What’s for Dinner?

By Seattle Soccer Mom

I’m always on the lookout for dinner ideas that I can make in 45 minutes or so and that at least 3 of the 4 of us will eat.

Do you and your partner split the cooking or does one of you handle most of the cooking? I do most of the cooking; DH cooks once a week and makes something easy that doesn’t require a recipe. This summer, I’ve started having the kids each cook dinner once a week. DD is 15 and DS will soon be 10.

Cooking a family dinner was one of the bigger adjustments we had to make after having kids. Before kids, DH and I would often do our own thing on weeknights. I’m ok with having cereal for dinner while DH likes a hot dinner preferably including meat/fish. DD takes after DH. DS is a pickatarian. I love sauces – so I often make things where the sauce is added at the end or on the side so DS can have his plain (or uncontaminated depending on your perspective). I aim for cooking something that 3 of the 4 of us will eat.

Here are some typical dinners for my family – what does your family like to eat?

Fish –salmon, Dover sole, or halibut. Generally pan-seared with some sort of sauce (salmon with a port wine sauce; Dover sole that’s been breaded or coated in parmesan with a tarragon sauce). If we’re splurging, crab cakes from a local fish store (easy and delicious but expensive). Clams steamed in white wine. I learned to eat seafood as an adult so my repertoire is pretty limited.

Chicken/Steak – on the weekend, I often like to do some version of roast chicken thighs – easy but takes a little more time. Pan-seared chicken cutlets with a lemon white wine sauce or steak with a stone-ground mustard sauce. Panko crusted chicken thighs with egg noodles.

Pasta – favorites include pasta with a tomato-vodka cream sauce (with either prosciutto or bacon); kale bacon pasta with fresh oregano; pasta with a sausage-vermouth cream sauce.

Easy – tacos; steak salad (broiled/grilled steak on top of a bed of greens with goat cheese, tomato, avocado); spaghetti with marinara; ravioli with prosciutto, pear, and avocado as optional toppings; grilled cheese/BLT’s.

Other – chicken pot pie, lasagna – I have two easy recipes from a great cookbook called “Keepers.” For the chicken pot pie, you use puff pastry for the topping – and it includes bacon. Yum.


104 thoughts on “What’s for Dinner?

  1. SSM – Our meals are much more pedestrian than those you list. Pre-retirement (both working), the adult that arrived home first cooked, but I always cooked Sunday’s big meal. Then he retired and cooking shifted about 95% to him and was done around the kids’ schedules, as I was still working full time. When I retired and subsequently went back to work part-time, the cooking responsiblities didn’t shift much.

  2. We rely a lot on take-out and prepared stuff these days – last night the kids ate Wegman’s “red chicken” and noodles from the Asian food prepared section, and DH and I got Indian delivery later in the evening. I have also been making picnics since the in-season produce is so good (and the kids will actually eat it!) so we have french bread, cheeses, some kinds of salami, and a bunch of veggies. In a pinch I will make breakfast for dinner – kids usually demand pancakes but I will also do eggs/bacon or french toast – or boxed mac & cheese. If I remember to get them at the store, mussels or clams are quick and the kids will eat those about half the time, depending on their mood.

    This is kind of a hybrid between what I think “should” be family dinners and what DH thinks. If it were up to him we might all eat sausages from the freezer, boursin cheese & sriracha every night, or get take-out only when adults are hungry (so too late for the kids). I have in my head that a “good mom” would make from scratch dinners way more than I do, complete with salad course, like my mom did, but I don’t have the time to do it between when I get home and when the kids need to eat.

    On Fridays I will usually make a big from-scratch dinner since I have more time. Favorites for those include swedish meatballs/noodles, italian meatballs with red sauce/noodles, chicken pot pies, chicken or white fish with panko parmesan crust, and stir-fries (the latter are my favorite but usually greeted with “eww” so I don’t make them as often). I will also make dessert at the same time – right now we are going through stone fruits so I make cobbler or shortcake.

  3. “DS is a pickatarian.”

    I love this and fully plan to steal it forevermore. Thanks.

    We have similar challenges — DD is no beef (except burgers), DS is our pickatarian (beige-only), I am no-fish but am trying to eat lighter, DH is no chicken (“it’s a perfectly fine vegetable”) or slow-cook, beef/sausage preferred, with a huge preference for “different” (e.g., if he could have Indian Monday, Thai Tuesday, sushi Wednesday, wild boar ragu or Neapolitan pizza Thursday, and go out Friday, he’d be happy as a clam). So I settle for making 2 of 4 happy on a given day; if I hit 3, I count it as a huge win. Many of our meals devolve to things like a hunk of meat with various seasonings, fruit/veg, and a side of pasta, so folks can pick and choose what things they want.

    When I am enthused, one of my favorite make-aheads is the NYT bulgogi sliders recipe, which looks intimidating as all get-out but is actually really easy (hint: ingredients are optional, substitutions are fine, and “technique” basically involves tossing a bunch of stuff in the Cuisinart and pressing “go” until it’s all munched up. Make up the bulgogi marinade, add sliced beef, and let it sit in the fridge for anywhere from an hour to several days before searing it in a wok or on a grill. While meat is cooking, slice green onions, make a dressing with soy and sesame and rice wine vinegar and a little sugar, and make a sriracha mayo (mayo, soy, sriracha). If you’re really enthused, butter and toast some buns. Then just assemble: Spread mayo on buns, add seared beef, top with scallions and dressing. It has a massively high yum factor compared to the actual effort involved.

