Podcast: Eat at home tonight, with Tiffany King

The Best of Both Worlds podcast is almost a year old! We just released our 50th episode. Back in the fall, Sarah and I did another episode on meal planning and getting dinner on the table. We got some nice feedback on that one — it’s a popular topic! —  but also some feedback pointing out that neither of us is actually the person getting dinner on the table during the week in our homes. We both have been this person in the past. For me in particular it was a major source of stress, and so about two years ago I started outsourcing it.

Anyway, we wanted to revisit the topic with practical strategies from a real expert. So we were excited to welcome Tiffany King to the podcast today. King owns Eat at Home, a meal planning service, and is the author of a forthcoming cookbook called Eat at Home Tonight. She is a mom of four mostly grown kids who she homeschooled.

Eat at Home Tonight (the book) features more than 100 recipes organized around various obstacles that keep people from, well, eating at home tonight. Sample recipe sections: “I only have 15 minutes tonight” and “Everyone’s on a different schedule tonight,” and “I’m out of the house all day and won’t have time to cook tonight” and so forth.

Among her tips for easing dinner stress:

Meal planning is crucial, but the plan doesn’t have to come from you. It’s not that meal planning itself takes a lot of time, it’s that looking up recipes online can turn into a total rabbit hole. You can have a general rotation, or subscribe to a service (like King’s) to take the brain work out of it.

Grocery shopping doesn’t have to be a family affair. In larger families, sometimes it’s nice to take one kid, solo, to the store. But navigating a crowded supermarket on the weekend with multiple children adds to the meal-making stress. King loves ordering groceries online, and wishes she’d had that option when her kids were little. If that’s not an option in your area, consider going on a weeknight after the kids are in bed (if your partner is there), or while the kids are with your partner, or at an activity on weekends. If you’re the party responsible for getting dinner on the table, your partner can definitely take the kids while you shop. If you do need to take small kids, I’ll note that the stores are least crowded in the early mornings. I have taken my youngest shopping with me at 6 a.m. on a Sunday at Wegman’s during his early-rising phase.

Master the 15 minute meal. A meal need not be a chunk of protein plus two sides. Certain bases can incorporate any ingredients you have on hand. King’s recipes include “Eggs run through the garden” — basically scrambled eggs with veggies — or “Mexican rice and beans” — which is beans, rice, and salsa, plus whatever you want to add (use quick cooking rice to get yourself under the 15-minute mark). Cheese ravioli with veggies cooks fast too. Saute a leftover protein plus cut up veggies and put that on lettuce and you’ve got a hearty dinner salad.

Sheet pans mean almost no dishes. Chop up veggies (or buy them chopped!), put on a protein, add some olive oil, herbs and salt/pepper, and cook around 400/425 degrees. If you line the pan with tin foil or parchment paper, you pretty much have zero clean up. Bonus: an older child can definitely turn on the oven and stick this in. Sample King recipes: One-sheet Asian salmon, snap peas, and potatoes; one-sheet chili-honey-glazed pork chops, butternut squash, and green beans. She notes that you can actually stick frozen chicken nuggets on the sheet pan too, if you have a child who will be eating that (and eating that every night…)

Get a good knife and a good cutting board. These can make prep pleasurable. In addition to a sheet pan (see above), King also recommends a good garlic press (though jarred garlic works fine). She succumbed to the Instant Pot craze and loves it. She notes that you do not get dinner in 2 minutes as sometimes advertised. It has to heat up. However, it does cook fast and well. A slow cooker is good for making soups and stews that are ready when you get home from work.

Shortcuts are great. Rotisserie chicken from the grocery store plus a bagged salad is definitely dinner. It’s still going to be cheaper, healthier, and quite possibly faster than the drive-through. (Have you noticed this? We sit in the drive through lane forever!)

Leftovers don’t have to be boring. One of my favorite sections of Eat at Home Tonight is called “I want to cook for tonight and tomorrow,” which has two days of dinners based on the same food. So, for instance, slow-cooker African pulled beef is served with Greek yogurt pitas tonight, and tomorrow becomes beefy baked sweet potatoes with crumbled feta. One night’s pulled pork Cuban sliders becomes the next night’s tamales.

Dinner isn’t just about the meal. It’s mostly about the conversation. You can eat cereal and fruit and have a great family dinner. King’s book has various conversation starters to make the family meal more fun. “What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re bored?” or “What’s your favorite thing to do online?” or “Who helped you today and how did they help?”

Add wine and music. If you’re feeling resentful about cooking, both of those can help the process. The kids can dance to Katy Perry while you’re plating fruits and veggies, and having your own little happy hour.

What are you liking for family dinner these days?

In other news: Our Q&A has to do with kids and pools — both what to pack, and our various safety considerations. Feel free to share your kid swimming tips here too.

13 thoughts on “Podcast: Eat at home tonight, with Tiffany King

  1. I’m looking forward to listening to the podcast!! I am really into meal planning – it’s budget-friendly, healthier, and like you mentioned, can oftentimes be quicker than takeout (I don’t think people realize this when they are waiting in the drive thru lane…) I have a lot of tricks I’ve learned over the years, but just pre-ordered her book to get further inspiration 🙂 I have to say that your tips about lowering expectations for dinner is spot on (from your earlier podcast). The kids really, really *love* breakfast for dinner or a PB & J with fruit and tortilla chips for dinner. It’s still a balanced meal and having a Mom that isn’t stressed out because dinner is too complicated is a big win in my book. I bring my kids to the grocery store maybe 50% of the time as a way to teach them how to behave and listen…even if the ordeal takes longer. I was realizing I was “saving time” by always doing errands by myself only to find my kids weren’t learning how to behave during shopping trips. They have a lot of fun, too. They get a (free) cookie at the end of their trip and get to drive fun car shopping carts around the store. The other 50% of the time I go by myself during naptime or in the evening – and I’ll often pay the $5 for grocery pick up at Harris Teeter. It’s worth the money, even if you are budget conscious. I almost always have at least $5 of impulse buys in my cart, plus I save a good hour or so of my time.

