My previous job was really close to home, so I got home in about 10 minutes, leaving me plenty of time in a 9-5 job to make myself breakfast and dinner.
Now, I get home more like 1.5 hours later. Today, for example, I left home before 6:30 and will get home at about 6:30. And, frankly, I’m TIRED when I get home.
I want to cook. Not only do I feel better when I do (getting some veggies and keeping things without gluten are musts for me), but it’s cheaper and I like it better too. But I struggle to adapt to this new reality.
I have a crock pot. A couple of them, actually. But honestly, I used to have one that did fine if left for 12 hours because it kept a good temperature and the lid was heavy. The ones I have now seem to get too hot and the lids let things get dry. (Or maybe I’m doing one of those “Things were better back in the day!” things.)
Suggestions? How do you cope? (Moving isn’t really much of an option right now.)
When my mother was tired of cooking dinner as soon as she came home from work, she just assigned meal time to me. Of course, not everyone has a 16 year old handy to give the chore to.
You need to hunt down quick recipes. Find things that cook up in 20 minutes or less. Keep cooked rice in the fridge; it warms up beautifully and it’s great for a quick fried rice. Stir fry also cooks up quickly.
You should also make an effort to pre plan your meals. You should have a plan in place for the moment you walk in the door. if you can, have your prep work done ahead of time, that will save you quite a bit of time making things.
Remember, a chicken cutlet cooks up in five minutes. A pan sauce takes another five. Put with reheated rice and some steamed veggies–dinner in 15 minutes.
I forgot to mention you are totally right about crock pots. They are hotter these days than they used to be. It’s great if you can be home at lunch to put things in, but for an all day thing, they just don’t work anymore.
Could you could a few things on the weekend and portion it out in your freezer? Soups, stews, chili, meatloaf, pulled pork, and casseroles will freeze well and can stand a few days in your refrigerator. You can grill some chicken breasts and freeze them. Eggs are a quick dinner. There’s nothing wrong with a grilled cheese or peanut butter and jelly sandwich or cheese / cold cuts and crackers with some fruit and carrot/celery sticks on the side.
Yeah, I am eating leftovers for breakfast and lunch most days because I do exactly this and make things ahead of time. Sandwiches aren’t a great option because I can’t eat gluten and gluten free bread is… not super.
But omelets are a good option, fitting right into what Miss Woodhouse suggested.
I use a thick crockery dinner plate instead of those wimpy thin lids.
Also, if your Crock-Pot doesn’t have a timer, get one of thosetimers you can plug into the outletand plug the Crock-Pot into that. Then you can set it to turn on two hours after you leave, and cut the cook time a little bit.
Choose the right meat for the Crock-Pot. Chicken breasts? Hell nooooooo! Not nearly enough fat or connective tissue. Unless you’re home to pull it out in time, it will dry out, even sitting there in liquid, no matter what kind of lid you use. You want leg quarters if you want chicken. Pork shoulder, not pork tenderloin. Top round, not prime rib. Generally, the cheaper and tougher a meat, the better for the Crock-Pot.
Do you have weekends free? A big batch of chili this weekend, a soup next weekend, a lasagne the weekend after that…make things in big batches and portion them into single serves to reheat during the week. After two months, you’ll have a good rotation so you can eat out of the freezer without repeating anything in a week. Before you leave for work, pull something from the freezer and stick it into the fridge to defrost. A salad, a bowl of Whatever and some nuked veggies make a quick meal.
Like Miss Woodhouse says, keep bowls or ziploc baggies of chopped onions, sliced bell peppers, julienned carrots - whatever your most common veggies are - in the fridge so your prep work is done for you.
(I can’t get organized or energetic enough for true OAMC, but I do steal what works for me.)
Yeah, I’m already doing this for lunch and dinner but bleh. I think I’m realizing as I’m reading the excellent suggestions that I’m doing the right stuff most days, just getting frustrated with having to spend my weekends cooking and then eating leftovers which I’m getting less and less fond of every day.
And my husband won’t say that he hates leftovers, but he hates leftovers.
One thing I haven’t been doing is having things prepped and ready to go, which is a great idea to save time cooking, but when do people do the prepping?
Regarding prepped and ready to go - I apologize for recommending something so expensive, but these containers from Tupperware are amazing at keeping cut veggies fresh and unslimy and ungross.
I had a cut bell pepper last more than a week without getting dried out or slimy. It was weird and wondrous.
