If you have a family, whether with one child or seven, then by definition you are a busy cook. Vegetarians and vegans aren't part of some mythical, laid-back counterculture but are soccer parents, carpoolers, corporate executives, and self-employed entrepreneurs. Our children are involved in just as many extracurricular activities and have just as much homework as anyone else's kids! Many people say they are too busy to cook, but no one is too busy to eat. Even among vegetarians and vegans, this is often remedied by a lot of eating out, getting takeout, and using prepared entrees. I'd like to encourage people to cook and eat at home, so here are some of my tried and true tips for making cooked-from-scratch meals a daily reality, even after the most exhausting days:
1) Make sure your pantry and freezer are stocked with good-quality ingredients for quick and/or "emergency" meals. My pantry standbys include canned beans, quick-cooking grains (like couscous and bulgur), white and sweet potatoes, and pastas. In addition, I keep on hand prepared sauces like marinara, barbecue, Thai peanut, and salsa. In the freezer are whole-wheat English muffins, veggie burgers, pita bread (for quick pizzas and sandwiches), and corn and wheat tortillas. My basic frozen veggies are corn, peas, green beans, and spinach (all organic). and with fresh produce always at the ready, there are myriad nearly instant meals that can be created with these basics.
2) Plan three full meals for the week ahead, allowing for two nights of leftovers. Plan your meals before you go grocery shopping to prevent running back and forth to the store all week for ingredients. There's nothing worse than walking into the kitchen after a long day without a clue as to what you want to make. I try to practice what I preach, but whenever there is a week that I've left unplanned, I really regret it! Just 15 or 20 minutes of meal planning per week saves lots of time and simplifies your life immeasurably.
3) On Sunday, prepare a couple of basics for the week to come. Cook some plain brown rice (or other grain); bake some potatoes, sweet potatoes, or squash. Bake quick bread or muffins, or prepare a good pasta sauce. Knowing that you have even one item that's already prepared when you enter the kitchen at 6:00 pm is a sweet feeling, and the rest of the meal then comes together quickly.
4) Once a week, make a big one-pot meal that can stretch to at least two nights, such as a hearty soup or stew, chili, or casserole. Double recipes if you have a larger family. Then, all you need is a salad and fresh whole-grain bread to round out the meal.
5) Develop repertoires and routines. If you are extremely busy and don't mind a little repetition, you can choose just a few menus that your family likes and rotate them throughout the month. An example of a routine would be something like that described in tip 3 (above), which suggests that you prepare certain ingredients in advance. Another would be to get your older children and teens to take turns making dinner, or at least part of it, once a week. Try designating each night of the week for a certain kind of meal. Monday could be soup and salad night (with the soup prepared on Sunday); Tuesday, homemade Asian; Wednesday, pasta night; one night to clean up all leftovers; and so on. This kind of predictability makes meal planning easier when you're strapped for time.
6) Keep it simple! You need not spend hours cooking or use dozens of ingredients to create tasty meals. I truly believe that it's the quality of ingredients, rather than the quantity, that matters most.
The Vegetarian Family Cookbook
by Nava Atlas
$17.95, Trade Paperback Original
Reprinted by permission.
This page created May 2004
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