw one of those steam-in-the-bag bags of green beans in the microwave, and you have dinner in 20 minutes. Shrimp can be sautéed in butter or oil, and sprinkled with some sort of spice, then served with a side of veggies or a pre-made salad. Of course, there are many quick and easy dinner possibilities. Omelets. Pre-cooked chicken, beans, corn, tomatoes, and guac thrown on lettuce is a Southwest salad. Dinner need not be elaborate.

Use supermarket shortcuts. Speaking of pre-cooked chicken... Rotisserie chickens always taste good. There are a lot of pre-made items (I've been enjoying Oprah's soups - the new O That's Good line) that can heat up quick. A soup, pre-made salad, and a loaf of bread from the bakery is probably going to be cheaper and healthier than take-out, even if it is mostly prepared.

Try the Crock-Pot. If you're up relatively early with your kids in the morning, you might have some time to throw a few ingredients in a slow cooker. The upside of this is that you come home to some amazing aromas, which almost feels like someone else is cooking you dinner. And it's ready the second you walk in, while most other things will not be.

Share the load. There is no reason Mom needs to make dinner nightly. Any other adults in the house are likely capable of doing this task too. Or teen (or possibly even pre-teen) children can take it on a night or two a week. Sarah and I have both elected to outsource most during-the-week dinner prep precisely because it was an annoying pain point. If you do have a caregiver who is at your house during the day with some down time (longer naps, or when kids are in school or preschool) this can be a great option. Alternately, if you don't have young kids but do have a housekeeper who comes in twice a week, you might add on an hour or two and get dinner prep included. If he/she makes enough for two nights each time, and you eat leftovers, that covers 4 nights. Do pizza on Friday and you're done! Speaking of leftovers...

Eat leftovers. If you're making a batch of something, it's often easy enough to make double (or even triple) and eat it again later in the week. It doesn't have to be the exact same form. Extra hamburgers could become taco meat, or could become the protein mixed with tomato sauce and served with pasta.  Sarah's family has leftovers 2 times per week, so she's only planning 3 nights.

One word of caution on the cooking ahead front, though (and I consider this my public service announcement with this particular episode). Cooking on weekends doesn't necessarily save you time. When I was writing I Know How She Does It, I heard from a number of women who'd told me that they shopped on Saturday, and then spent Sunday afternoon cooking for the week. (Oddly enough, more than one told me that her mother had taught her that this is what working mothers *should* do. Oh, these narratives!) The problem with this is that while you might eat more elaborate meals during the week, which some people might consider a positive, you'll devote even more time to cooking. You'll turn what could be weekend leisure time into housework time. And then, during the week, you'll still need to heat up the dishes you cooked on the weekend. My experience is that people who cook ahead on the weekends tend to then use the time stuff is heating up in the oven to make side dishes. So they're still in the kitchen for as much time as they would be anyway. You might be better off just making simple stuff, rather than losing your weekend to cooking.

Unless you really enjoy the cooking. Then that's fine! But if you don't, well, best not to spend much more time on it than necessary.

How do you handle weeknight dinners? Do you do taco Tuesday, or such things?

 

 

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60 Responses to Podcast discussion thread: Getting dinner on the table


  1. Maren says:

    I’m not really one to talk, because my husband does all the food stuff, but it seems not many people do it this way, so maybe it will help someone.

    My husband usually cooks the dinner meal either that morning (early before the kids are up) or the night before (later after the kids are in bed). Then it stays in the fridge til dinnertime. We’re both doctors and are usually getting home right when the kids want to eat dinner (6-6:15pm), so stuff that can be reheated and on the table in 5-10 min is ideal. Maybe once the kids are a little bigger and can tolerate a later dinner he can make something quick. But for now, the make-ahead-and-reheat works pretty well.

    • @Maren – for what it’s worth, this is roughly what G does for us – cooks in the AM during some down time, or during the 2-year-old’s nap. Then it’s reheated for dinner.

  2. These are all really helpful tips.

    We’re actually in the process of re-balancing some things at home as I start a more flexible position next week. One of the (simple) things that I did over the weekend is to make a list of all of our regular dinners. Having a list makes it easy to just glance through options – as opposed to looking in the fridge/pantry and wondering what to make for dinner or searching through recipes on the internet. It also helps for planning ahead and grocery shopping.