    This fall is going to be a bit of a change, because I’m gearing up to start the Whole 30 on 9/1. So I’d appreciate any tips, recipes, etc. — this is obviously going to require a new level of advance planning so I don’t crack under the “no time/no food” pressures.

  4. Oh, and if it’s not obvious from the above, I do all the cooking. DH will help with chopping if my wrist hurts, opening jars, corralling the kids to set the table, etc.

  5. “complete with salad course, like my mom did” — this is what I remember from my dad’s side! I was reminded in NC of that, as it seemed like every evening, someone would spend 30 mins in the kitchen chopping up some combination of carrots, cucumbers, celery, tomatoes, and peppers for the salads. It just seems like a *lot* of effort for something so bland (oh, look, tonight is carrots and celery! so much more exciting than yesterday’s carrots and cucumber!). I tend to default to just dumping lettuce that took 30 seconds to prepare, maybe tossing in a handful of cherry tomatoes for DH. If I’m going to the effort of actually making something, it’s going to be a full-meal salad with lots of flavor.

    Current favorite one of those: goat cheese, dried cranberries, candied walnuts (of course, I keep being tempted to omit the lettuce and just mix everything else up into little appetizers, but that would defeat the purpose). I also have a recipe for a salad with blueberries, pecans, blue cheese, and a blueberry dressing (blueberries, shallots, red wine vinegar, olive oil, whizzed in blender until smooth). Both of these recipes came from my SIL, who clearly has a thing for making salads that I actually want to eat.

    I’ve also been on a watermelon salad kick — watermelon, feta, mint, lime juice, a little olive oil; also good with jalapeño, red onion, and fresh radish on top of arugula (one of the few things that actually makes arugula edible).

    All of which take equal or less time than chopping carrots, celery, cucumbers, and green peppers.

  6. LfB – YES, exactly. It took a ton of time!!! She still does it every day.

    Costco has a great kale salad with brussels sprouts, seeds and cranberries, and poppy seed dressing, that is AWESOME. You have to eat it right away though bc the brussels sprouts have a tendency to get moldy.

  7. @L — that sounds good. I have also taken to slaw — I find I can eat things like kale, broccoli, and brussels sprouts ok, as long as they are raw, sliced very thinly, and surrounded by yummier things. :-) I do something really similar to that as a slaw (minus the kale, and with a version of hot bacon dressing that I make with that cubed pancetta you can keep in your freezer).

  8. I have a steeplechase view of meals. Each meal is a unique obstacle and however the family gets over it works for me.

  9. Sunday night I made BBQ shrimp quesadillas, with Wholly Guacamole! Canned green beans with French’s fried onions. Broiler S’Mores for dessert.

    Last night we ate our leftovers from Noodles and Company, plus some yogurt. Bell peppers and cucumbers cut up for dipping in Ranch. Ice cream for dessert.

  10. Since I wrote this post, 15 year old DD has decided she’s vegan (no meat/dairy/eggs/fish). Sigh. My dad is vegan and I used to be vegetarian so I’m familiar with it – but we’d just reached a point where there were a number of meals all 4 of us would eat – and now there aren’t. At least DD is eating more fruits/veggies and beans than she used to. In some ways, high school has felt like going through the toddler years with respect to food choices and control. Up through 8th grade, DH made DD’s lunch – and she always had breakfast. Last year when she started 9th grade, DD would often skip breakfast or grab a granola bar and then sometimes bring lunch, sometimes buy food, sometimes skip it entirely. Now that she’s gone vegan, she is eating better quality food and is less likely to skip meals so at least there’s that.

    The thing I am looking forward to the most about having an empty nest (which won’t be for some time), is not having to figure out (and then cook) dinner during the week. I can cook things that only I like! Or have cereal for dinner!

    This summer, it has been working pretty well to have each kid cook dinner once a week. This requires me to be in the kitchen teaching them how to make whatever dish they are preparing – but in the long run, it should give them some good skills and get them to where they can cook dinner on their own!

  11. LfB – good luck with the Whole 30. I only made it 12 days (I caved on the wine on the last day of school) but would like to try again soon. I really did like it (although DH says he will never try it again).

    I am home by 4:00 every day so I do all of the cooking during the week, DH takes over on the weekends. DH is really a fabulous cook, I’m decent but am not quite as creative when it comes to just pulling a recipe together out of stuff we have. I am a menu planner so last night we had beef stew (which braised for three hours so not a 45 minute recipe, but less than 45 minutes of hands on time), tonight we’ll do this: http://goop.com/recipes/crispy-coconut-kale-with-roasted-salmon/
    And tomorrow will do roasted lemon chicken quarters with mashed potatoes and roasted broccoli. I rotate fish/beef/chicken and will throw in pork every other week. Sometimes I’ll do a quiche or pasta with chicken sausage and greens. I wing it more on Thursday nights. I don’t use the service, but Blue Apron has some really good recipes on their website that are usually less than 45 minutes from start to finish.

