Happy new year! I hope your 2021 is off to a good start…or at least a not-too-bad start or…yeah…
I personally didn’t have any expectations of reality making a dramatic turnaround with the change of the calendar. Although I do have hope for this new year, I think we’re all going to be living in some pretty stressful conditions for quite some time, between what my friend Sally calls the “P and Ps”: the pandemic and politics.
So raise your hand if you’re still struggling. Yeah, me too. After the 10 months we’ve all been through, it can be hard to muster motivation for work, parenting, and keeping your house from looking like a tornado blew through–let alone making a healthy dinner every night.
I’m right there with you, but as a nutritionist and long-time mom/chef, I have some tips for getting a home-cooked meal on the table, even when you’d really rather drink wine and watch Ted Lasso. (Or is that just me?)
Here are my top suggestions.
5 Ways to Make Pandemic Cooking a Little Easier
1. Give yourself built-in breaks
These days, I try to pencil in at least one really, really easy dinner a week. Maybe that means a three-ingredient salmon, a fix-and-forget “dump” meal in the Crock Pot, or a healthier Trader Joe’s meal. I especially like TJ’s chili-lime chicken burgers and their lentil soup with ancient grains. These go-to products save my bacon on those evenings when I just don’t have the energy for a more impressive meal (and the dish washing that comes afterward). Give yourself planned breaks with super-simple meals.
2. Go for almost-homemade
There’s no shame in getting a little boost from meal-starters that take some of the work out of prep. I personally draw the line at high-sodium boxed meals like Hamburger Helper, but almost-homemade is better than not homemade at all. Consider shortcutting your way to a more convenient meal using ingredients like pre-made pizza crust, pre-sliced veggies, or rotisserie chicken.
3. Meal plan (always!)
I will beat the meal planning drum until the day I die, but I find it especially important during the pandemic. Going into the week without a plan for (at least) your weeknight dinners is just asking for stress. So set aside an hour or so on a Sunday afternoon–or any time that works for you–and hammer out a plan for the week ahead. An ounce of meal planning prevention is worth a pound of fast food cure. (Or something like that.)
4. Double up
Here’s another tip I’ll happily advocate all day long. Doubling up on entire meals or sides makes life soooo much easier. Use a large pot of rice as a side dish for chicken, then as the base of fried rice later in the week. Make a batch of pulled pork for tacos, then put the rest on a pizza. Or straight-up make two casseroles, soups, or pasta dishes. and save half for another evening. In the words of my husband’s favorite bizarro TV personality Dr. Steve Brule:
5. Get the whole family involved
News flash: Even if you’re a mom, you’re not the only person in your household who can take part in meal-making. I know…
The fact is, any able-bodied person in your home can–and should–help out with cooking. Getting kids to join you in the kitchen doesn’t just help you; it sets them up for a lifetime of healthy home cooking. (Check out this article I wrote on Verywell Family that will get you started on age-appropriate cooking tasks for kids!)
So get those kids and husbands and grandmas and anyone else you can grab to help with slicing, dicing, sautéing, and more. The family that cooks together weathers the pandemic together–with some healthy, homemade meals on the table.
Need recipes for healthy, easy meals? Here are some of my faves: