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The 5:00 PM Daily ‘Too Busy To Cook’ Sigh: What Am I Going to Make for Dinner?
Do you have that frustrating feeling that there is just not enough time or energy to cook lunch or dinner? Or maybe you like to cook and get excited about making a meal but feel stuck in cooking the same things over and over? I understand. Been there, done that. Or as one of my adorable English friends says “I have the T-shirt.”
Back in the ‘olden days’ it was nonna or grandma who lived with the family, that made or helped cook the meals while the family was out in the fields working or running a business. Things have changed. There are more convenient foods and ready made meals available. Fast food and take out are easy options as well as enjoying a meal at a laid-back restaurant. But do busy people and working parents lack the time to cook? Or maybe it is a lack of time to plan and purchase the ingredients to cook? Some of the tastiest and most basic dishes contain just a few ingredients and a few minutes to put together. Can you think of your favorites?
Do you spend more of your income dining out than at the grocery? You are not alone.
The American Commerce Department tracks spending at grocery stores, restaurants and bars. And for the first time in twenty three years, Americans spent more of their income dining out than at the grocery store. This trend signals positive sparks in the economy, but it also shows that Americans are cooking less meals at home.
“Sales at restaurants and bars overtook spending at grocery stores in March for the first time ever, according to Commerce Department data released Tuesday that dates to 1992.” From Americans’ Spending on Dining Out…
These are scary statistics. Good news for restaurants, but bad news for waistlines.
And where I live in ‘gastronomic and food cultured’ France there has been a sharp rise with the population choosing their meals at fast food restaurants. Here in SW France, the McDonalds is often full-packed at lunch and incredibly, this success despite a poor economy and high fast food prices. Read more at “Fast Food Dethrones Traditional French Cuisine.”
So what do these statistical trends signal? A move away from cooking at home, less money in the pocket and a bigger waistline. Not just in America and France, but in many industrialized countries.
Cooking is the easy part. (Really) It is the before cooking part that takes time.
I think cooking a basic balanced meal does not require big energy efforts, neither with time or putting a dish on the table. I draw from my experience which maybe different from yours, but here it is. I feel it is the planning process of a meal and purchasing the food that takes the time, not the cooking part. I cook a lot of full lunches and dinners. My kids come home from school twice a week at lunch to eat a hot meal and then again time to cook a lighter hot meal in the later part of the evening. I try hard to find meals that are quick to make and don’t take a lot of cooking time. The longer and elaborate type of meals are reserved for Sunday lunch!
When I think of the various basics that I cook, most meals take 10-15 minutes to cook. The pasta dishes, homemade pizza, omelets, fried rice, stirfries, grilled meats, tacos and fajitas. I admit that I get into a routine, feeling like I cook the same things over and over, but then I use my fresh and fried rule to think that even if cooking a meal is fast and furious, it is also healthy and balanced, especially when I add the daily green salad to start and fresh fruit for dessert.
And I could probably make meals even faster, by buying some foods differently. I don’t like to cut corners too much, but I give you the homemade pizza as an example: I buy the pizza crust and roll it out, put some olive oil and fresh tomatoes, then grate the mozzarella cheese on top and add fresh toppings like Parmesan cheese and fresh herbs. This is easy. But even easier is unrolling a crust, spooning out tomato sauce on top, opening a bag of pre-grated cheese and sprinkling it on the pizza. Voila. This is cooking too. Both are okay, one just requires more effort and ingredients than the other one.
Finding time to plan and purchase
I think the cooking part is easy. What do you think? I like cooking and find it relaxing. The exhausting part is finding ideas on meals to cook, planning out a weekly menu, writing up a shopping list, buying the food. This requires effort and perseverance. The problem as I see it is that we live too much in a food convenient society. When we feel too busy to cook or know that there is nothing in the refrigerator worth putting a meal together, it is so much easier to pick up the phone and order take out, swing by fast food drive thru or go to a restaurant. Oh la la.
With planning ahead and including the family in the cooking preparations, a meal can be put together quickly, especially if all the ingredients are ready. And we have these wonderful slow cookers and other kitchen tools to help too. What do you think? How do you get hot meals on the table on your busy weeknights?
Kids And teenagers learning to cook and developing a respect for food
Another big reason to cook more at home is for the kids. When children learn basic cooking skills it helps them to respect taste, food, and learn a life skill. And you never know, teaching kids and teens about cooking makes them mini-chefs ready to whip up or help you cook a meal. Let’s get our kids involved in cooking meals. I think it is important. Do you involve your children with meal preparation?
Cook More, Dine Out Less
I will leave you with these simple words: Cook More, Dine Out Less.
You can do it.
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Thanks for your support. Warmly, Mary