I doubly apologize for recommending anyone visit such a dreadful e-commerce site as Tupperware.com
Forgot to add; if you go the burrito route, make sure you wrap them up individually in foil while theyu are still hot. Then let them sit a while before you throw them in the fridge. This give the burrito a nice seal so it doesn’t come undone when you reheat it.
How old are you? If you’re past 40, try skipping dinner altogether. I eat a gargantuan breakfast (with at least 2 eggs) and lunch that weights more than 2 pounds. A light snack in the late afternoon and that’s it for the day.
This is going to sound stupid but would it be possible to move your lunchtime up so that there’s not such a big gap between lunch and dinner? Also what are you eating at lunch that’s leaving you so tired?
My schedule doesn’t let me start dinner until around 7:30 (work, gym, dinner) and I am on a special diet that requires me to cook every damn thing, so I don’t get fork-to-mouth until like 8. I moved my lunch way up to 3 PM and even moved my breakfast up to 10:30 because usually I’m not in a hurry to eat in the morning.
Over in the weightloss & healthy eating thread we’re talking about the stuff we keep on hand to snack on while we’re cooking. Perhaps if you’re tired from being hungry you need a little calorie-packed snack on the way home or when you get in the door. Perhaps some cheese or olives or a protein bar would perk you up enough to get choppin.
I’m able to do a little pre-cooking on the weekends but not much. I’ll clean and slice veggies, cook some bacon in the oven, and make one batch of soup. Every little bit helps with the week. Oh and steam-in-bag veggies are the bomb.
Another thing that seems to help my cook time is to make sure I have non-frozen meat, which means I have to buy it weekly because I suck suck suck at remembering to thaw stuff.
That’s where a deep freeze, even a small one, can be the savior of this style of precooking. I don’t think of the split pea soup as “leftovers” if I haven’t had it for three weeks. But that does require some decent freezer space and getting ahead of what you’re eating so you have a variety to chose from.
When’s your husband get home? What’s his role in all this?
I try to cook veggie-laden foods from whole ingredients, but when I’m working long hours I feel no shame in taking every advantage of semi-prepped foods.
I treat my supermarket’s salad bar like my personal sous-chef- it provides the veggies for my stir-fries, pizzas, and side dishes. I’m clearly not the only one who does this, given that they stock pepperoni! Those steam-in-the-bag string beans and potatoes? Genius! Bagged fresh spinach? Yes please! Am I making fajitas? Give me some of those pre-cut onions and peppers, por favor. Want to add some veggies to a sauce? Just throw in those pre-cut bags of broccoli and baby carrots.
For meat, I’m big on turkey sausage, ground turkey, and beef that is pre-cut for stir-fries. My only cheese is shredded or pre-sliced. And while I usually cook my brown rice in the microwave, I’m cool with using the frozen brown rice, too.
I even keep my fruit easy. More berries, fewer mangos.
And don’t tell, but sometimes I pick up my side dishes from the deli.
It can be a bit more expensive and the produce you get is going to be a little lower quality, but nothing beats cooking a real, balanced meal without cutting or chopping (and cleaning up the mess after). I just come home, throw it all in a skillet, and call it dinner.
Thrift stores around here are full of old Crock Pots. Perhaps you could find one more suitable for all-day cooking. Mine is 16 years old (it was a wedding present) and has a thick glass lid and still works great. My parents were looking for one for their lake cabin and ended up with two of 70’s vintage that work just fine.
Thanks for all of the good suggestions, everyone. I think I’m going to use something from most of you. I’m going to scout for an older crock pot, do advance prep work and buy pre-prepped items, get a timer for my crock pots, find some quick recipes, and check out that Tupperware thing.
I have BluApples in my produce drawer, and they seem to work pretty well, too, if anyone wants a whole-drawer aid for keeping produce around longer.
Seconded, in a really big way. I bought one on impulse at Costco during a period of much overtime, and it’s the best impulse purchase I’ve ever made. We use it constantly. Cuts cooking time by ~ 70%. Tom Scud is prepping a Moroccan lentil soup in one right now. And an improvement over Crock-Pots in one major respect; you can brown things in the same pot first.
Also, pre-marinating things is your friend. Grilled plain chicken? Boring! Grillen chicken marinated overnight in yogurt, ginger, cardamom, cayenne, lemon juice, onions, garlic, and cinnamon? Not so boring. And you can prep the next day’s meal after you’ve eaten and are more functional.
And also, I loooove things like jarred curry or mole paste. Makes dinner quick without making me feel deprived.