dinner time blues - how often to cook
February 11, 2011 1:38 PM   Subscribe

I'm wondering how often people cook dinner from scratch versus prepared foods.

I'm a mom with a toddler and spouse. I love food. I don't eat most meats, except fish/seafood. I like healthy foods and like variety. I love cooking. I prefer home cooked food. However, with a toddler and new baby, I find cooking very time-consuming. I still do it, try to make larger meals so we can have leftovers for the following dinner or lunches. For example, today I spent the time the kids were napping this afternoon making minestrone soup and had leftover dough in the frig to make soft pretzels for dinner. This will also be tomorrow's dinner probably. This prevents me from doing other chores, like cleaning, laundry, etc. Once the kids are up, no chances of getting anything done. My husband thinks I need to ratchet down now with the kids - too time consuming. He claims "most people" don't make dinners like this and rely on prepared foods much more, and thinks I should as well. So that made me wonder - what is the norm? Just curious. What are your average weekly dinners and prep like?
posted by dublin to Food & Drink (78 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I eat (about 3 times a week) for dinner

1 pack Ramen cooked with 1/2 the amount of water, and only 1/2 the seasoning packet. Add in 3/4 lb. California Blend, diced bean curd, and top with scrambled egg. It's Home made Lo Mein for 1.22!

I also consider this cooking from scratch.... and I am probably wrong for thinking so. But prepared food at home to me is like Hungy-Man or a can of chili.
posted by Debaser626 at 1:44 PM on February 11, 2011

I make dinner three nights out of the week (each meal doubling for two nights) and sometimes I make a nice spread on Saturday nights and invite people over.

I can't speak for most people, but my sister has two small kids herself (the eldest is 3) and relies a lot on prepared foods. But this is more because my sister doesn't consider herself the kind of person who can cook---often when I visit, I go nuts in her kitchen and make lasagnas and soups and such like because she really loves it when I cook. I have told her that it isn't hard. There are handily many books that will aid her in preparing a healthy meal for my nieces and brother-in-law, but she refuses.

I am not a food snob, but I do care about her feeding my nieces processed foods. I mean, once in a while is fine, but not as often.

Anyway, what helps me with cooking as often as I do, is making lists of what you want to make that week, getting all the prep done in one go, portioning off until you need it. Having an idea of what you want to make really takes a load off.
posted by Kitteh at 1:44 PM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

We make dinner 6 nights out of 7. No kids.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:45 PM on February 11, 2011

NB: I don't have kids. But homemade soup and pretzels is not a five-course Julia Child feast, so your husband's off-base. I make almost 100% of our meals from scratch (including bread, salad dressings, etc) because I like it that way. But I freeze a lot for later quick meals, and keep the Artisan Bread in 5 minutes doughs in the frig for fast rolls/pizza/etc. Oh and I buy pre-washed salad greens, because I hate washing lettuce.

Also, every minute with your kids does not have to be entertaining them. My mom cooked while I was allowed to play with the pans in one particular cupboard. I was happy as a clam.

TL;DR: I think "the norm" should be what you're happy with, since you're the one doing the work. But making your own food is healthier and usually more affordable.
posted by cyndigo at 1:45 PM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh.. I can't believe I almost forgot the MOST IMPORTANT ingredient!!!! Sriracha Rooster Hot Chili Sauce. I put this in freakin' everything...
posted by Debaser626 at 1:45 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I forgot to mention no kids either. Sorry!
posted by Kitteh at 1:46 PM on February 11, 2011

We don't even have kids but with both of us working and in school it's a lot of frozen pizzas, chicken nuggets, and canned soups/stews around here.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:47 PM on February 11, 2011

Disclaimer: I have no kids. I do have a job that keeps me out of the house 11-12 hours a day M-F.

I cook dinner from scratch basically every night. This week we had: brocolli/mushroom/spinach casserole with a tomato/parmesan sauce, steak with whipped cauliflower, taco salad, and oven fried chicken with cauliflower risotto.

There is the odd night where we have too many leftovers and I don't want them to go bad, but I'd say 5-6 nights a week I cook, and I also make breakfast every morning. So, maybe 15-20 minutes on breakfast per day, and 45-60 minutes on dinner. Yes, this means we eat dinner regularly at 9 - 9:30.
posted by CharlieSue at 1:47 PM on February 11, 2011

"prepared foods" and "processed foods" are very, very far apart. I often use prepared foods -- it's not because i don't feel like I can cook -- I can, and do occasionally -- but rather because I hate it. I don't find it fun, and I certainly don't find it any more tasty than prepared food (sorry people who love food/cooking, but if you are not super into it, it's just not any better tasting). So I'll do a lot of trader joe's prepared stuff, or pre-mixed salads, because not having to deal with it is worth it. I'm not sure there is a "norm", and as long as you're not eating only crap then it doesn't matter.
posted by brainmouse at 1:48 PM on February 11, 2011

I don't have kids, but both SO and I are vegan, which definitely cuts down on our prepared food options.