    • @Harmony – congrats on the new position! I am so glad that worked out. And yes, not having to think about it is key. A list can help with that quite a bit.

    • Cb says:

      I am an impressionistic cook and realised I need to write my recipes down so I can use them as a starting point for a shopping list. Nothing worse than realising we don’t have the necessary veg.

      My go tos are pretty simple – stir fry, pad Thai, lasagne, quiche etc.

  3. Alison says:

    What were the blogs that Sarah mentioned that she got meal ideas?

  4. Jennifer says:

    I haven’t listened to the episode yet, but I’m looking forward to it. My 5-year-old is very fond of Taco Tuesday (though if Tuesday doesn’t work for whatever reason, she’ll ask if we can have it on “that other day that starts with T” or, twisting a line from The Lego Movie, “can we have Taco Tuesday, except on a Friday?”)

    She recently requested that we start having Mac and Cheese Monday, which I’ve gone along with because we already eat that almost every week, and because the box version is one of the few things my husband is comfortable cooking, and he rarely works late on Mondays so usually he can have it ready when we get home if I text when I get to after-school pickup. We recently started Monday night swim lessons, so a quick dinner is extra important.

    • ARC says:

      My Norwegian friend says ‘Taco Friday’ is a thing in Norway 🙂

      • Sarah says:

        Taco Fridays are huge in Sweden! Many families have them every week (and not different kinds of tacos each week either – it is ground-beef-tacos-from-the-1980s every single week). It is a whole tradition (fredagsmys – cozy Fridays) that also involves curling up on the couch and watching a movie together. We are only in Sweden for the year, but I am going to miss this tradition!

        • Ana says:

          fredagsmys! I love it! This is exactly what I’ve been trying to enact in my house and I didn’t even know there was a word for the concept. We are more pizza and movie on Friday, but the coziness is the real essence.

  5. ARC says:

    Instant Pot. That thing is amazing – it cooks the same stuff you can make in a slow cooker but much faster.

    This is one of my major pain points, even as I am not working now (so clearly it wasn’t the job!). I have been doing some theme nights (breakfast for dinner is a favorite), cooking a large batch of something for Sunday night, which we can eat again sometime during the week, but am still struggling with this. It’s mostly in the planning/shopping part. Without an elaborate planning session right before I place a grocery order, it seems like I’m always missing *something*.

    • @ARC – I have thought of asking for an Instant Pot for Christmas. Not that we particularly need more stuff on our counters! But people do seem to like it a lot.

  6. Omdg says:

    Our daughter eats a big snack prepared by out au pair when she gets home from school, so she never eats much for dinner anyway. So… we’ve recently started experimenting with snack for dinner. Which requires virtually no prep. Who says you need a big family meal at all?

    • @Omdg – that works! It’s like charcuterie, or tapas, or something like that 🙂

      • Cb says:

        I call this our French picnic dinner – veg, cheese, oatcakes, fruit, nuts, maybe some falafel or vine leaves.

        • Amy S says:

          YES! We call this “snack supper” and it’s our kids favorite dinner.

      • Shelly says:

        I like that idea! Sometimes we do appetizers for dinner but there are so many things that my daughter won’t eat (she is five) that it is still stressful to plan for.
        I like the idea of snacks! I noticed that somehow I feel pressure to always make a full meal and that if I just think more simple items they are usually well received by the kids and way less stress and work (plain pasta with butter for example).

  7. H says:

    I work in higher ed, and our institution’s dining company offers a family-sized meal each week that you can order and bring home, an entree, a side, a salad, and dessert. It usually just needs one part of it to be put straight in the oven for an hour. We almost always eat the leftovers for several days after that. It’s a huge time saver for us and less than $25. The hardest thing is making sure it gets in the oven around 4:30 PM.

    • @H – this sounds like a really awesome offering. Sarah mentioned a local restaurant offering a similar deal that she took advantage of for a while.

  8. Cb says:

    We haven’t been great with the planning and I tend to buy different things at different stores (Lidl for basics, natural food shop, French bakery). My plan before I head back to work after maternity leave is to identify three weeks of recipes that we like and import them to paprika. We can then select meals, create a shopping list and send my husband off to Lidl on Sunday morning.