  12. LfB, I made it only 4 days on the Whole30 (my excuse is that I was nursing at the time, and was just too hungry/nauseated).

    I’m tempted to try again but include dairy. The prep was a lot of work, though, at least by my standards.

  13. We split the cooking. I’m probably the default dinner cook and my husband is the default breakfast cook, but he has a number of dinner regulars and when the kids’ extra-curric schedule is getting me home late every night, he’s cooking. And while I rarely do the big cooked breakfast that is his specialty, I’ll put together a batch of waffles or micro-poached eggs and sausage over biscuits or something.

    Sunday night, carrot-potato-spinach soup with nutmeg-thyme-basil, bacon and fried onion as garnish, rolls on the side. That was mine. Last night, Japanese curry (using the magic blocks) and rice. That was my husband’s. Tonight, tbd. And tbh I should get off here and think about moving something from freezer to fridge to thaw.

    We have to cook something new every night these days thanks to the vast gaping maw that is my oldest.

  14. Honolulu mother or anyone else — Would you name the prepared curry or masala or vindaloo or similar sauce pouches/mixes/cubes that you like? IIRC these have been mentioned in the comments, but I can’t remember.

    “The thing I am looking forward to the most about having an empty nest (which won’t be for some time), is not having to figure out (and then cook) dinner during the week. I can cook things that only I like! Or have cereal for dinner!”

    Yes! I have one kid who jumps around with preferences, and has already warned me she’s going vegan next month. I don’t cook to individual preferences, but there are many evenings where cereal or carrot sticks with hummus or similar is fine for me.

  15. SSM — many of the dishes you listed are what I like to make. When clams are on sale I will steam a bunch with fennel, onions, garlic, tomatoes, and fresh herbs, then serve as a soup with fresh bread or with pasta. However, I can’t always count on my kids to be home for dinner. Eve if earlier in the day they say they will, it’s not uncommon for last-minute plans get in the way. That’s fine for some dishes, but last time I prepared clams I had too much left over and had to throw some out.

  16. This is very helpful. I am about to move to a new position which will give me a lot less flexibility. In the past, I used to be able to get home at 3-4pm and then get dinner ready. Now, I’ll come home at 5pm+, so dinner will be more of a challenge. Also, I’m in a food rut, so I’m looking for new ideas. Awesome post! Everyone, please post recipes!

    Here is a favorite of mine, because I use veggies from the freezer and everything else is from our pantry. If you don’t have cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, just use a bit of garam masala at the end. I also cook this in a rice cooker v. a pressure cooker. http://krithiskitchen.blogspot.com/2012/04/quinoa-pilaf-quinoa-coconut-milk-pulao.html

  17. The standard dinner is baked chicken thighs that are marinated with rice wine, oyster sauce, soy sauce, red pepper flakes,garlic powder and whatever else I seasoned them with before sticking them in the freezer. The day or 2 before, I throw the frozen chicken in the fridge to defrost. The chicken marinates as it thaws and all I have to do is throw them in a pan and then the oven. Rice in the rice cooker and the veggies in the rice cooker steamer insert. 10-15 minutes to prep and 30 minutes to cook.

  18. I make this once every month or so and serve over rice. Then use the leftover beef to make a shepherds pie (with leftover mashed potatoes from earlier in the week).


    We also do a decent amount of soups, especially in the fall/winter made from stock that I make in the instant pot. I made this last week and it was a hit:


  19. SSM, sounds like you have some wonderful recipes for sauces, or you are great at making them on the fly. Mind sharing your secrets?

  20. The thing I am looking forward to the most about having an empty nest (which won’t be for some time), is not having to figure out (and then cook) dinner during the week. I can cook things that only I like! Or have cereal for dinner!

    This. I am convinced that I’m going to lose weight just by having DD around only every other week. I’m plan to live on salads, peanut butter, and Lean Cuisine.

    DD is definitely a “pickitarian” too. One thing I like to do is roast a chicken or a couple bone-in/skin-on chicken breasts during the weekend, then pull off the meat and chop it up for use with various meals throughout the week. I can put it on top of a salad and just give DD a handful of plain chicken and raw veggies. Or I’ll make her plain pasta/rice/quinoa and add a sauce with the chicken for myself.

  21. CoC, for Japanese-style curry we use the Golden Curry blocks, medium heat. They’re a Sam’s Club item so we haven’t sought to taste-test different brands, but there’s a site here that did: http://www.seriouseats.com/2010/06/taste-test-japanese-curry-roux-mixes-golden-torukero-vermont-java-kokumaro.html . For Indian-style made very quickly in the same manner, there are these http://www.amazon.com/Sukhis-Gluten-Free-Korma-3-Ounce-Packets/dp/B003SWL5CO and similar packets. I also have in the freezer packets of the wet curry from the Indian Slow Cooker cookbook (someone on here recommended it a few years ago) for when I’m taking a little more time. I will continue in the next post so I can add more links.