I generally make "from-scratch" dinner every other night. Since there are only two of us, we usually have enough leftovers for the other nights.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 1:51 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I eat my own food that I made from scratch approximately 5-6 nights out of every week. I only cook 3-4 times a week though, the rest of the time I eat leftovers. I also make my own breakfasts and lunches about 80% of the time (I don't just eat cereal for breakfast, I actually cook eggs or something most of the time). The rest of the time I eat out. I love cooking and hate processed foods so this an investment I am willing to make. I would cut down on many other chores drastically before I gave up on cooking my own meals.
posted by peacheater at 1:52 PM on February 11, 2011

We make dinner at least 5 to 6 nights a week, mostly from non-prepared ingredients, but with the occasional prepared side dish, pre-cut frozen vegetables or good loaf bread in lieu of a side dish. Like others have mentioned, we make judicious use of leftovers, often as the base of the next night's dinner. For instance, roast a chicken one night, pasta with veggies and leftover chicken the second night, soup from stock made with the chicken carcass the third night. I've found this strategy of using leftovers for the base of a next meal, instead of just repeating the meal wholesale, avoids the "oh not this again feeling" leftovers can evoke. We also freeze big batch things like soup and chili.
posted by mollweide at 1:54 PM on February 11, 2011

Another vote from 6 out of 7, 'cause we usually go out one night a week. Sometimes lunch comes out of a pouch, but we generally shop around the perimeter of the store.
posted by straw at 1:54 PM on February 11, 2011

Every meal I eat is homemade, except for dinner out once a week. I'm single, no kids, and love to cook. At the same time, sometimes I resent how much time it takes to do this. Like geez, an hour to cook something that will only last me four meals? Ugh. I can't imagine how much more difficult it is with 3 more people and so much less time.

In the end, I think that what 'most people' do with regard to preparing meals really doesn't matter here. What works for your family? What's most important for your family? Can you afford someone to clean the house? Can you buy more things half-made (pizza dough, chopped veggies, etc.)? Can you simplify the meals you do make? Can your husband take over some duties that matter more to him? Can you hire a neighborhood teen as a mother's helper so that you can do chores while she minds the children?

I'm not sure if an internet poll is going to resolve what's going on here.
posted by punchtothehead at 1:57 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have two small children and I almost never cook anymore (I used to love it.) It's unfortunate but there it is. It is important to me that the family eat healthy food, of course, so I just do my best to find things that are quick yet healthy.

Some of my minimal work/time staples:
*rotisserie chickens from Costco (much tastier and cheaper than other stores' I've tried)
*basil chicken meatballs from Costco (I forget the brand but they have a minimum of unpleasant additives.) Trader Joe's has decent turkey meatballs too, tasty enough with some bbq sauce.
*roasted vegetables, preferably purchased cut up or small. Baby carrots go straight into the oven with some olive oil and salt. Ditto the fabulous cut-up butternut squash Costco carries. 410 degrees, don't let it burn, comes out caramelized and fabulous, kids glut themselves on it.
*Sauteed vegetables - mushrooms, zucchini and/or bell peppers.
*Couscous (made with broth -- I use Better than Bouillon so I'm never without broth.) Takes a fraction of the time as rice.
*Raw vegetable crudites (I hate lettuce so we don't eat salad but I try to always have some raw fruit or veg on the table)
*tons of fruit

I'd love to hear what other people do in similar situations.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:59 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

oh, and by "cook", I meant "do more than put a vegetable in the oven or in the pan for a few minutes to accompany it with a store bought protein."

Folks without kids... I think you may be missing the point of this question.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:02 PM on February 11, 2011 [5 favorites]

One half of a working couple with a toddler here. We eat restaurant/takeout about 1-2x during the work week (and usually at least one weekend dinner if not both). We rely HEAVILY on easy-prep foods for the other days (Trader Joe's is where I worship on Sundays). Like brainmouse - prepared does not have to equal processed. Basically we eat super simple meals that cover veg, starch, protein and take less than 15-20 mins total to prepare. Veg- e.g. steamed broccoli or pre-cut green beans or mixed greens. Starch - local-made bread bought at the supermarket, pasta or rice. Protein - tofu, chicken, egg, whatever, sometimes marinated, often just tossed under the broiler. And the fantastic thing about fish, of course, is that it tastes good with just salt and a few minutes on the stove or in the oven. To jazz things up, we turn to pre-made marinades and sauces.
posted by synapse at 2:02 PM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

I rely a LOT on frozen food, or very simple food (e.g. omelettes, salads, sandwiches). I love good food and enjoy cooking but find the washing up so arduous I just can't bring myself to prepare a lovely meal from scratch on weeknights.

Weekends are a different story - that is when I bake, or make a lovely big dinner for friends and family.

No kids.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:04 PM on February 11, 2011

Data point: Two working parents. Kids aged 4, 7, and 15.

Each Saturday I plan a weekly menu and do the shopping. I plan on making 2-4 meals a week, with leftovers filling the gaps. I try to make more complicated things on the weekend and things that can be quickly assembled for weekdays. The beginning of the week is top heavy with 'fresh', the end of the week will use ingredients that can sit for longer. Everything is made from scratch.*

We do go out to eat once every 7 or 14 days.

Planning works wonders here. It's also good to have some quick fallback stuff should you need to get something on the table in a hurry, unexpectedly, or because planning sucked. I freeze some things for just such occasions, and keeping eggs on hand helps too.

The more you do it, the easier it is.

*As a freakish bonus challenge to myself, I try to not repeat recipes. My longest stretch was going a year and half without a duplicate.
posted by mazola at 2:10 PM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

My husband cooks more nights than not (and sometimes I cook). I'd say at least 5 nights out of 7. (Mind you, some of those nights are not terribly inspired). One night every two weeks we make something more elaborate because we have some friends we swap dinners over with. And sometimes more.

But I'm confused about the parameters: do canned beans and frozen hamburger count as prepared foods? What about frozen vegetables? I would count a meal made with those things as being "cooked" not made from pre-prepared foods.

5 y.o. and 2 1/2 y.o.; both parents work.
posted by leahwrenn at 2:11 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

One toddler, one on the way -- (almost) always from scratch, as long as scratch includes canned stock and frozen veggies and jarred pasta sauce. :) I try to cook bigger on weekends so I have leftovers, but some nights we just have some pasta with veggies or pasta with sauce from a jar. Nothing fancy. Most of my weeknight meals can either be cooked in under 30 minutes of concentrated effort, or are set up during naptime and then sit and simmer/crockpot/whatever for a long time without much attention from me.