    1. @Sara – my kids love those little car shopping carts…and I hate them. They don’t turn well, there’s less space than a regular cart, and they’re constantly getting in and out of them and if there are 2 kids fighting over the spot…

    2. But definitely plus one to the $5 pick up fee being cheaper than impulse purchases. And sandwiches for dinner is a great option – I should have listed that too!

  2. Or maybe don’t eat dinner/have a snack instead. My daughter eats a large snack when she gets home from school, and often none of us are really hungry at dinner time. If she is we have a few things on rotation (mostly pasta, but sometimes chicken), and I might have a salad or sautéed vegetables, which she has to try. We sit together and talk about her day for 10 min, then move on with our lives. Way easier than making a meal which nobody wants to do after being awake since 5am.

    Also, pasta and rice keep surprisingly well in the fridge. Make a big batch at the beginning of the week and dole out a little each day. Have a few sauces on hand to choose from. It makes things so much easier. Not every meal needs to be a culinary experience.

    1. @Sydney – agreed. Also, family meals don’t have to be family dinner. Breakfast is great for many families that aren’t all at home around dinner. Weekend meals count as family meals too.

  3. Oh, this is so timely. I have been re-committing to us eating more at home, and was recently inspired by the ‘Simplifying Meals’ section in Emily Ley’s Book “The Simplified Life”. I discovered (super late to the party) that I really cannot lose weight eating out multiple times a week. Eating well is ridiculously easy if I eat at home (I don’t keep treats in the house). So I scheduled a few meals out and then really, really easy things for the other weeknights:

    Mon – Breakfast for Dinner
    Tues – Creative Leftovers/Frozen Things
    Wed – Family dinner out
    Thurs – Daddy Cooks Dinner (my favorite!)
    Fri – Girls Eat Sushi/Ramen/Pho/Thai (out)
    Sat – Girls Cook Dinner (with Mama’s help)
    Sun – Instant Pot Lovin’ (typically something we’ll have leftovers for)

    We’re on week 2 so enthusiasm is high, but it’s so much easier than trying to cook new things multiple times a week and looking up recipes. I also order groceries from Instacart (they go to Whole Foods and Costco, yay!) as well as Amazon Prime Now occasionally.

    I think I’m going to preorder that cookbook too!

  4. Thanks very much for this timely episode. Meals have fallen into such a rut at my house!

    I’m really pleased by all the options that are opening up in my area for grocery delivery or delivery to your car. Amazon Fresh has been great, and it looks like now we have the option of Whole Foods being delivered within two hours of order, and Target delivery-to-car will be opening up soon. Companies are really paying attention to market needs!

  5. My kids are older than most of the posters here: 18, 20, 22. Two years ago I came up with a plan that each of them had to cook dinner at least once a week (Monday – Friday) during the summer. It didn’t have to be complicated. At first we had a lot of Trader Joe’s frozen pasta meals and paninis but the kids have since expanded their repertoire and each of them has about half a dozen “signature” meals. Having them cook was life changing, and I should have started it a lot sooner. Really, a 12 y/o can make a Trader Joe’s pasta meal. It’s so nice to come home from work and not have to worry about dinner!

  6. Such a good episode. I think meal planning will be on my Q4 goal list – we’ve been having lots of scrambled eggs for dinner lately. My husband is veggie so it makes things slightly more complicated (fewer crockpot or grill options)

    On the pool front, reuseable swim diapers. I like the Bambino Mio ones. I think one costs the same amount as a pack of disposable swim diapers.

  7. Loved this episode and the podcast in general! I have a topic I’d love you guys to cover in the future. The topic is kids at work. I’m a new mom (my son is 7 months old) and I’m lucky that I haven’t had to worry about this yet; however, I’ve heard from many seasoned work outside the home moms that inevitably, you will have to have your kid in the office for some length of time. What are your thoughts on this? My friend works in an office with a flexible culture but the senior leadership is all males with SAHMs and they have reprimanded her for bringing her child to the office in the past. Each time, it was for a limited time – 1 to 3 hours – and she has an office so closed her door and her child was entertained on the floor without disrupting anyone else. Their messaging has been mixed – we want to support you as a working mom (our company has several initiatives in place to support the retention of women, especially women of child bearing age) but that’s not appropriate but do it if you need to. It seems that since they’ve never had to worry about this situation, it is tough for them to relate. What are your tips for navigating this situation? Thanks!!

    1. Our company had “backup care” benefit to help with this – for the little ones you could book a spot at a Bright Horizons center, or for any age, get a temp nanny to come to the house for the day(s) you need it. At my husband’s company they had this benefit fully subsidized for something like 100 hours then you could pay the full hourly cost. At mine I think we got something like 10 days at half-cost then you could use it at full cost (which was something like $80 or $100/day).

      If we were in a bind or a kid was sick, we’d either take the day off (our companies allow sick days to be used for taking care of immediate family) or work from home half-day or swap when the other had important meetings etc that they needed to be in the office for. Once they were in school, I’d just drop them off and then leave to get them after school hours and try to make up some work after they were in bed.

      I have never once taken my kid to the office and expected to get work done. I’ve seen other people do it, and it’s distracting. Even the best behaved kids are sometimes loud, or babies cry, or kids run down the hallway. I’ve taken them with me to grab a folder I really needed, etc. but never for extended periods of time. I guess it depends on your work office culture too, but for me in an established tech company, it’s a no. (Especially given perception of male and child-free managers, etc. )

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