    We cook pretty simple veggie heavy meals – chilli, stews, stir fry, tacos, sheet pan recipes and the goal is to have enough for leftovers the next day. Whenever I make chilli or stew (in the instant pot), I make enough for a freezer portion.

    And if all else fails, we can chop up whatever veg we have in the fridge and make scrambled eggs.

    • Cb says:

      To add, I feel like I’ve got a handle on dinner but I’m breastfeeding and baby hates cheese. I’m so, so hungry all the time (was down to prepregnancy weight immediately and struggling to keep weight on) and need to up my snack game.

  9. AR says:

    This is also a major pain point for me. I’ve tried doing theme nights but I felt like even that was too much mental work for me. I’ve started having a weekly menu so that we have the same food every week (or every other week). I feel like it’s actually easier for my toddlers – less variety means they’ll be happy to eat the proteins/vegetables because they’re used to them. Our menu is leftovers/eggs Sunday night, hamburger/taco Monday, bone-in chicken baked with grain Tuesday, easy unhealthy (cold cuts/hot dogs) Wednesday, and pasta/fish Thursday.

  10. Monika says:

    This was always painful for me too. In an effort to help out more with food prep, a few weeks ago my husband started grilling different proteins on Sunday afternoons/evenings. He usually does several chicken breasts, tights, ribs, etc. We than have proteins for several dinners during the week and I just have to make some quick sides. I usually make quick salad or rice or cous cous and dinner is done! It doesn’t take a lot of effort on his end and has made my life so much easier. He likes it too because he doesn’t have to hear me talk about what to make for dinner again. We have 3 kids 4 and under and they like grilled food and I can make batches of sides that they like too.

    • @Monika – we did some of the extra grilling over the summer, too. If you’re cooking two small steaks for two adults, may as well cook 6 once the grill is lit. And then we had tasty meat to add to stuff all week (salads, etc.)

  11. Gillian says:

    I feel like this is an area where we have finally gotten into a groove. I meal plan on Friday afternoons for the following Sun-Sat. We use the grocery deliver service FreshDirect and have a standing deliver slot on Sunday mornings. We also are lucky to have local milk delivery (milk eggs and butter) which comes Wednesday. We try to eat vegetarian at least once a week and we try to eat fish once a week. I actually really enjoy cooking so I do most of it, but this is by choice. The days when I cook (vs. reheat or make pasta and use prepared sauce) are the days when I know I will be home from work early. I often get a kid or two to help and chat with them while we work.

    Our week goes something like this:
    Sunday: I enjoy making something more adventurous and I try to double the recipe and freeze the extra for a weekday meal in coming weeks.
    Monday: Au pair feeds the kids (meatballs and fish sticks are favs), grown-ups have a big salad and some yummy cheese
    Tuesday: Something super speedy (i.e. reheating something from the freezer, steak or chicken salads using leftovers, fish/veggie/salad like SHU)
    Wednesday: one of a rotation of chicken and pork dishes that can be prepared in 45 minutes or less (I love Dinner a Love Story for these types of recipes)
    Thursday: Pasta
    Friday: Crockpot meal or something similar to Wednesday
    Saturday: Pizza and movie night (about 50 % of the time) or date night and kids have a variation on Monday’s dinner (the other 50% of the time)
    We try to eat together as a family 5 night per week. Some weeks we manage that other weeks it is merely aspirational.

    I can count the times I have stepped foot a grocery store in the last year on 1 hand. That is just about how I like it.

  12. H says:

    Forgive me for commenting twice, but I have to share a Real Simple recipe since those were mentioned as so useful. I cut this recipe (https://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/browse-all-recipes/cuban-black-beans-rice) out of the magazine years ago, decided to try it out three years ago, and it has now become a weekly staple. Mondays are usually beans and rice night for us. It’s great on its own and even better when we add in avocado, salsa, chips, and sour cream, and occasionally cooked chicken. The strangest thing about this recipe is that my husband, who is kind of anti-vegetarian, actually craves it. We can’t figure out why. The recipe has saved us so much time and money over the years, has stood up to toddler pickiness, and is easily cooked by both my husband and me depending on who is on dinner duty. My mother-in-law even makes it now, both at our house and at hers. She is even more mystified about why she likes it so much.

    • ARC says:

      THANK YOU SO MUCH for this recipe!!!! I just tried it this week and everyone raved about it (which rarely happened). And in fact, every member of the family was happy to eat it as leftovers too. Totally adding it to the rotation. <3

      • @ARC – I am getting a warm and fuzzy feeling right now about this. This blog discussion thread has proved useful!!