I do make my own stock when I fill up my stock-makin' tupperware, but I use more stock than that. I can't be arsed to make tomato-based pasta sauce, nor sandwich bread, though I do make french bread and dinner rolls. (But we often have pasta or rice with dinner so I don't make many breads for dinner.)

We probably order in or get a rotisserie chicken at the supermarket one night a week. I keep a couple frozen meals in the freezer so there's something in the house for those days when you run out of food and time simultaneously.

How long do you usually spend making dinner? Is that the key problem, two hours of prep on a weeknight?

Also, as the newborn gets a bit bigger, time will return. I recall eating a lot of junk right after #1 was born because a) it was really hard to keep up, even with all the generous friends bringing us food and b) OH MY GOD I HAD TO EAT ALL THE TIME to get enough calories to breastfeed. But as I got out from under the newbornness, I could cook more again. If your new one is under six months, I probably wouldn't worry too much. Naps will consolidate, poop explosions will disappear, etc.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:13 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

One kid (2.5 yo), we both work full time and we have home-prepared food 5-6 times a week. (Friday is ALWAYS delivered food, Saturday is 50/50).

At least one of those nights will be a repeat of the night before (ie this week we had a chickpea and chicken stew, with noodles one night and warm bread the other). Or I will roast a chicken, and we will have it with salad and potatoes the first night, cold with veges and rice the second night and make a soup on the third. I never ever cook 5-6 unique meals a week.

The only pre-prepared food (beyond frozen corn, which my kid will honestly eat a giant bowl of and consider herself done) that we buy is frozen turkey meatballs, which I just have a thing for.
posted by gaspode at 2:14 PM on February 11, 2011

I have a 10 year old and a 4 month old and work outside the home 2 days/20 hours a week. My work days coincide with girl scout meeting and gymnastics nights so those end up being take out or mac and cheese/spaghetti and jar sauce nights simply because there is no time.

The other days of the week I cook using primarily fresh ingredients that I prepare myself, with the occasional frozen vegetable here and there. I like to cook, and enjoy the process, so it's less "work" and more "opportunity to have time to myself to do something I enjoy". Logistically, I can usually foist the baby off on my husband or older girl or just sit her in a chair in the kitchen and chat at her while I do things. I honestly don't know how I'd manage if I had two little ones, though.
posted by lilnublet at 2:18 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

We're two working adults, and we generally cook from scratch 3-4 times a week. That covers our lunch and dinner needs for most of the week; I have a standing lunch with a friend every week and the girlfriend gets pizza at work on paydays, and we usually go out to dinner once a week.

We usually plan everything over the weekend and have a general idea of who's cooking what on which day.
posted by backseatpilot at 2:20 PM on February 11, 2011

We have two children under age five and the strains you write about are ones that my wife experiences as well. We also place a high value on eating healthy food and cooking it in traditional ways is effective and cost efficient. What we do is to make soup on the weekend and we always keep rice and beans on hand. When you do brown rice and start with dried beans (soak overnight & cook in a slow cooker) the taste is astoundingly improved over the prepared counterpart.

We do meat about once or twice a week, but we value our time more than we value a lot of food variety so we use rice & beans as a staple and augment with frozen vegetables. Between this and the soup it solves about 3/5 of the weekday foods and we have more time on the weeekend to be creative. We also do steel cut oats for breakfast, which is a big time saver to set the slow cooker on a timer overnight so it is ready in the morning.

When they are in season we regularly have fresh fruits and vegetables. Much of what we have done to adapt is to find healthy things that we can cook once and eat for several meals. We also look for things we can prepare in advance since it is hard to do these things when kids are awake, but every once in a while we can involve them in baking bread and some smaller projects.
posted by dgran at 2:21 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Two of us, no kids. I cook 4 or 5 nights a week usually. I try to avoid most processed foods although I've been known to dump a can of cream of mushroom soup on chicken breasts before. I do use frozen veggie or bagged salad most nights.
posted by cabingirl at 2:22 PM on February 11, 2011

Anecdata: I'm single, in a house full of lazy roommates. I cook 2-3 nights a week, and mostly from raw ingredients. At least one of the meals I make a bunch of whatever so I can eat it for lunches for a few days while I'm at work.
Another roommate cooks 1-2 nights a week, and it tends to be prepared foods (and really, I'm glad it is prepared, because she is not a good cook). The rest of the week is going out.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 2:23 PM on February 11, 2011

We have two kids (6 & 10) and we both work. I think we cook about half the week and have leftovers, takeout, or go out to a family-style restaurant or taqueria the other nights.

Our goal is that prep time + eating meal together takes between 45 and 90 minutes, depending on the night of the week, how tired we are, etc., with the kids doing their homework while we get dinner ready. My wife would like us to cook more at home, FWIW.

When we do cook, we usually make the entree and either the vegetable or starch from scratch. Typically our entrees are simple, like grilled or pan-cooked chicken or fish; chili; or simple pasta + sauce. Pasta and sauce are from a package and a jar. Vegetables are typically steamed (broccoli and string beans are favorites with our kids), or frozen (our kids love frozen peas or frozen mixed veggies reheated in the MW). Starches are also simple -- brown rice in the rice cooker if we have time, but we also love Trader Joe's frozen brown rice, which you can make in the microwave in 4 minutes and which tastes great. Boiled red potatoes are another popular choice. Sometimes I'll grab a fresh loaf of bread on the way home, but I'm a multi-starch kinda guy.

