Help me please my wife...

… in the kitchen.

Every Saturday, tensions rise in our house with the following conversation:
Her: What do you want to eat this week?
Me: Food.
Her: What kind of food?
Me: I don’t know, maybe some chicken.
Her: You can’t just say “chicken”! How are you going to cook it, what are you going to put on it, what are you going to serve on the side?

I always feel like a colorblind finger-painting kindergartner trying to impress Claude Monet. While I appreciate good food, my primary criterion is “did it fill me up?”

My wife, on the other hand, appears to be finding the optimum solutions involving multiple variables. As best as I can determine, those variables are:

  • Sufficient protein, avoid high fat and salt if possible
  • Lots of vegetables, preferably fresh and in season
  • Minimal simple carbohydrates (ie. no pasta)
  • Minimal processed foods
  • Makes enough for leftovers
  • Isn’t too repetitious of things we have recently eaten
  • Tastes good
  • Can be prepared in the time available

Any of these rules can be bent or broken on any given meal, but not on a regular basis.
When I look at recipes, I am overwhelmed by too many choices. They all look like they would fill me up and I have no idea if they will meet my wife’s criteria. I have a million choices but no tools to choose among them. The result is that my wife gets annoyed at me, has to make all the decisions and has to do almost all of the cooking. This has gone on for too many years and needs to stop.

I think the only way to remedy this situation is for me to take over cooking for a while. I will make mistakes, the food will not be as good as if she made it, but I will learn. To do this, I to you.

I would like to come up with about three weeks worth of meals that mostly adhere to my wife’s standards and that stand a chance of being created by a novice chef.
We live in California, so we have access to good local food, year round. We have a grill, a crockpot, a rice cooker and all the usual cooking supplies.
So, please pass along your best ideas for how to make three weeks of my cooking as palatable for my wife as possible.

Thank you,

Are there any cooking classes near you that you can take? Maybe make a night for the two of you, so she can give you pointers and stuff. You can also learn what she prefers and how she likes it cooked so hopefully this will lessen the overload of choices.

This way you learn while minimizing oopsies and she sees that you are actually trying to learn.

Couple of options.

  1. Basic meat and veg. Take meat of whatever particular persuasion you like, cook it on the grill. Select some seasonable vegetables such as carrots, beans, broccoli, asparagus, zucchini, slice into long skinny pieces and steam in a steamer for 2-3 minutes OR put in a container with a knob of butter and cook on high in the microwaved for 2-3 minutes
  2. Thai Green Chicken Curry. (the curry is green, not the chicken). Basically buy a jar of green curry paste and follow the instructions on the jar. You can go heavy or light on the veges, put in different stuff depending on what you like, feel free to experiment a bit. Primary ingredients are the green curry paste, stirred over a medium heat in a wok or pan, chuck in some diced chicken and stir through until sealed, lob in some chopped veges to suit, add some coconut milk or cream, stir through and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Serve with rice. has some good recipes that may be a bit different to local stuff you’re used to.

As someone who has recently learned that my kitchen super powers are opening cans and using the microwave…I’d agree that classes would probably be helpful.

My advice is to always look at what is on the oven burners BEFORE you turn them down. Its really embarrassing and messy to set your kitchen on fire because you left a potholder or dish towel on a burner. You do have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen right? Be sure to check the charge before you start playing with fire.

Going to move this since it’s about cooking.

I usually help in the kitchen and I do feel like I have learned a fair amount of cooking “tactics”, but I still feel useless at cooking “strategy”. Meal planning, envisioning how to get three hot dishes done at approximately the same reasonable dinner hour and ensuring that we have cooking staples in stock still seem to elude me after all these years.

My efforts to take the lead usually end up with my wife getting frustrated at how I am doing something and worried that I am going to ruin dinner, so she takes over and I assist. This works most of the time, but periodically she gets decision fatigue and doesn’t understand why I haven’t learned more.

Most of the cooking classes that I see are “how to cook this feast” whereas I probably need “how to plan a week’s worth of meals” and “how to make sure everything is ready before you put the pot on the stove”.