  13. Alexicographer says:

    In an era when we are ostensibly supposed to be into un-prepared food (unless we do the prep), I’ve (kind of) embraced it. There’s a bunch of stuff I can get from Costco (e.g. their lasagne, or Asisan-style dumplings) that has very few ingredients I wouldn’t make in my home cooked version, and the ease of prep is dramatically increased. And I’ve learned a few other shortcuts — ground beef (or any ground meat) can be cooked and then frozen, to be added to (store bought!) spaghetti sauces, etc., as needed (ditto cooked shrimp, good in any number of pasta dishes or straight up). I buy very few fresh veggies (outside of those that go into a salad), preferring those that come frozen (and generally sliced/diced/prepped) and can be warmed up readily in the microwave with some butter, or tossed into recipes. Though I will roast a big tray of root veggies at the beginning of the week and then dole those out over the course of our meals. We also usually only have at most 4 family suppers at home in any given week, between DH’s scheduled time out and my own.

  14. Zenmoo says:

    We use a meal ingredients delivery service- 4 meals per week generally covers us for leftovers & lunches as well. I realised the other day we’ve been using the service for almost three year now! I love not having to think about what we eat, having the right ingredients etc. Our nanny frequently preps ingredients or cooks ahead during nap times which shortens prep time. I was also thrilled to discover the sports club my daughter signed up in winter for puts on meals for the juniors after training. This means I can feed the kids at 6pm at the clubhouse (and maybe have a glass of wine & chat to other parents or order an adult meal). I shall be strongly encouraging her to sign up again next year!

  15. Cate says:

    Thanks for this episode Laura and Sarah, I really enjoyed it! I started listening just before the van arrived with my weekly groceries, and finished listening while cooking a huge vat of chilli con carne!

    There are so many wonderful suggestions here, I totally agree with. The themed nights (we always have pizza on a rug in the living room watching a film on Saturdays) work well for us, as does cooking huge quantities of something lovely then freezing portions that only take a few minutes to reheat another day. I haven’t physically gone to the shops for a big weekly shop for years, now if we go it will be a more pleasant quick dash for some extra treat we fancy, which is fine.

    I’d like to pass on one extra suggestion that has worked brilliantly for my sister-in-law. All of her family either work at or attend schools, so they saved themselves a load of time and stress by changing their mindset about what time of day a hot meal “ought” to happen. Each of them had access to a cafeteria with a good choice of hot meals, so lunch became the main meal for all of them, and then they just had a light sandwich/egg type evening meal every weeknight. That meant they only spent 5 to 10 minutes on food prep in the evening, but could still all sit and eat together as a family when that suited them.

  16. Sophia says:

    The meal delivery kits always seemed silly to me. At $8-12 per person and 30-45 min prep it never seemed like a good deal with all the packaging etc. I can order thai food (fairly healthy) for $10-14 per person with delivery (NYC) and have leftovers.

    Most weeks we do a combination of:
    -WF frozen pizza with a simple salad
    -mac and cheese + a vegetable
    -breakfast for dinner (eggs, waffles, toast)
    -chicken nuggets (frozen) with sweet potato fries
    -pasta with sausage and a vegetable
    -farm share veggies in the slow cooker

    Weekends we typically order out or sometimes have a large late lunch (2-3 pm) so the kids get a snack before bed. When we had just one child we did make your own pizza Fridays (buy the dough) which I’d like to get back to.

    • Alexicographer says:

      Totally agree, on the meal delivery. I can buy cooked or ready-to-cook food at Costco (among other places) that requires no prep and costs less (and that’s true even given that I limit myself to things that contain only “real” ingredients, in a Michael Pollan sense). I do not get the appeal of Blue Apron, etc. Also, in my world, a meal that requires 30 minutes of prep time/cooking is a meal that involves a lot of work and takes too long, not a little/quick.

