What the Fork Is For Dinner?

My friend Mattison sent me this video the other day of her parents preparing a feast for Chinese New Year. Immigrants from China via Vietnam, they worked for hours?days?weeks??preparing the food. The level of food prep is astounding. There are scenes of her mom forming dumplings by hand, mixing doughs, frying little delicious-looking morsels. Dungeness crabs cracked with a sharp knife, individual?custards? Cakes??stamped with a fetching little chop, becoming works of art. Her mom lays an altar and burns incense over the food.

It is, in a word, beautiful.

I’ve been thinking about that video a lot, not just because it all looked so delicious. I’ve been a little obsessed with food prep lately. I’m the food prep maven in our house. I work less, I get home earlier?it just makes sense. And I used to be so good at it. L would play happily with some jars or measuring spoons on the kitchen floor?or, later, read a book or color?while I roasted veggies or whipped up a quinoa salad.

But Baby S would rather pull jars off the shelves and fiddle with the knobs to the stove. He?d rather dig through the trash. He?d rather open the one not-yet-baby-proofed cupboard and dump Cheerios all over the floor. He?d rather make a break for the bathroom and gleefully thrust both hands into the toilet. So many nights, five pm rolls around and I?m flummoxed. The baby needs to be picked up, and he?s very persuasive. Or he?s in the toilet. Or something has to come out of the oven and it?s not even safe for me to open the door because he?ll try to climb in. I holler for L to watch the baby for fivepleasejustfiveminutes but L has turned into a teenager that afternoon and demands a bribe (or flat-out refuses). Ben walks in the door and I hand him the baby and march to the fridge for a beer.

Food prep for busy moms. Or at least, how not to lose your mind as you decide what to make for dinner.

We're not going to make a feast every night. But how about a protein and two veg??How do you just get dinner on the table? #parenting Click To Tweet

Well, for the first time in my adult life, I’m embracing that slippery practice of PLANNING MEALS. And hoo boy has it has helped. It’s turned the question of what the f&*k is for dinner? into “I know what’s for dinner, because I planned it over the weekend, muthas!”

So herewith, my Boring Yet Practical Tips:

  • Dude. Just plan the meals. I’ve been asking my family what sounds yummy to them and rolling with it. Weirdly, since doing this, I think we’re eating more vegetables and more variety.
  • Cook ahead of time.?Yes, it can be done. Last Sunday morning, I thought to myself, well, since I’m in the kitchen anyway, I might as well chop these two onions and throw them in a couple of separate pots and simultaneously make a pot of Indian dal with coconut milk and a grass-fed beef stew with root veggies. Dinner for two nights, done.
  • Shop once. This was a hard one at first, but easy to embrace when I got two credit card bills in a row that were almost double my (Bay Area!) rent. Ouch. The jury’s still out, but I kind of suspect all those frantic last-minute trips to the store, plus whopping Costco trips (we let our membership lapse, partially after reading this) were to blame. I’m trying instead to make a good list and go one time.
  • Cook with What You Have. That is, of course, the title of my brilliant friend Katherine’s blog and business. Just look at the photos on that webpage. I’m salivating. She even has a recipe subscription service. More than that, the ethos makes sense. Shop smart, cook whatever you want.
  • Cut corners, but not too many corners. I just can’t embrace Blue Apron and Good Eggs and all that jazz, you guys. If money is no object, and you’re working 80 hours a week, then by all means. For me, though, all the wasteful plastic packaging really got me down. And I’d rather just shop than have my groceries delivered, because then I know which stores I’m supporting.
  • That said, definitely cut some corners. Last fall, before they discontinued the crusts (bastards), I was all about the following dinner: Trader Joe’s gluten-free pizza crusts with Trader Joe’s pizza sauce and Trader Joe’s cheese, topped with greens or mushrooms or whatever you want. Salad. Easy. Yum. I am also all about rice bowls, e.g. a big pile of rice with a bunch of veggies and a fried egg on top. These are 20-minute dinners.
  • Definitely, definitely allow yourself to eat out once a week. (This article suggests you should do it even more!)

Being organized about feeding my family feels really good to me right now that I’ve got a million more things on my plate, like a new book and a book launch to plan. (Come!)

What are YOUR go-to food prep tricks, or true confessions? I’m all ears.




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  1. Pamela Meserve

    This is just up my alley! Sorry it’s so long. Wash those greens beforehand, chop them and place in plastic bags with a paper towel at the bottom. I hate dealing with the salad spinner every night. Giada has a spicy tomato soup (Google it) that I make at least once a week. It takes less than 30 mins! I add an extra can of beans, extra water, cut back on the red pepper flakes and always a big bunch of kale or spinach at the end. TJ’s cheap basil/tomato marinara is perfect for this and the whole meal costs way less than ten dollars. Don’t forget the Sheet Pan Dinner: chicken thighs, sausages (pricked), halved or quartered potatoes and onions, carrots maybe? All on a sheet pan, sprinkle with 2T olive oil and 2T lemon juice, lots of salt and pepper and tuck some fresh herbs in as well. Thyme is lovely. 450 for 30 mins, turn everything over and bake for another 20-30 mins or until everything is done. Can add asparagus for the last 20 mins if you wish. Whatever you like most, use more of which for me would be sausages and onions. Aluminium foil on the bottom for easy clean-up and invariably leftovers for lunch next day. My latest hack is for meat loaf which my husband loves and which I hate making. In the food processor put an onion, about four slices white bread or anything that’s going stale, 1 egg, 1/2 cup ketchup, 1 teaspoon each, kosher salt, basil, marjoram, oregano, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 1/4 t allspice. Blend until mushy and add to about a pound of ground beef. Bake 350 for 45 mins and let sit for ten. Bake potatoes at the same time, add a green veggie and dinner is done. My hack? I make the onion/bread mixture up but without the egg and freeze it. I make three or four batches at once to freeze individually and when ready to cook I add one defrosted pouch to the meat with an egg. Then I only have to wash the food processor once.

    • Susie Meserve

      I knew you’d love this one, Mom. Thanks for all the tips!

  2. Ruth

    Great post. Love all the ideas.
    But how do you get to be the kind of person who says ?well since I?m in the kitchen anyway I might as well make a pot of Indian Dal and a grass fed beef stew with root vegetables???

    I bow down your awesomeness!

    • Susie Meserve

      YUM! Love me some Bittman. Oh yeah, and takeout sushi. Which in Oslo costs what, like $5 a piece?

  3. Michelle Bonczek

    YES! This for even child-free households when you are both too busy too cook. Say, when one has comps in one week and the other is recovering from a concussion and has a severe head cold 😉

    • Susie Meserve

      Right! Hypothetically ; ). (You better??)

      Thanks for commenting! XX


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