I don't know if that helps, but at least it's data.
posted by mosk at 2:26 PM on February 11, 2011

We have three kids, oldest is 12, and it took me years, but I am finally to the point where I have a stable of recipes that my kids will eat and are fairly quick but also as unprocessed as possible, because the processed foods have extra salt, extra preservatives, etc, that I do my best not to have the family OD on. But I am by no means perfect. I think on an average week, we eat 3-4 fresh cooked dinners, 2 "leftover" dinners, and 1-2 "pre-made" processed dinners. We eat out (or have take out) maybe once every other week. On a side note, I love my crock pot. In the morning, do a little chopping and/or browning, throw everything in, and press the on button, you're done.
posted by molasses at 2:26 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Not exactly what you asked, but this just passed through my newsfeed a bit ago: THE COMMODIFICATION OF DINNER. Interesting, and similar to other analyses I've seen(that < 1/2 of meals are cooked at home), even if the data is a bit older.
posted by a_green_man at 2:32 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think with a toddler and a baby all bets are off, and if you feel like it's too taxing to cook, you should cut whatever corners you need to to preserve your sanity. But if you like cooking and it helps keep you sane, then cut corners on the housekeeping side.

We don't have kids, and cook somewhat from scratch - spectrum from fully homemade risotto with veggies, to pasta with jarred sauce that we add sauteed veggies to, to homemade soup + frozen veggie "chicken" nuggets - probably 5 nights a week, go out for dinner twice a week. Leftovers for lunch or midnight snack.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:35 PM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

My family used to have sandwiches with chips and cut up vegetables or tacos pretty regularly, or low-effort things like roast chicken with rice and salad. My dad also made a lot of stuff on weekends that could turn into leftovers.
posted by Frowner at 2:35 PM on February 11, 2011

Also, don't fear the pressure cooker! The new ones aren't scary, but they ARE scary fast.
posted by cyndigo at 2:45 PM on February 11, 2011

If I cook at home, I usually cook from scratch. We rarely use, say, canned spaghetti sauce. But we get takeout, order pizza, or have what we call "foraging night" a couple of nights a week (sometimes more, if I'm busy and tired). I am a SAHM with 3 kids, two of them homeschooled and one a very demanding 3-year-old, so cooking can be hard.

It was very interesting to me this fall when we had a single mom and her two kids live with us for 3 months. I don't know what she was like when they lived on their own, but while she lived with us, she rarely cooked, and she was very comfortable feeding her kids Hot Pockets (or letting them feed themselves), or she might make hot dogs, or sandwiches, or they'd even have cold cereal for dinner once in a blue moon. It was a great sanity-saver for me in terms of seeing someone up close who just didn't have the time and energy to fret about what was for dinner. She and her kids seemed to be doing just fine.
posted by not that girl at 2:53 PM on February 11, 2011

Single, no kids, full-time job plus grad school. Dinner from scratch just about always, unless it's leftovers or I get some weird Trader Joe's craving. I rarely eat out.
posted by tangerine at 2:54 PM on February 11, 2011

I think the differentiating factor between prepared/processed/packaged food ('p' foods) versus homemade food is whether or not you have control over the fat, sodium and sugar content. Eating home-cooked generally means you're able to eat healthier. So the more you can do it the better. But if you have access to p foods that have good nutritional values then homemade versus p isn't as much of an issue. Of course there are also the issues of excessive packaging and higher costs. Sometimes though I find things like frozen pizzas to be less expensive than homemade.
posted by waterandrock at 2:55 PM on February 11, 2011

We cook every dinner from scratch. Frankly, we relish the hour that our whole family (married with one toddler) is together in the kitchen. Make it a fun thing.
posted by PSB at 3:01 PM on February 11, 2011

I was the oldest of four kids and dinners had a number of different dishes, and of the asst'd foods, on some days, one may have come from a box or tin or had a component that did; now I have a small child, and sort of marvel at how that was done. We do not eat much processed stuff but I am heavily dependent on my freezer. Lots of dishes made in bulk and frozen in little portions + lots of simple food. I have joint problems, and no guilt about calling a raw vegetable and cheese plate "dinner." Laziness can be quite healthy; since my hips went to hell it's all about what I can pull out of the fridge fastest on some days, so breakfast is a bowl of berries and cottage cheese, lunch brown bread and a boiled egg, etc. Nice and plain.
posted by kmennie at 3:27 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is there a simple answer to this? Is your husband cooking two nights a week (I would assume on his days off?) Keep it quick and easy, like tuna and spaghetti, Asian noodles and chicken bits, an Indian curry pack and rice with a few tossed in vegetables. Take the kids out one night, and you're down to four nights a week. To be honest, I don't make minestrone very often, because the preparation can be very time-consuming (by the time you chop up all those vegetables?) Others have given some very good efficient recipes.

Oh, I cook about 5 nights a week, mainly because I care more about what goes on the table than my wife does. That should set the cat among the pigeons.
posted by alonsoquijano at 3:30 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

We're a family with two full-time workers and two teens. I'd say I cook from scratch about 3 nights a week, and from various sorts of things in a box, freezer bag, or can 3 nights a week. My husband cooks 1 night a week and almost always relies on the latter--he has only 2-3 recipes that he ever cooks from scratch (such as his damn-good pizza), and is just not a motivated cook. We go out to eat maybe once or twice a month, tops.

In the end, though, I'm not sure why it matters what is "normal." The thing that really matters is: what is the balance you must strike between all your various responsibilities? For me, one of those responsibilities is working, and so here it is, after 5:30, I finished work and took a tiny mental break before launching into dinner, and if I don't have something on the table in 30 minutes or so, the wolves are going to be howling at the door. So even the stuff I do make from scratch tends to be not labor intensive: stews, roasts, soups, etc.

For you, the things you need to balance off against may be (and it sounds from your framing that you're a SAHM?) your other household responsibilities. It doesn't really matter what someone else's arrangement is, or what someone else says you should or shouldn't be doing, or what slack your husband should or shouldn't be picking up. If you've agreed that your role in the family is to take care of the kids, put dinner on the table, and do the basic household chores, and yet you're not finding time to do the last part--not because OMG!!1! KIDZ ARE EXHAUSTING, but because you've spent the afternoon making homemade pretzels, you need to ask yourself this: are you really spending so much time on home cooking because it has to be done, or because it's fun and you like to do it, and gosh, wouldn't it be nicer to spend the kid's naptime making pretzels than folding sheets?