  22. We’ve recently had to adjust as I took on more responsibility at work & have not been reliably home in time to devote even 30 minutes to making dinner. The old routine was that I handled most of the cooking and all of the meal planning, but it was not working. I was still trying to meal plan & cook from scratch every night, and it was frustrating for all when I was arriving home 45 minutes later than usual, everyone was starving, and there was no time after dinner to hang out. So, we’ve gone on a more predictable rotation for the time being. For the 4 true work nights/week, one day we do tacos or pasta, one day we do BLT’s with fruit on the side, one day DH cooks whatever he wants (often something on the grill), and one day I make it a point to come home from work early & cook something of my choosing. This has reduced stress for all. Tacos are often either grilled (put in marinade in the morning, use canned beans, and/or use a crockpot to make the filling. Pasta is easy – usually reheating of a sauce from the freezer since I usually make big batches or using garden/farmer’s market veggies.

  23. Hi from Waterton! I simply refused to do today’s activities with the group so I’m sitting in the Prince of Wales hotel having a glass of wine and enjoying the scenery while everyone else is tromping around in the heat obsessively looking for bears. Just go to the damn zoo.

    I do all meal stuff. DH refuses to express a preference because early in the marriage I’d get pissy if he suggested something difficult. But that was 22 years ago and he needs to get over it. When he retires there will be some changes around here.

    I think I’ve posted most of my easy, go-to recipes in other threads.

  24. One of the easiest, fastest meal is chicken tenders put in a bag with your choice of salad dressing – my favorite is Silver Palate Champagne Honey Mustard – and leave in fridge then toss on grill and served with whatever sides. Takes no time on grill and is very tasty.

    Throw all your spaghetti sauce ingredients in crock pot and put in Italian sausage – I usually brown sausage but it is not necessary.

    We also like a chuck roast in slow cooker with a bottle of pepperoncini thrown in and cooked all day – might not work for little ones – can be a little spicy.

    Also, pork ribs or roast – bone in is fine- rub pork with seasoning or prepared dry rub – last half hour add some bbq sauce. If using a roast (I use cheap rib end) just pull the meat off the bones and you have pulled pork.

    Rachel Ray’s super sloppy joes is a quick, easy recipe.

    I admit I find it harder to cook something fast just to get it on the table. Now that I only work 8-12 I can indulge my cooking as relaxation habit – not to mention my husband’s requests such as eggplant rollatini – not a hard dish to make, just time consuming.

    I love my Oxo salad spinner and container – prepare a bunch of lettuce on weekend and it will last all week. Cut up different veggies and keep inside container in individual plastic bags and people can help themselves.

    I also try to have spaghetti sauce made up and in the fridge. Can make different quick meals with it on hand.

    I find chicken cut scaloppini style or chicken tenderloins can be done quickly with different sauces – one of my family’s favorite is a mustard mascarpone sauce – very quick.

  25. Lee Kum Kee has a ton of different pre-made sauces for Chinese cooking — same idea, cook your meat and veg and then add the sauce, but you’re stir-frying instead of stewing. You can see a lot of them here: http://www.amazon.com/Lee-Kum-Kee/b/ref=bl_dp_s_web_3033599011?ie=UTF8&node=3033599011&field-lbr_brands_browse-bin=Lee+Kum+Kee . The Panda co-branded ones are sweeter and gloppier, which I don’t care for as much although my kids like them just fine. You can also get jarred versions of some of those, like the spicy garlic sauce for eggplant and pork, which work out to be cheaper than the packets. I pick those up in Chinatown but as you can see they’re available on Amazon too, or maybe your usual market carries some.

  26. My son is a beige-food aficionado also. I cook 97% of nights, but right now daughter and I are dieting and are basically just having salad or protein shake or dinner. My husband eats a big lunch, so he’ll go along with salad, do most nights I’m planning something just for the teen boy. It’s frequently grilled steak and steamed broccoli, and just as frequently a Subway sandwich (just bread with cheese please. No condiments, no veggies.) I will say dinner prep and cleanup are quick and easy this way.

  27. While I’m talking about curry pastes I should not forget Thai curry pastes, which also make for a quick meal. Same drill of cooking your meat and veg, but you add coconut milk and a dash of fish sauce along with the curry paste. (Maybe kaffir lime leaves if you have them.) The Mae Ploy ones in plastic tubs are the common ones here.

  28. When my emeals subscription ended, I decided to try cooksmarts after the reviews here. It’s helped up the # of vegetables my kids eat on any random night, which is a plus. Also, my kids have now discovered the main-dish salad, and at least two of my kids *love* them, and the other tolerates them just fine. So that’s been a big win!

    I’ve re-discovered pounding chicken/turkey cutlets flat to make them cook faster. We’ve done chicken that way lately and dipped it in white wine and dijon mustard mixed together, followed by panko mixed with parmesan. The whole thing bakes in about 10 min at 500, which ends up being ridiculously fast. (Also nice is that if I’m bothering to heat the oven, I can roast veggies well at that same temperature.)

    I had some nice-ish cuisinart baking sheets from Costco, but they constantly buckled at high heat in the oven. After figuring out part of the problem, I bought restaurant grade sheet pans (about $10 a piece, so not exactly fancy) and no more buckling.

    I usually make one large pot of soup each week, especially in the winter. I make pasta once a week– ravioli, homemade mac & cheese, spaghetti & meatballs. I also usually do some version of protein in the crock pot for the inevitable late night with something-or-other.