My way of approaching challenges is to think them through, try something and if it doesn’t work, think some more and try something else. This doesn’t work well once you are already hungry and mistakes ruin your dinner. I am hoping to get some help in thinking things out well beforehand, so that I stand a better chance of success.

I like the meat and veggies on the grill. That is usually my idea when trying to help plan.

Let me start my planning:

Saturday morning shop at farmer’s market and grocery

Saturday lunch - Salad with hard boiled eggs, red peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes
Saturday dinner - Grill pork chops with salt and pepper, grill broccoli, calliflower for veggies (grill chicken for Sunday dinner)
Sunday lunch - leftover chops
Sunday dinner - chicken curry with brown rice, onions, peppers and mushrooms
Monday morning, start the crock pot with soup or stew
Monday lunch - leftover curry
Monday dinner - What kind of soup or stew? What should go alongside.

I already feel like I am running out of steam and it is only two days worth! How does anyone do this?

I sympathise a lot with both you and your wife. Making all the decisions i hard, and the myriad of recipes available is probably as overwhelming for her as it is for you.

It took me a long time to learn how to get everything ready at the same time. Actually, one thing I have learned is which things can sit simmering slowly, or in a turned-off oven, while preparing the things for which timing is crucial. The other meals I get right are the ones my mother taught me to cook, since she would write out a timetable of what had to happen when. Jamie Oliver has a book, I think it’s 30 Minute Meals, that tells you step by step what has to happen next to get everything ready at once. Some cooking magazines do this for you, as well.

For ideas, think of meals that you guys have had in the past that you both enjoyed. Make a big list, then choose 7 for the week. Examine each one and break it down into steps. What will you need and how long will each step take. Then you have a plan.

For staples, I have a shopping app on my phone. If I use the last of something, I add it to the list. You can also write on the fridge or a kitchen whiteboard. My uncle has a master list of everything he ever buys, and he puts a mark next to the ones he needs.

Maybe you can have a night or two a week, where you do everything on your own, without your wife’s help. If you screw it up, then you can always eat peanut butter sandwiches that night, no one will die.

Why not sit down one weekend afternoon and brainstorm a list of meals that meet the criteria?

You could even set yourself up a spreadsheet with meal name, ingredients, time to cook, etc.

Then each week, you can go through the list together and decide which meals you’re going to eat for that week. And whenever either of you has an idea for a new meal, you can add it to the spreadsheet.

OK, Another suggestion. This is what i used successfully for a number of years while raising 2 kids as a single dad.

When you go shopping buy stuff that has multiple uses. Fresh meat and fresh veges, too easy. Pick sauces, spices, pastas’s etc that can be mixed around.

Then, don’t plan ahead. Go into the kitchen and let inspiration strike. I used to be able to get home from work at 6pm, say G’Day to the kids and kick the babysitter out, watch the news on TV til 6:30, go in the kitchen and examine the fridge, freezer and pantry and have dinner on the table for the kids by 7:00. ( OK, sometimes 7:15)

I suppose my point is, every meal doesn’t need to be a gourmet experience. It can still meet all the criteria of taste and healthy though, and home cooked healthy is also cheaper than takeaway crap.

Nowdays my kids are adults. I cook up different dishes and tell them to help themselves.

I’m not a great cook, but some of my best work usually involves a crock pot slow cooker. Can you plan a simple meal around a stew, or beans, or a whole (small) chicken? Use canned stock or cheap beer or a combination of the two for any cut of meat; throw in some quartered potatoes and carrots an hour before you plan to serve them. Four hours on “high” or eight on “low.” Dried beans on low can take a couple of days; just lift the lid and have a look every few hours. They probably will not burn. And even if you mess up, the results will still probably taste fine.

Re-use, re-use, re-use. A good-sized chicken and some thought can give you 2-3 meals. You can Googlefor some examplesof multiple meals from a chicken. My mother fed four of us using these kinds of recipes, with a low food budget, and everything was delicious.