You mention "new baby", and that is surely a source of your current time stress and why things are coming to a head. Unfortunately, something's gotta give, and simplifying your cooking choices is an area your husband is encouraging you explore.
posted by drlith at 3:31 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

My family, when I was growing up, ate out of cans, ate ramen, or frozen stuff pretty much 6 days out of the week, then had a Sunday meal that was homecooked from scratch.

When I am on the ball, I spend one afternoon just cooking a huge pot of soup/stew/chili, be it ever so time consuming, but I make enough that I can freeze a number of meals' worth and rotate through it for variety. I have to be especially broke or just especially motivated to make that happen, but it's nice when I do!
posted by ZeroDivides at 3:42 PM on February 11, 2011

Toddler, two working parents. Every night unless we order out. I cook and set up, Mr. Llama gives little llama a bath. I take about half an hour.

I keep parbaked pizza crusts in the freezer, that I make on the weekend, and will also cook on the weekend batches of caramelized onions, kale, etc., to have during the week. I'm not coming home and stripping stems out of kale. I love cooking so the weekend cooking is fun for me. If I make broccoli, I make extra because you can throw some with pasta and black olives and that's great, or you can make an omelet with cheddar cheese and broccoli and that's great, so I get more mileage out of having some components already there. Frittatas and omelets are great for weeknights and can even be interesting and elegant.

Also--maybe if you have like a leftovers night, a pasta night, a take out night, and a homemade pizza night, and a something more complicated night, you've kind of gotten through the week without too much of a headache and you can still have things nice with a salad and wine.

Having stuff prepped in advance is helpful, like salad items, or at least, I think it would be, if I ever seriously did it instead of just saying it would be a nice idea.

I do feel like a short order cook sometimes.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:43 PM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Holy crow I missed this: new baby

You're doing great no matter what, frankly. Do exactly as much as pleases you and no more. Nobody's going to drop dead if you buy a rotisserie chicken or heat a frozen pizza.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:44 PM on February 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

I have three kids. I'm a stay-at-home mom and I typically cook breakfast, lunch and dinner from scratch. HOWEVER, I hardly spend any time doing it. I make super simple meals. Last night for dinner it was waffles, sausage and smoothies. I don't mind if a dish has to cook all day but there ain't no way I'm going to take more than half-an- hour preparing a meal.

The crockpot is your friend. So is the toaster. So is breakfast for dinner.

Easy, simple, take-little-time meal ideas:

-tacos (I buy the cheese pre-shredded)
-whole wheat pancakes, sausage/bacon/ham, smoothies
-salad and homemade bread (yay bread machine!)
-simple soups using leftovers
-refried beans and cheese spread on a tortilla, cooked on a griddle. fruit on the side
-crockpot chicken. put a chicken in the slow cooker, cook on low all day. steamed veggies (or just raw veggies!) on the side
posted by Sassyfras at 3:46 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I like to cook from scratch, and used to do so every night. I don't have kids, but have been working a lot of overtime and my husband and I work opposite shifts, so we never eat together. I bought a couple freezer meal books and they are great. I spend a few hours on the weekend putting together a TON of food and freeze it and it lasts a long time. So, we don't have to buy nasty frozen dinners with god-knows-what in them, and can taylor things to our personal eating requirements, but have the convenience of just warming something up whenever we each get around to eating.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 4:24 PM on February 11, 2011

Being childless, I don't think my personal habits matter in your situation. However, Annie of Annie's Eats is a food blogger with a toddler and a baby on the way--oh, and blogging is just her side project. Her day job is as a resident at a hospital. And she's not yet 30! She shares some great, no-fuss weekday recipes as well as beautiful baked goods. A post of hers from a few months ago shared her tips for planning a weekly menu. I think that'd be a good place to get some bearings.
posted by therewolf at 4:49 PM on February 11, 2011

I'd say cooking from scratch 3-4 times a week would be a reasonable goal. That's what I do, anyway (4 kids). The other nights we fill with leftovers (varying the presentation) or takeout (usually one night a week). Leftovers also go into thermoses for school lunches.

Rotisserie chickens are your friend; you can use them for soups, pot pies, sandwiches, etc. Also, as has been noted above, decide where you're willing to take shortcuts. Frozen veggies, pre-washed spinach or other greens, canned beans or tomatoes... there's nothing wrong with any of these; they're still healthy but using them will cut down on your prep time.

Generally the dinners I make take about an hour. You love cooking: So plan to prepare a real feast once a week (or every two weeks) that takes two hours; go easy on the other nights.

FWIW, I think your husband is offbase telling you to scale back because that's how "most people" do it. It's good that you enjoy cooking from scratch! It's healthier, and it doesn't have to take that much time. And it's normal for a whole lot of people.
posted by torticat at 5:08 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I don't know how old your toddler is, but little kids LOVE to help out in the kitchen. Let him or her pulse the food processor, dump in the biscuit ingredients (and stir), etc.

This is assuming your baby is tolerant enough to sit in a bouncy seat or something and watch the two of you work.

Cooking doesn't need to be time away from the kids!
posted by torticat at 5:16 PM on February 11, 2011

I literally never cook. I live alone in a small apartment. For dinner I go to cheap local restaurants with a book or newspaper for company
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:18 PM on February 11, 2011

My parents always cook from scratch, even with 4 kids
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:19 PM on February 11, 2011

If you want cooked food every day, you should rely more on your freezer.
Buy a biggest pot you can find. Write down your favourite one-pot dishes.
Whenever you cook, cook in large batches, and freeze the rest.
That way you can cook when you feel like it, and when you don't feel like it, you'll have a nice backup in your freezer.
posted by leigh1 at 5:39 PM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

I live alone. Cook about 6 times per week. Always from scratch (although about once per week I eat ramen with lots of extras - eggs, tofu, vegetables, etc... maybe even a side of rice).
posted by molecicco at 5:41 PM on February 11, 2011

I have a full time job. I do all the cooking and my partner does none. I cook 5-6 evening meals from scratch every week, depending on whether I go out on a Friday night or not. From scratch means that for example, I make pasta sauce from actual tomatoes and onions and herbs, not from reheating a jar. My supermarket trolley rarely has any processed food in it of any kind.

I get by because I have a large mental catalogue of things I can cook mindlessly and quickly, and a fridge and pantry that supports my go-to recipes. After a few years of cooking every night, you can end up with a pretty streamlined culinary routine if you put a little thought into it.

I satisfy my urge for more interesting things on the weekends, when I can indulge in things that take longer. Sundays I usually cook enough of a main dish to last two nights so I can get by with leftovers on Monday. At any given time, something is likely to be soaking, steeping, fermenting or simmering with no particular rush. A crockpot and a pressure cooker help.

When I was in your situation, I cooked quite a few one-pot meals. I tried hard to make extra freezable portions for those times I was too tired to cook and too poor for takeout. I also figured that as far as nutritional balance went, as long as it worked out over a week, I wouldn't fret if an evening meal was a bit one-sided.

Beans, rice, pasta, roast meats, eggs, potatoes, steamed veges, stir-fried veges, slow-cooker stews. And remember when desperate that everything is better with grated cheese or melted cheese on top.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 6:26 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have two kids, 14 and 11, and I've cooked most meals* from scratch since they were both newborns. It's one of the things in my life that is super important to me, so we made it work. Sometimes that meant that I would cook most of the day on Sundays while my husband cared for the children, and more often than not, he (and now the kids) cleans up after me. I work a little more than part-time now but that's only been in the past three years.

* Most meals = breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks until they went to full-day school, minus maybe 3 or 4 dinners out per month. Now it's breakfast every day (we don't go out to breakfast/brunch on a regular basis), and dinner most every day (we go out probably 3-4 times a month). I also bake from scratch about 3 times a week.
posted by cooker girl at 6:31 PM on February 11, 2011

I am the mom of three homeschooled kids. At most, about 2 times per month we have pizza from Papa Murphy (the take and bake kind.) At most, and usually for lunch on a weekend, we have Chinese or fried chicken a couple times a month. Until recently we were in the somewhat starving post doc crowd in a very expensive area of the country. I made most of our bread, and got very good at using the freezer to buy meats when they were seasonally on sale. (Turkey at Thanksgiving, etc.) When I had toddlers, the house was almost always a mess.

Mr. 445supermag did and does help out by cooking at least two meals on weekends. (A dinner and a lunch, usually.) He also made sure that even when we were in a rental, that we had a working dishwasher. He was and is working long hours, so I don't mind that he doesn't do more.

We had to cook from scratch, because that is what we could/can afford. I usually get a large roast (turkey, ham, salmon when I can) and make the roast for dinner on Sunday. Then the rest of the week (or most of it) I make meals from that, including things like stir fry, curry, enchilada casarol (basically meat, canned sauce, canned beans and cut up corn tortillas baked and topped with cheese.) I try to do a different ethnic meal each time so that is not like eating turkey all week. I made bread too, with the bread maker and baking in the oven because I couldn't afford the $3 a loaf. I still do that, because it does taste better.

I did make a list of the meats/bases that I use for meals, then all the other dishes that can be made from them. Lately, the crock pot is great, as is the pressure cooker for tough meat or pinto beans. I make enough rice to last a number of meals, and have even frozen it in the past. If I find hamburger for 99cents, I will make it into meatballs, cook them in the oven, then freeze them in packs the right size for meals.

My kids, I let them watch PBS kid shows while I cook. They do help some, but sometimes it is distracting to me to have them there.

I have been thinking lately about people I know. Some are super neat, and very organized, even with 5 kids under 9. Most, with one or two toddlers, have a harder time keeping everything presentable enough that they want to let people drop in unannounced. (I was in the second category.) Once my youngest turned about 4, it has been much easier to get things done. The kids can entertain themselves and each other, often outside. People have told me I have it all together, but really, it is a fairly recent thing. Before this, mountains of laundry lived on the couch for a week or two at a time.

Ask hubby to help make meals on the weekend that you can freeze for dinners when you are in a hurry or tired during the week.

wife of 445suprmag
posted by 445supermag at 6:32 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have one preteen, and I work 5 days a week, but we are home by 4 or so. I cook almost every night. I would say that 3 days a week is a more elaborate meal, which often becomes leftovers later in the week or part of another meal (roast chicken becomes chicken soup). The rest are quicker meals, such as pasta and a simple sauce, wraps with veggies and hummus and cheese, or soup and grilled cheese.

However, this is only possible because my kid doesn't need supervision, and I am home early enough to get it all done. When my kid was younger and I was in school and had less afternoon/evening time, we ate more of the simple foods and more convenience foods.

New baby? Go easy on yourself and stick to healthy convenience food. Bags of salad mix and frozen veggies require little work. One thing I have learned is to make big batches of beans, rice, pizza dough, pasta sauce, and soup and such and freeze it in portions. Maybe you could arrange a day where your spouse or friend takes the kids and you can spend a few hours cooking and freezing some basics? You can cut prep time dramatically and still have nice home cooked meals.
posted by squid in a people suit at 6:46 PM on February 11, 2011

I like to cook too, and I cooked from scratch every night when we had less kids and we were living on less money, but yup, about when we had a toddler and a baby is when I started to scale back on how much time I spent cooking from scratch. Just. Not. Enough. Time.