  29. Thank you, HM! I’ve pinned your recommendations.

    I’m increasingly liking one-dish “bowl” meals, whether it’s a hearty salad or shredded chicken with vegetables. I’ve made a variation of this, using Trader Joe’s Lamb Koftas with Masala Sauce from their freezer section.

  30. SSM – my DS is almost 10 as well. He cooks with me, but not alone. What does your son make when it is his night? Last night we made falefal – he loves to use the food processor.

  31. One sauce I love is a Port Wine sauce (great with salmon; also good with chicken); super easy.

    After you’ve cooked the salmon, remove the salmon from pan. Remove any extra oil in the pan.

    Add ¾ cup of port wine and a teaspoon of raspberry jam. Reduce until syrupy. Turn heat off or to low and add 2 tablespoons of butter. Stir until butter is melted into the sauce.

    I’ll look up the other sauces when I get home and add them tonight.

  32. “If it were up to him we might all eat sausages from the freezer, boursin cheese & sriracha every night,”

    Ha ha, same in our house.

  33. Grocery Bags – he started out with quesadillas, grilled cheese, and ravioli – and he’d make them to order (e.g. if people wanted to add chicken, avocado, spinach, etc.). He’s made macaroni and cheese from scratch twice. This was a good experience because the first recipe we used didn’t turn out as saucy as he wanted – so we found another recipe that had more sauce. And he now has 3 chicken dishes he’s made.

    One is called “unstuffed cordon bleu” – chicken breast (I use the thin cutlets); spread a thin layer of mustard on the cutlet (he leaves this off for his piece); top with a slice of ham; then grated gruyere cheese; then crumbled ritz crackers; then bake (I think at 475 for 25 minutes; cover with foil part way through so the cracker crumbs don’t burn).

    I handle putting the food in the oven and taking it out.

    Initially DS only wanted to make quesadillas – I told him he couldn’t make the same thing 2 weeks in a row.

  34. I second Honolulu’s recommendation for the Golden Curry Japanese-style curry blocks. You can also find them at Kroger in the international foods section. Yum! I need to experiment more with simmer sauces, which should make dinner prep easy.

  35. Another easy chicken recipe that DS has made is called Bug Juice Chicken.

    Put 6 – 8 chicken thighs (with bone and skin) in casserole pan.

    Mix 1/3 cup soy sauce; 2 tbl lemon juice; and 1/4 tsp each onion powder, garlic powder; poultry seasoning; and powdered ginger. Pour over chicken. Turn each piece of chicken over twice so both sides are coated.

    Bake for 45 minutes in a 375 degree oven, basting twice (so every 15 minutes). We serve with rice and broccoli.

  36. “and he’d make them to order (e.g. if people wanted to add chicken, avocado, spinach, etc.). ”

    That made me laugh.

  37. Milo – it actually ended up being something of a discussion. The first time DS made quesadillas, he let people add as many items as they wanted. However, this made the quesadillas difficult for DS to turn over in the pan (especially the chunky items like pieces of chicken and chunks of avocado). DS got upset if stuff fell out of the quesadilla. So then DS wanted to go to cheese only quesadillas. We compromised on allowing 2 “chunky add-ons.”

  38. SSM – LOL. I have to do them one at a time, single tortilla, folded only after the cheese has melted enough to hold the shrimp or chicken.

  39. The comments about cook smarts reminded me of Risley. I hope she rejoins us soon.
    I am thinking about trying cook smarts once we’re all home and back into a routine after Labor Day. I want DD to try some new meals, and I definitely want her to move away from the kids menu in restaurants.

  40. Y’all know I’m a big fan of the delay start function for those crazy nights. Obviously, meat can’t sit there all day, but there’s no reason you can’t prep vegetables ahead of time and have them start roasting before you get home, plus use a rice cooker with a timer functions, and poof! Vegetable and starch are done, all you have to do is deal with the meat or fish when you walk through the door.

    Also, delay start is brilliant on baked-potato-bar nights. Prep your potatoes in the morning, set to delay start, and then just prep your toppings in the morning. Then in the evening all you have to do is pull the potatoes out of the oven and the toppings out of the fridge, and dinner is done.

    I will frequently set the table for the next night the night before. Sounds crazy, but somehow getting the silverware and napkins already on the table seems to save loads of time.

    Sometimes if I know we are having pasta with dinner, I will set the pasta pot with water on the cooktop, go ahead and salt it, and put the lid on, and the box of pasta out on the counter. Then when I walk through the door, all I have to do is turn on the cooktop.

    I just tried for the first time Ina Garten’s mustard roasted fish and it was amazing – super easy weeknight dinner, and was a hit with everyone.

    When weather is cooler we have soup + grilled cheese at least once/week. On a Sunday I’ll make 3 soups, freeze them, and then pull them out as needed.

  41. I actually agree with Rhett, we are pretty much a meat and three family, but those are my crazy night meals when I know we’re walking through the door starving. Delivery is not an option where we are…

  42. We are terrible at dinner. I think my kids eat a fair variety, given their ages, but that still excludes a lot of things that are all mixed together. I will decide to cook something exciting – black bean soup! homemade pizza! Chicken in orange stuff in the crockpot! It is often too complicated for their precious little palates. I refuse to be a short order cook, but I do allow them bread and butter after dinner if they did not like the meal. So, I plan and cook meal, no one eats it, I stand in kitchen buttering bread for 20 minutes. And, as often I give them dinner by myself, no one eats the fantastic orange chicken.

