Reader Q&A: Cooking (and eating) well without lots of time

By | November 16, 2012

I’ve gotten lots of emails from my readers — telling me they enjoy the blog (love those!), asking for help with a specific recipe, or sending me links to interesting dishes. But about a week ago, I got a message from Karen that was a little different. This one required more than just a two-line reply. And I’m willing to bet she’s not the only one with this question.

Enter the first Reader Q&A post! Karen writes:

I am a mom and teacher and, like most teachers, have off from work in the summer. In the summer, I cook with care, planning and creativity. Plus I exercise and lose weight. Then I get back to work and it all goes out the window.

Rushing out the door without breakfast, store-bought sandwiches for lunch, too tired to make a real supper so we have something unsatisfying like leftover cholent, and then by 10 p.m. I am hungry again so I mindlessly make and eat mayonnaise sandwiches. I read your blog and I see the thought and care you put into feeding yourself and your husband and I know that’s what I should be doing. And when I don’t, the carb cravings predominate and I lose control.

How can I get back in the swing and not ruin all my hard work of the summer? I would greatly appreciate any advice you and/or your readers can offer.

Now, I can’t claim to be an expert — my degree is in journalism, not nutrition — but here’s my two (or three, or four, or five) cents:

* We all want to eat healthfully, enjoy our meals, and not be stressed out by cooking. But we also need to be realistic about what we can handle. Do you work full-time? Do you sometimes have to deal with work-related things after hours? Do you have young kids at home, or kids with picky palates? Does anyone in your family have a special diet? Any of these things is going to complicate feeding the fam, and you might have to cut yourself a little slack. It’s okay!

* It’s clear that you don’t have much time to cook on the weeknights (and you’re definitely not alone). You may want to consider making motsei Shabbos your designated cooking/baking time. During the winter, these are “real” nights that can be put to use, and they probably aren’t filled with commitments like Sundays often are. Try baking a couple of quick breads or a few batches of muffins for breakfasts and snacks. You can also use this time to get a head start on dinners for the upcoming week. Which leads me to…

* Use your freezer! This can be a lifesaver for people who are out of the house all day but still want to eat well at night. Now that we’ve reached the cold season, fill your freezer with airtight containers of soup and turn them into dinner once or twice a week (with warm bread and a quick salad, even better). Just let them defrost in the fridge while you’re at work, and reheat on the stove when you get home.

Chop vegetables the night before. Even if you don’t have time to make an entire meal, try to prep dinner for the next day. Recipes go much more quickly if all of your ingredients are prepared ahead of time. (This is why I try to sift flour and sort grains/legumes by the kilo, even though I generally don’t need that much of them at once.) So let’s say you want to serve quinoa chili on a Tuesday night. If you a) cook the quinoa and b) prep and saute the veggies on Monday night, then you should be able to have dinner on the table in about 30 minutes when you get back from work on Tuesday.

* There’s nothing wrong with a simple meal. Try serving breakfast for dinner, or dressing up a pot of pasta with one or two quick add-ins. And don’t underestimate the value of a glorified sandwich — fresh pita with homemade chummus (it only takes five minutes) and whichever vegetables you have in the house can totally work.

* Recruit helpers in your family. If your kids are old enough, give them specific tasks to get dinner started before you get home. Even just having them chop up a salad means there’s less pressure on you. Your husband may also be a source of help — and even if cooking isn’t this thing, that doesn’t mean washing dishes can’t be!

What do you think? How do you find time to cook satisfying meals? What tips can you offer? What are your favorite shortcuts? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.


Sina (@thekosherspoon) on November 16, 2012 at 8:01 am.

i think you gave her such excellent advice!

the main thing is to plan ahead, which takes some getting used to. Once you have some sort of meal plan, and can determine what needs to be done, you’ll feel more calm and in control. Also, cook simply.

Good luck!


Victoria (Itsy Bitsy Balebusta) on November 18, 2012 at 5:04 am.

Having just started my first full time teaching job, I’m in the same predicament! I have such a hard time getting up the energy to cook anything after 8-9 hour days at school! I really appreciate your tips (as well as how realistic and clear cut they are!). Thank you!! I have started using motzei Shabbos as well as some of Sunday to cook for the week. Muffins and other breakfast foods I make in large batches to last the week and my favorite trick is using the crock pot to prepare meals while I’m at school. I put everything in before I leave and get home to pulled chicken sandwiches, soups and other filling dishes, all ready with minimal work!


karen on November 18, 2012 at 5:11 am.

Thanks so much! I love these ideas; you have been really helpful.


Prag on November 20, 2012 at 1:13 pm.

Great tips, I agree that Motzei Shabbes is the perfect time to cook in advance, and even more I liked your advise to cook simple pasta with vegetables (or salad) , toast with cheese and other spreads are decent meals.


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