By now (four young kids) I definitely make much more simple meals and use more prepared foods to put together a meal. I still feel like I crossed over to the dark side when I started buying prewashed bagged romaine hearts and jars of minced garlic in oil - things I always scoffed at. And I do miss taking an hour or two to make a soup from scratch or try a new recipe. Sometimes I'll make a large batch of something more time-consuming on the weekends and stock it up in the freezer.

We get takeout once a week (usually pizza) and we cook at home the rest of the week but - almost always it's so simple - pasta and veg and sauce, sandwiches, quesadillas, salads. I don't know where your divide is between "from scratch" and "prepared" - like, anything from a can? I always use canned beans, and canned sauce, for example. I'd say once a week it's something definitely prepared - mac & cheese, chik nuggets and french fries, cold cereal or oatmeal night (they love breakfast for dinner). It has to take less than half an hour so I can get dinner on the table before everyone falls apart - that last hour before daddy gets home from work is popularly known as "hell hour" around here. It's important for us to all eat together at the same time though.

New baby equals crunch time. You just do not have enough uninterrupted time to get everything done you'd like to get done (or often even just what you'd consider reasonable to get done) in a day because the list expands beyond household chores and project time to include basic needs for feeling human and slightly together (sleep, shower, getting dressed) and the extra time involved in taking children out or anywhere with you. A toddler on top of a new baby - forget it. Your time is limited. You have to know your priorities (and not automatically make taking care of yourself a lesser priority, either).

Clearly cooking from scratch is not a priority for your husband. Is he saying "you don't have to worry about taking all this time just to feed us, no one else does" or is he saying "I expect you to have more chores completed in a day, and this cooking thing is not important enough to take up all your time"? That isn't clear from your question - only you know that. I don't know what your arrangement is with your husband, but I can say that when I had a toddler and a baby is when the discussions began about how I wanted/needed him to participate more with the kid chores and household chores after work and on the weekends, so if anything like that is going on - you both should be able to decide the most important priorities together and divvy them up fairly. Childcare is a full-time job alone, even if it's at home and unpaid.
posted by flex at 7:00 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

We have three small children (oldest is 4), and I'm alone for dinner duty, as my husband doesn't get home from work until after everything's been prepped, cooked, eaten, cleared, and washed, with a plate set aside for him in the oven to keep warm.

It's very hard to find time to cook, and if I did from-scratch cooking 5-7 nights per week, we'd be ankle-deep in dust and dirty laundry. What I do is cook double-portions on two nights, re-serving those main dishes 3 days later, respectively; the remaining three nights are super-easy things like broiled fish or pizza from store-bought dough. Vegetables are taken from a pre-cut bag, drizzled with olive oil and roasted. Take-out doesn't work for us on weekdays because I'm not taking three kids out in the car, with all the bundling in coats and buckling and unbuckling of carseats and carrying of infant buckets that entails, to pick up dinner; I could make beef Wellington in the time it takes to do that.

And you know what, some nights we eat fish sticks. Like, all of us, even the grown-ass adults. My husband doesn't put ketchup on his, I think in a misguided attempt to retain some dignity.
posted by palliser at 7:18 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I eat home-cooked meals every night, except maybe once a month or so I'll eat a frozen pizza. I often cut corners by using frozen veggies and, prior to getting a pressure cooker, canned beans. But this doesn't mean I'm cooking every night. Whatever I make, I always make lots and freeze the extras. That way I'll have enough for about 2-3 meals in a row, then defrost when I don't have the time to cook a full meal/when freezer starts getting full.

I wouldn't be too hard on myself if I couldn't do the above because I was caring for kids.
posted by Neekee at 7:24 PM on February 11, 2011

I make my own food for my family and I every night- never once opened a bag or box of pre-made stuff in 10 years. I prepped it all and some times get the kids to help out. Wifey can't boil water and loves the fact that I cook every meal. Whats more, I go to the grocery store each night to pick out what we will have.

I actually find it as stress relief at the end of the day with a nice glass of wine or a tall cold beer.
posted by bkeene12 at 7:50 PM on February 11, 2011

It depends on what you mean by prepared foods. To my mind, prepared food means buying a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken at the market or a packaged microwave meal. My husband and I both work full time and we have one child. I cook Monday through Friday. Meat, veg, starch, no leftovers, so five unique meals. Frozen vegetables, for economy, or a salad made from pre-cut greens and whatever else we want (cherry tomatoes, avocado, cucumber, bell peppers, etc.) Baked white or sweet potatoes or rice for the starch. The meat is seasoned and put in our rotisserie. I'll sometimes make dinner rolls from scratch, using the 60 minute Kitchenaid stand mixer recipe. On the weekends, my husband cooks, and he will use fresh veggies and homemade tomato sauce (in season, we make sauce from our garden grown tomatoes) and really get into it. On Girl Scout nights, I'll make a crockpot chili from ground beef I've browned the night before and canned tomatoes and paste. Once a month, we'll have BLT night. I'll also get a pork shoulder and spend a weekend day preparing pulled pork, so I always have a bag of that in the freezer for a quick and easy meal. For that, I'll get a bag of shredded cabbage and make a vinegar coleslaw, too. I'm all about quick, easy, and tasty.
posted by Ruki at 8:34 PM on February 11, 2011

My fiance and I have a few staple dishes that we have perfected to the point of being able to cook them very quickly. An example might be lean steak strips cooked with onion and bell pepper served over rice with salad on the side. Easy and fast to prep and cook. These dinners are in the majority, and on the weekend we usually eat out once as well as try a more involving dish since we have more time. Fruit and dairy are easy to get in during the day so we don't worry about them too much come dinner. Don't stress yourself out thinking you have to cook an amazing spread every night. There's nothing wrong with steaming some veggies and putting chicken in a pot and calling it dinner. The Disney Family website actually has a decent number of easy and healthy meals to add to a regular rotation. Happy cooking!
posted by delicate_dahlias at 8:43 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Out of the 30 dinners in a month, we cook 20 of them from scratch, have leftovers 5 of them, and go out to eat 5 of them.