Tip: if you are too busy to roast a chicken, a rotisserie chicken works nicely as well. It may cost a little more per pound.

Double recipes, and freeze half (this is great with spaghetti sauce, soup, stews, and chili).

Be sure there is rice and pasta in the pantry. Always.

Subscribe to Cook’s Illustrated and make something one night a week from the current issue.

And, as far as the “rules”, I say fuck 'em. If you are working in the kitchen, that’s really all that matters. I once made a fantastic meal that started with a meat appetizer, then a meat based soup, then meat main course and a small foie gras and bacon dessert. I only realized what I’d done when I was serving that night. I could tell that my gf wanted to critique my effort, but she held back.:smiley:

I feel for you. It has been my husbands job to plan our meals for so long, I’m liable to eat nothing but sandwiches and cereal when left to my own devices.

But when I’m trying to take off a few pounds, I force myself to do better. I just pick a meat and a vegetable from my list of ten or so ideas. I do that for five days a week and then splurge on the weekend. I eat a lot of roasted carrots and roasted cabbage with garlic. Almost any vegetable can be roasted and it’s the easiest cooking. Yams and sweet potatoes and other winter squash are really great with a little added fennel. Just brush with olive oil and seasoning and roast in the oven.

Stir fry is easy. Just strip your chicken or beef and add a bunch of veggies and season with some soy sauce. Add some rice for dinner and then just make the leftovers into a fajita the next day by adding some tortillas and sour cream or guacamole.

Tacos are super easy and versatile. Fish is perfect for a taco, but crumbled hamburger is okay too. Just add some toppings of your choice.

As far as all the choices, try not to think about it so much. Just pick the first thing that looks good and force yourself to do it. That’s how you’ll learn. But only do that for one or two days a week. If worse comes to worse, call for pizza. Or a sandwich.

There are a lot of helpful videos online and cooking shows can also be helpful.

Good luck.

I think the problem is that she is expecting you to make the menu, while she does the cooking. You don’t seem as particular as your wife, so why doesn’t she just cook what she wants?

I do most of the cooking in our house. My Wife and I like pretty much the same things so it isn’t much of a problem. Since I’m doing the cooking, I will occasionally make something that I know I like more than she does. I think the cook should have that option. She is welcome to cook whenever she wants.

Start watching Food Network, anything by Jamie Oliver or Rachel Ray. It’s done wonders for our meal planning and making rollover meals. If you have cooking classes available to you, take some with your wife. Win-win as you get to suggest a “bonding” activity, and you may both learn to enjoy new flavours and techniques. If you are near wine country, the wineries will often have weekends where you learn wine pairings and cooking.

Do you have a local farmer’s market of some sort? Date night+solutions for the next few meals.

Do you like tacos, burritos, etc? Crockpot plus either beef brisket or boneless skinless chicken thighs, plus chopped onion and garlic, plus a can of Ro-Tel, plus about 3/4 cup of some sort of liquid (wine, broth, even cranberry juice or plain water in a pinch). Cook all day on low, then shred the meat and use for tacos, burritos, taco salad, etc. Makes enough for a couple of meals if it’s just the two of you.

Google “healthy crockpot freezer meals” and do a little research on various sites to find recipes that match your tastes. My husband and I have had similar conversations about meals and we end up using a lot of these. Our schedules are often in conflict, so having several freezer bag meals ready to cook, some salad makings, and a whiteboard on the kitchen wall with the upcoming three-four days planned out helps a lot. We don’t mind leftovers, so six servings for two people works out great - gives us lunches to take to work.

Use the grill man.

  1. Cut a whole chicken in half: use poultry scissors to remove the backbone and then press the bird until it is flattened. How to spatchcock a chicken.

  2. Wrap two bricks in heavy duty foil. Season flat chicken and place on grill and place bricks on chicken. Chicken under bricks.

  3. Steam green beans or asparagus.

  4. Open a bottle of Bordeau

  5. Enjoy with happy wife!