      • Zenmoo says:

        For my family, the meal delivery works because it out sources the bit we don’t like (thinking about what to eat, shopping) and leaves us with the parts we do (cooking and lots of novelty in food). And we often outsource the prep. It avoids arguments about what to eat, ensures we eat LOTS of fresh veggies and has added some great meals to our repertoire (who knew we liked fish curry?) For us it avoids food waste too – I am the kind of person who buys random stuff “because it looks interesting” and then can’t figure out what to do with it. And I say “we” because my husband is equally invested in novelty and freshness – but is crap at shopping the fridge to make a meal. But anyone can follow a step by step recipe card. I keep the best ones too, that become easy family standards. So yeah – that’s why it works for us.

        • Alexicographer says:

          Makes sense. I don’t like to cook, and my family’s not big on novelty, so no real pluses for me/us, but sounds better for what you’re looking for!

  17. Sarah says:

    I love your blog and have enjoyed several of the podcasts so far, but I this last one really missed the mark for me. Listening to a meal planning/food on the table discussion from two people who, for the most part, do not actually get food on the table was not particularly enjoyable. It seemed particularly limited because you and Laura have such similar home situations that, I think, are pretty atypical. I hope in the future you’ll think about getting a guest for topics like this (maybe one of the bloggers you listed, for example?) because this episode really turned me off from listening to future podcasts.

    • @Sarah – thanks for your comment! I agree that our lives are not completely typical. On the other hand, I did get dinner on the table pretty much every night for years, so it’s not like I have no experience with this. There have been a great many Crock Pot, pizza, breakfast-for-dinner, etc. nights in my life. I decided about a year and half ago that I was finding it more stressful than I wanted, so I took the opportunity to get it off my plate, as it were.

    • H says:

      Sarah, I want to express a similar thought but also an encouragement. I listened to the podcast episode on outsourcing with my mouth dropped open almost the whole time, because the thought of a nanny handling so many household and childcare tasks is just something my household will never be able to do. I was daydreaming about how different my life would be, professionally and personally, if we could truly outsource all those things, but it will never happen. To be honest, I almost unsubscribed to the podcast because it just felt so out of my experience. I think it is great that the hosts were up front about what is handled by their nannies, but it’s just a whole different world. In some ways, I do wish for more recommendations and tips for middling ground – situations in which women are professionals, highly credentialed and experienced (even as highly credentialed as one can be in their field), but their fields don’t pay that well. There’s even the angle that many fields have reduced administrative support so women (and men) in these fields and at these compensation levels are actually handling more tasks and less able to delegate at work, let alone home.

      But it has been helpful for me to hear the overall advice, to really think through what will truly save time and not just shift it around. So, the overall gist of the perspectives is helpful, and I find it fruitful to do some thinking on my own. Maybe someone needs to start a podcast about being very middle income, being a professional, and being a working parent. 🙂

      • H says:

        Thanks H.

        I do think that yes, there are going to be differences in how Laura and I manage things. That said, I subscribe to many podcasts of SAHMs and still enjoy getting ideas from them, even if my situation is not the same. Sometimes it’s just interesting (to me) to hear how others do things — almost in a voyeuristic way. This episode wasn’t meant to be us talking as experts, but just as we handle things from day to day. I’m absolutely okay if that’s not for everyone, but I found it a voice previously missing from the podcast-sphere.

      • SHU says:

        Thanks H.

        I do think that yes, there are going to be differences in how Laura and I manage things. That said, I subscribe to many podcasts of SAHMs and still enjoy getting ideas from them, even if my situation is not the same. Sometimes it’s just interesting (to me) to hear how others do things — almost in a voyeuristic way. This episode wasn’t meant to be us talking as experts, but just as we handle things from day to day. I’m absolutely okay if that’s not for everyone, but I found it a voice previously missing from the podcast-sphere.

  18. JH says:

    While a fan of other PodCasts, like the above reader I found this one not so helpful nor interesting, but for a different reason. Um…the things discussed bordered on common sense. Leftovers?
    theme nights? Anyone who’s given some *serious* thought about this topic would have heard of those suggestions. Another was the assumption that we can all eat anything. I’m surprised to find that there is no discussion here about the challenge of putting dinner on a table with young children – it can be a toddler who can’t quite chew crust and a 3-year old who can only digest cooked veggies. This could pass alright for a busy couple on the fly but for a family with young children? I’m not so sure. I’m on the same boat that I want to save time, but perhaps due to my cultural background I place more value on a good meal, with higher expectations of what a meal consists of. I think it would have been more helpful if the podcast did the research and featured more creative ideas on the topic of feeding kids rather than cutting time in the kitchen.

