Scientific studies (and, perhaps, common sense) have demonstrated the importance of the family meal, and yet lots of Americans still find it difficult to summon the time, energy, and skills necessary to get a home-cooked dinner on the table. According to the USDA, the total percentage of calories consumed by Americans at home dropped from 82.3 percent in 1977-78 to 68.5% in the years 2005-08. Sure, dining out is the easier option, but nothing compares to the warmth and comfort of gathering your family to eat in your own home. If you want to practice the art of a home-cooked family dinner but find yourself strapped for time (or ideas!), check out the following tips for less-harried home cooking.
- Have a back-up plan. Keep some simple recipe ideas in your back pocket, whether that means making omelets because the pantry is bare or grilled cheese because the chicken burned. By learning how to make a few things really well, you’ll take the pressure off of yourself if you run out of time for a more elaborate meal.
- Dust off the slow-cooker. If you dread the thought of having to cook after a busy day at work, you have a friend in this appliance. There are a myriad of easy, delicious recipes all over the internet, some involving as few as only three ingredients. Simply cut up a few things the night before, dump the ingredients in the slow cooker before work, and then come home to a stress-free dinner.
- Make a meal plan for a whole week. Sit down on a lazy Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon and write out what you plan to make for dinner during the next week. You’ll save money at the grocery store by avoiding purchases that you won’t end up using, and you’ll have more time to look up new recipes to incorporate into your repertoire.
- Combine homemade and convenience foods. Who says that you have to eat a meal that is 100 percent home cooked? In order to keep your sanity, you might have to shred up a store-bought rotisserie chicken for your Tuesday-night tacos or throw some frozen pot stickers in to bulk up your stir-fry. Spend some time reading the nutrition labels of convenience foods at your grocery store, and then stock upon the items that will aid your dinner efforts without negatively impacting your health.
- Cook when you have the time. Every year, my mother-in-law makes homemade ravioli for Thanksgiving and Christmas. How does she do it? She makes it all (with some helpers) a few weeks ahead of time and then freezes it. You can incorporate this practice into your own home, making several freezable meals at the beginning of the month (or whenever you have time) and enjoying results of your hard work later, on busy nights.