    So, we often end up with a kind of food apartheid – little pile of green beans, little pile of starch, few chunks of protein and a piece of fruit. It doesn’t resemble cooking.

    I have thought about trying to go to some kind of rigid rotation – pasta mondays, rice bowl tuesdays, etc, just to try to find some formulas that work. Does anybody else do that?

  43. Rhett I agree with you, no cereal for dinner in this house (or really at breakfast either). If it’s soup for dinner, then we’ll have bread and maybe a salad too.

  44. Hi, Jack. I’m trying to make some travel plans for a business trip, and would appreciate your thoughts on airlines.

    I’m trying to book a return flight in the evening, allowing me to do my business during the day, but minimize my time away from home as well as save my employer a hotel night.

    The optimal choice, based on price, departure/arrival times, and being a non-stop, is United. Delta has a similar flight, same price, also non-stop, but departs about an hour earlier, meaning an hour less time to do business, and probably a more hectic afternoon.

    I remember recently there were some negative comments here about United. Any thoughts as to whether it’s worth the extra hassle and hour less for work in order to fly on Delta?

  45. Ada, I read a profile on a network news personality once, can’t remember who, and she had a rigid rotation for years. Monday was spaghetti, Tuesday was tacos, Wednesday was burgers or something, and so on. On the one hand – boring! But on the other hand, to not ever have to think about it would be golden. I think it was Lark years ago that said she meal plans for one beef dish, one chicken, one pasta, one fish each week. That was a huge help to me.

    And to Rhett’s comment, we used to feel that way about dinner, but now that I go into the office again I have really lowered the bar. No one cares except the very hungry teen boy.

  46. What about a martini and popcorn? I guess that’s not dinner in your book. :)

    Or a frittata? That’s what I’m making tonight, adding in peppers, tomatoes, and other veggies that I need to use up.

    I often don’t “need” dinner, honestly. Two meals a day are fine. If I go out to lunch, I can usually skip dinner. But I do enjoy the gathering together part of dinner.

    Lark, I love your delay start and advance preparations, and I should try more of that.

  47. I’ve tried the Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, etc. routine and also the one meat dish, one chicken dish, one pasta dish routine, but neither have stuck. “Things” always come up that disrupt the routine.

  48. the very hungry teen boy

    You could do a take-off of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, except at the end he grows six inches instead of turning into a butterfly.

  49. Rhett sounds like Seinfeld’s Kenny Bania. “That’s lunch at a coffee shop! That’s not a meal!”

  50. I’m going to try some of the dishes above. Yesterday, when I was in T Joes, a customer, a woman with a heavy Italian accent, convinced me to try the frozen linguini in clam sauce and serve it with the frozen mixed seafood or shrimp (both were cooked and cleaned). It was pretty good for a quickie meal. I served in with warm bread and broccolli. This is definately something the kids can handle on a busy night.

  51. Finn- I have had so many super negative experiences with United, I avoid them if at all humanly possible. They seem to have poor algorithms for canceling/holding flights. I also think it makes a difference if you are flying through SFO – that place is always a cluster.

    A few years ago, we sat on the tarmac waiting for clearance to take off for SFO. There was fog (surprising only to the control tower, I suppose) and we ended up landing about 90 minutes late. We missed our connection by minutes. United automatically rebooked us (nanny, me, two tiny children) on a flight 4 days later. Because the delay was weather related, they had nothing else to offer. I was a 12 hour drive from my final destination, but they wouldn’t let me get my luggage or car seats out – as I tried to find any solution. I tried to call reservations to sort it out, but they couldn’t do any better. I spent 2 hours in line while DH worked with the elite customer service from home. I was only halfway to the counter (and 2 hours into chasing small snowflakes around the airport) when they were able to rebook us on a Delta flight. It was a nightmare and I am pissed just writing about it.

  52. We eat TJs gorgonzola gnocchi about once a week. I think the kids usually get frozen peas (still frozen, as is their preference) as a side dish.

  53. Finn – my experience with United the last few years has definitely been mixed. The worst was a five hour delay that was 3 hours waiting for the plane to come into the airport and 2 hours waiting for a crew.

    My other problems have been more minor, and the United people handled them as well as they could, but I worry about your late flight. The later in the day, the more possibility of problems. I usually try to fly on an early morning flight because at least the plane will be physically at the airport.

    My Houston relatives hate United (they loved Continental) and avoid flying it as much as possible, but I don’t know their specific complaints. I think they are still annoyed with the merger and the subsequent problems.

    I don’t know anything about Delta and its reliability, so I can’t comment!

  54. Rhett – DH and DD would agree with your definition of dinner. I on the other hand used to happily eat cereal or salad or popcorn for dinner before we had kids. Cooking actual meals was one of my biggest parenting adjustments (I cooked before we had kids – but more on the weekend or special occasions rather than day in/day out).

  55. Ada, ssk, thanks for the advice. I think I will take Delta, especially since my outbound is also on Delta. I’ll try to cram as much work into the first days of the trip to facilitate leaving a little early on the last day.