    • Sara says:

      I enjoyed this episode, although I think most of the suggestions fall into the categories of lowering your standards (e.g. very simple dinners) or outsourcing the task to others (whether a nanny, another family member, or takeout). Both are great strategies, in my opinion, and I use them a lot! The reality is that cooking takes work and time. There are shortcuts, for sure, but if eating amazing dinners with your family every night is your goal, you just need to make it a priority (potentially at the expense of other things – like work, personal time, or spending time with your family). I do think you have to be a “planner” to be successful in this area as a working parent or you will waste a lot of time running to the grocery store at the last minute, etc. A few things that work for my family with two little kids (1 and 3): 1) Always have “kids friendly” favorites that are healthy and quick in the fridge/freezer – Meatballs, Chicken nuggets, frozen veggies, string cheese, etc. so if they are starving upon arrival you can feed them quickly and the adults can eat later (we try to eat together most of the time, but we also have to be realistic) 2) Extra portions of things like grilled chicken and taco meat are no more effort and the leftovers are so nice 3) Have a meal plan every week and think about the reality of your week (for instance, I *never* plan on cooking anything complicated on Monday – I’m tired) 4) Takeout every Friday 🙂 I love the idea of people sharing their favorite go-to recipes, too! Might be a topic for another day 😉

    • @JH – Thanks for your comment. I do know that cultural expectations can play a large role in culinary expectations. As one example, I spoke once with a group of professional women of southeast Asian backgrounds, and the average time in the kitchen was *massively* higher than what I might have expected, given their work profiles. When asked, people mentioned the expectation of homemade and rather elaborate dishes. It is not right or wrong, but it is good to at least be aware of it.

      My kids are reasonably picky too. The upside of this is that it makes food prep for them pretty easy. There’s only so much they’ll eat, so there’s only so much I (or now G) will cook. Scrambled eggs, pasta, mac and cheese, quesadillas, pizza, grilled cheese, hot dogs, and a few other options as mains. So then we add a lot of fruits and veggies on the side and they do great on the fruit and tolerate the veggies and they all seem to be meeting their growth milestones, so I think we’re OK.

      Food allergies would be a whole different game. I am very grateful to have been spared that.

      • Gillian says:

        This is an interesting point. My cultural baggage is that dinner time is a time to teach about food and manners (my mother is French). While we have rotations, family dinner is a time to try to expand picky palates. I think this cuts both ways, I learned a lot of simple fast recipes from my mother, but I feel obligated to constantly introduce what is new or less favored. This can make dinner time stressful. This is not to say my kids never eat what they like–they do. But let’s say this week’s Quinoa pilaf and crusted fish recipes were not big favorites.I could let go of this idea, but it is easier said than done since it gets to the very core of what my idea of a family meal is!

    • SHU says:

      Hmm – I’ve always given young children (other than the 12m and younger set) the same stuff as bigger, just cut up more. Actually my kids have been far more picky as they’ve gotten older – Annabel at 15 months would have eaten literally anything!
      .
      I absolutely can see how many people value the family dinner. Sometimes I wish that could work for us, but it doesn’t. I think that in general, the ‘normal’ thing to do is to have fam dinner so our approach is one different (but alternate) one.

  19. Tonya says:

    There are some options out there you didn’t cover. One is a meal planning service that sends you a week of recipes and a shopping list. It’s cheaper than a meal kit. Another I would have liked to hear about is hiring a personal chef. I see them advertised but am curious about the cost and how well it actually works. Maybe you could try one out and write it off as a business expense like you did with the personal shopper!

    • ARC says:

      I had a coworker who did this (2 working parent family, kid around 4 when we spoke about this) and she said it was *extremely* cost effective compared to takeout or eating out because her chef would come over and prepare about 6 weeks’ worth of lunches/dinners and put them in the freezer. They had some food allergies as well, so this way they had more control over the ingredients too.

    • @Tonya – if we hadn’t worked out our childcare situation to include meal prep, I was going to hire someone to come cook a few meals per week. I may in the future – stay tuned!

  20. Tonya says:

    I’m currently a SAHM, and one of the things driving me to look into getting back into the workforce is my hatred of the nightly dinner prep. I just can’t stand it anymore! My husband has lightened my my load somewhat by buying bulk packages of chicken thighs and pork chops and freezing them in ziploc bags with marinade.