    Maybe I’ll even be able to stop on the way to the airport to pick up dinner. One downside of Delta is that the food choices in their terminal don’t look as good as in the United terminal.

  56. “for Japanese-style curry we use the Golden Curry blocks, medium heat. They’re a Sam’s Club item so we haven’t sought to taste-test different brands”

    We’ve tried about three different brands, and have not been able to tell much difference.

  57. I like to cook in bulk, enough for multiple meals. I also like to cook dishes that combine veggies with meats, so I can just pair those with something starchy for a full meal.

    So when I do curry, using the same blocks HM uses, I include meat (ususally cubes of chicken, or ground turkey), carrots, celery, and onions. I usually add some ketchup too.

    Chili will include a lot of beans (kidney and garbanzo), bell peppers, and onions. I like to add Sriracha and mayo too.

    We also do a lot of stir fries. I’ll start frying some veggies in oil, then add a can of Spam, cut into small pieces, then add some chicken stock, oyster sauce, and corn starch. Sometimes chicken will be used instead of Spam.

  58. How do you cook your stir fries, especially larger quantities? I have an older electric cooktop that has low power output. I have better luck with stir fries in an electric skillet, but they still wind up kind of mushy and overcooked.

  59. We use an induction cooktop and a big, deep frying pan (I think it’s 12″ diameter, maybe 3.5″ deep). Maybe ours are mushy and overcooked, but nobody in my family seems to mind.

  60. RMS, after googling your hotel, I can see the attraction in just hanging out in the lobby and enjoying the views and ambience.

  61. “My Houston relatives hate United (they loved Continental) ”

    +1,000. I LOVED Continental and I HATE United. Both for their bad service, and for how they ruined a great airline (Continental).

  62. Wasn’t Houston (the airport, not the regular contributor here) a hub for Continental? Is it now a United hub?

  63. Houston and Newark were legacy Continental hubs. Chicago and Denver were legacy United hubs. I fly Delta and United on a regular basis because I HATE American, and there are a lot of united flights that I can catch from Newark or Delta from JFK/LGA. I’ve had good and bad experiences with both airlines. I do agree that United can be a pain. Their customer service is not great, and I definitely miss the Continental customer service and staff.

    If fares are similar, flight times work – I tend to pick Delta because I generally have a better experience vs United.

  64. Ada, what is it with young kids and frozen vegetables? My guys used to eat frozen broccolli. Usually we just purchased frozen but if we bought it fresh, we had to freeze it.

  65. Completely off topic: On a thread for my sorority alum group, one old friend of mine posted that her high school daughter heard her discussing the grade point cuts for recruitment, with some houses cutting all girls below a 3.5, and others cutting a 3.3. Her daughter is hovering right at a 3.3, so is dropping IB Physics in favor of a regular science because she is more confident she can get an A. Her daughter plans to go to the state school we attended, and they use unweighted grades for sorority recruitment. Some of the women were critical, saying this plays to every unfavorable stereotype of sorority girls not maximizing their academic potential, while others are saying if IB Physics has nothing to do with her planned major, why risk your GPA to take it. It was sort of the opposite of some of the discussions here, so I found it interesting.

  66. Why risk your GPA to take IB Physics when you could have an easy A and qualify for sorority life? Yeah. That is hard for me to even wrap my brain around, I have to admit.

    I have had horrible experiences with both United *and* Delta, so I’m not much use there.

  67. Anon, if you got an “A” in IB physics, the sorority recruitment committee would have to toss your application anyway for “lack of fit”. :) I agree that it’s probably best to pick either a sorority OR IB physics.

    Ada and others with similar age kids, my kids like beans (I like S&W low salt black beans) and brown rice topped with Trader Joe’s blue corn tortilla chip crumbs and shredded Tillamook medium cheddar cheese. (Mr. WCE doesn’t like beans very often.) As a side dish, I like carrot salad.

    Carrot Salad
    ~2 c shredded carrots (can shred in a food processor or buy shredded)
    ~1/2 c plain yogurt
    ~3/4 c crushed canned pineapple
    ~1/2 c raisins
    ~1/4 c English walnut pieces, optional (my kids don’t like them)

    Ideally, you make this up at least a couple hours ahead of time to let the raisins plump up from the juices. Keeps at least ~3 days in the refrigerator so I make enough for leftovers. This is also a good diet salad. :)

  68. Reminder: Perseids meteor shower this week. We hope to sleep in our yard for the peak night on Wednesday night.

  69. WCE – with lower power stoves I have had better luck with stir-fries cooking in batches – one type of veggie at a time and not the whole thing, or maybe 1/4 quantity at a time – only so much as will easily fit in the skillet with gaps in between the veggies. Use HIGH heat, as high as it will go, and let the skillet come up to temperature first before throwing in the first batch and then again between batches.

    Ada – LOL at “food apartheid”. We had that yesterday too – “My RICE is touching my SAUCE, noooooooooooo!”. I often refuse to be the bread-butterer and let the kids subsist off air – no additional bread or alternative foods for dinner. #2 child will often not eat his dinner for whatever reason, but never complains about hunger, just about the dinner. ;)

  70. Which reminds me, this is the first year I’ve noticed that bento box lunch containers seem to outnumber soft vinyl lunch bags at our local drugstore’s back-to-school section.