    • @Tonya – the pre-marinade sounds like a good start on dinner. Just cook the protein, add a veggie and you have dinner.

      I’m curious how exactly re-entering the workforce would get you out of the nightly dinner prep, though – because you’d then outsource it? (Thanks to having the extra salary?)

      • Tonya says:

        Going back to the work will likely help me reduce my kitchen duty because 1) it gives me a mental pass to lower my expectations of what constitutes a “good dinner”, ie embracing sandwich night or hot dogs, 2) my husband is likely to step up and cook more (he loves to cook but gets home after 7). 3) I’ll have less time to agonize about it (I often procrastinate about dinnner from 5-7pm) and 4) it’s easier to justify and pay for outsourcing (likely hiring a nanny who can prep ingredients)

  21. Irene says:

    I agree with a few of the comments above about the most recent episode not being my favorite. It seems that both you and Sarah solve a lot of typical “working mom” issues by having you nanny take care of them. I have zero judgment for that approach and it makes sense you are talking about what has worked for you but it just doesn’t apply to my life (we could afford a nanny but have chosen to go a day care route for other reasons). I agree that I am looking forward to hearing from some guests who might have different perspectives and solutions for these types of issues!

    The one aspect of Sarah’s situation I would have liked to have heard about more is how she thinks about the cost of her nanny with two kids who are also in school large chunks of the day. That approach, which sounds extremely appealing in a lot of ways, is definitively one of the more expensive options and sounds a lot like more having a part time house keeper + part time nanny situation. It doesn’t seem to me that most of my friends who have gone the nanny route expect them to do anything beyond caring for the kids so it seems like this is a sort of unusual situation (IMO) but maybe I’m wrong.

    Also, I was hoping to hear more discussion on planning meals for young kids! Maybe you guys have incredible eaters but my struggle is not to get *something* on the table but to figure out the balance between providing food that will actually get eaten and food that stretches the palate and is reasonably nutritious. It seems to be an area people approach in a LOT of different ways and I’m nosy enough to be curious even though I think we have a decent approach right now. Maybe another episode (or a question for future guests?)

    • @Irene – we could definitely do a question on picky eaters. Mine are not that great. Some are better than others. But I do think there is hope. When I was growing up, my little brother basically only ate pizza. I went out for Szechuan food with him the other night, and he said the reason he liked it, vs. other varieties of Asian food, was the special tingly spice (the Szechuan pepper, I believe) that is a core part of the cuisine. My palate was being educated by my little brother — who only ate pizza!

      On the PT nanny/PT housekeeper, maybe Sarah can chime in. But I think it’s partly that they’ve only recently had both kids in school all day, school only covers 180 days a year (some of which could be half days), they sometimes need weekend hours, and they know they are having a third kid shortly, which means they will need during-the-day care again. And in such a situation if you want to keep the same person, you can’t just cut hours for a while and figure the person would be OK with it.

    • SHU says:

      It’s absolutely more expensive. In fact, it’s our biggest expense. That said:
      – our nanny would only want to work full time, and we love her
      – we’re having another baby, so we would need someone full time anyway
      – my 3.5 year old’s “school” has 8373 days off per year it seems and doesn’t sync up with my kindergartener’s calendar
      – as Laura said, neither of us have the kind of jobs where we can just not go into work if a child unexpectedly gets sick. We need that layer of backup.
      – we figured out that everyone can win (including our nanny!) by figuring out this hybrid situation. our lives are easier, she has plenty to do (she still get some downtime 🙂 ), etc.

  22. I do a lot of my cooking on weekends, and when done right it can really cut down on weeknight cooking time. I will often cook something that doesn’t require a lot for side dishes (stir fry, stews, hearty soups, chili), and then all I need to do is microwave it on a weeknight. Many of these things also freeze well, which is good for creating a store of easily reheated meals for lunches and dinners.

    • @Solitary Diner – I think cooking up a big vat of something on the weekend (that you also eat for that weekend night’s dinner) can save you time during the week. What I saw on time logs was the actual cooking of multiple meals — not to be consumed on Sunday — that would be thawed during the week to use as mains. So much more work than just simple dinners, or using supermarket shortcuts, like rotisserie chicken.

      • Ah yes! That would be a major time sink. The devil is in the details.

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