  71. We always fly United. If you’re Platinum Elite with Sprinkes, or whatever the hell it is, you get excellent service, immediate rebooking, etc. If you’re hoi polloi, well…

  72. The food not touching thing is fascinating to me. I am guessing that is why that is why there were courses served with specific plates for each dish. In the home country there were no courses but each food item was in a separate little bowl on a big plate or a compartmentalized plate. If it were an ordinary dinner plate lots of people didn’t like mixing things and basically they laid their food on their plate in a pizza like shape.

  73. Rhett – the commenters are predictably down on them; one thing I noticed was the question of how much child care is going to cost them. That could take a big bite out of the savings rate.

  74. WCE – I agree with the batch method for stir frying. Don’t put everything in at once, cook in stages until just done and then recombine at the end with sauce. I use a big saute pan like this:

    The cover is good for veggies that need a little extra steam to cook or for leaving on the stove while we eat for people to get seconds.


  75. Rhett/L – The comments are pretty funny…

    “I “saved” much more than their $500 on seltzer and it was easy – I never drink it. And I have a 50-inch flat screen. For the win!” Tee hee!

  76. L,

    I’m fascinated by their concept of work and “being in charge of our time.” I happened upon another article that mentioned what they mean by homestead or homesteading: Homesteading is a lifestyle of self-sufficiency. It is characterized by subsistence agriculture, home preservation of foodstuffs, and it may or may not also involve the small scale production of textiles, clothing, and craftwork for household use or sale. Everything I’ve read indicates it requires a lot of work.

    At the start of our vacation recently it made sense for me to go home Thursday night night so I ended up spending the day at the hotel and meeting up at our destination Friday evening. So, I slept in, headed down to breakfast, went to the gym, got a massage, came back and my laundry was back and hanging in the closet, the room was clean, etc. To me, that is what being in charge of my time would mean – absolute freedom to do what I want. I would never define being in charge of my time as everyday facing a giant to do list of chores.

  77. @Rhett – I guess they mean not having to answer to an employer on weekdays. They must not mind a list of things to do (or not to do) on their own time.

  78. “To me, that is what being in charge of my time would mean – absolute freedom to do what I want.”

    And that’s the difference between us and them: for them, plowing and canning and weaving *is* “what I want.” Whereas to me, that’s what my Granny left the farm to escape.

  79. One more easy dinner with sauce recipe: Steak with mustard sauce (this sauce is so delicious).

    Pan fry steaks (I preheat the pan on medium for 5 minutes; cook the steaks in a tablespoon of oil 3 – 5 minutes a side).

    Remove steaks from pan (they should rest 10 minutes). Add 3/4 cup of chicken stock; boil until reduced by half. Stir in 1 1/2 tablespoon mustard (I like to use a grainy stone ground mustard) and 1 tablespoon butter).


  80. I guess they mean not having to answer to an employer on weekdays.

    That’s certainly true.

    They must not mind a list of things to do (or not to do) on their own time.

    But, if you have a baby and you’re homesteading, a lot of that work needs to be done whether you want to or not.

  81. I haven’t read the Frugalwoods articles, but I know families who have made analogous choices. One energetic Dad works an engineering job and also grows much of the family’s food due to his wife and daughters’ severe food allergies and associated health issues. Another family has a small organic farm and several children- one of these children is headed to MIT with a really good financial aid package. A common acquaintance is an MIT grad and we discussed how MIT has adjusted its policies from the 60’s to the 90’s to now.

    I view work as “paid” or “unpaid”. Paid work usually has a concrete deadline and often has to be done during particular hours. Unpaid work gives you a lot more freedom to decide when tasks will be done, but can be much harder to break free of. I can wash any load of laundry that I want, but someone should do the laundry eventually. I had five episodes of bleeding yesterday among the three boys (arm, knee, nose) which I believe is a family record. Such days are a good opportunity for a stain remover DOE.

    This may be my Protestant work ethic peeking through, but I don’t think most people would do well long-term with *no* work obligations as Rhett describes. My elderly neighbors are mostly healthy and have large yards/gardens/pastures. I can’t be sure that their outside work keeps them healthy (maybe healthy elderly people can preferentially keep living in such places and the sick ones move), but the correlation exists.

  82. I far prefer outsourcing a lot of things and working in my comfortable office for “the man” rather than insourcing all of that work and being “in charge of my own time”. But I feel like I am somewhat “in charge of my own time” in my comfortable office as well. I am not a steelworker, I am a middle-manager in a comfy corporate environment. While I don’t want to do this forever, and I would like to save enough to have financial independence in my 50’s, going to an office every weekday is not so awful that I couldn’t continue to do it for another 15 years without much complaint. And I may chose to keep doing it after I no longer technically have to do it to pay my bills. I certainly wouldn’t want to live this kind of extreme lifestyle in order to “retire” at 40 and continue to live an extremely frugal lifestyle. But I do appreciate the idea that financial independence is within your own control, that we need to align our spending and saving to our values, and that there are other paths beyond saving little & working until 65 and beyond.

  83. Back to stir-frying, I have noticed that our induction cooktop is much better than our old resistive electric cooktop. It cooks a lot faster, and can cook more at a time.

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