We have pre-prepared meals at home maybe 10 times a year total.

But no kids, and I work from home every day and the husband works from home two days a week, so we have a lot more leisure than the average person.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:54 PM on February 11, 2011

Something that the old-school women's magazines (Ladies Home Journal, Woman's Day, Redbook, etc.) often have is a month-long plan for shopping and recipes. So you buy a ham and have ham and then there's a recipe for using the leftover ham in something and so on and so forth. I know people who swear by that stuff.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:55 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

You love food, prioritize healthy meals, and love to cook. So of all the tasks that you could consider ratcheting down in the interest of time, why pick the one that you enjoy and value so highly?

If your husband wants to help you manage your time better, perhaps he could come up with some more efficient methods for those chores that you do not find particularly personally fulfilling.

Now, if you want to use some prepared foods and are feeling guilty about it, then pfft, don't feel bad at all. But don't use prepared foods because your husband thinks that this is the thing that will make you happier and better-rested after caring for the house and two small children all day.

There's a whole lot of things I'd give up before I would eat purposely eat food that I didn't enjoy. My SO and I are luckily of similar minds when it comes to food, and no kids certainly affords us more flexibility. We do both work pretty demanding full-time jobs, though, and rarely spend more than an hour making dinner. We make simple dishes that don't require a lot of active cooking time, and leftover-transforming dishes like risotto, quiche, and pizza. Nearly no prepared foods at all.
posted by desuetude at 9:25 PM on February 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Here's a free e-book you might find interesting: Just Get 'em Fed, a book by a mother of 9. Includes sections on shopping, planning menus, and lots of recipes.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:29 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I cook real food. But a lot of it is from frozen - so, I stir fry frozen veggies a lot because it's just: microwave vegs for 2 minutes to thaw slightly, heat wok, pour some oil, spoonful of garlic, swish, immediately pour in vegs, maybe add a little water and cover for two or three minutes, when it's almost done uncover, stir it and add soy sauce, sesame oil and either dry sherry or some rice vinegar. Maybe 15 minutes, from walking in to the kitchen to food in a bowl. Frozen vegetables are GREAT because you don't have to chop them, which for me is the time-consuming part.

Baking from scratch, meanwhile, is too much work for me now even as a childless person except for special occasions. And we make rice-a-roni or boxed red-beans-and-rice from time to time (say, one of those once/week?) and boil pasta from a box all the time (but - I think that's normal even for Italian families, so it doesn't feel like "using prepared foods" to me in the same way that opening a can of soup does. More like using store-bought noodles in soups, which is almost universal).

Basically, a lot of short cuts, but still with some actual cooking in there.
posted by Lady Li at 9:58 PM on February 11, 2011

SAHM, one four year old, one three month old. We eat out about once a month, and apart from that, every dinner and lunch is something I cook from scratch, save perhaps one or two meals. I don't always do everything COMPLETELY from scratch; I'll poach fish in jarred puttanesca sauce, for example, and I have a couple of delicious meals that involve a can of cream of mushroom soup. Occasionally I'll pull one of the Desperation Meals out of the deep freeze, which is usually either vacu-packed pulled pork that I make bbq sammiches with or else pre-made ravioli that I serve with jarred pasta sauce, but those are seriously once a month, tops.

I'm a good cook, and I've been doing it for years. I once made dinner by accident while I was on the phone, just out of habit. And planning/shopping/cooking takes up a lot of my mental brain space, to be frank, but I like it that way. Also, I don't cook every single night; I have a whole staggered leftovers method that I feel inordinately proud of. But the trick, for me, is to plan, plan, plan; I usually have the daily meals planned out two weeks in advance.
posted by KathrynT at 10:43 PM on February 11, 2011

WAHM, one four year old. All our meals are home made and I don't use any processed foods that goes straight from freezer to oven to table. I do, however, use stuff like canned pasta sauce.

I take A LOT of shortcuts and do my prepping in one go, every six weeks. I have a food processor. I used to do this without a food processor and I really will never go back. All the vegetables get washed, sliced and bagged on grocery shopping day, so when I have to cook it's all prepped. I cook my rice in a microwave, and boil my water in a kettle before making pasta (nothing boils water faster than an electric kettle.) There's always a bucket of 5-minute bread dough in the fridge. Frozen cubes of minced garlic, onions, green onions, and shallots are always on-hand. Wine can be frozen in zip bags for sauce. If it can be done ahead in bulk, do it.

We've also successfully made food prepping a bit of a show, and since a food processor is a lot safer to watch than knife chopping, DS lets out a little cheer when I push the feed tube down and he sees all the peppers get sliced. I've had him in the kitchen since he was born, basically - I used to back-sling him when I cooked, after that he watched from a high chair (moved on to a step stool since), and he has seen proper cutting technique, witnessed stir-fries, and he now mixes his own omelettes. He understands that the kitchen is a dangerous place but after mommy spends time in it, yummy happens. I don't think I can do this all without his cooperation.

One thing attachment parenting taught me is not to compartmentalize child time / work time. Housework gets done all the time, child comes along. Make it fun. Otherwise there just isn't enough hours in the day.

Also, Cook Your Meals the Lazy Way was given to me just before my son was born and I love it.
posted by Sallysings at 1:06 AM on February 12, 2011

I think you just need to be a bit more selective in what you cook. Homemade soup and pretzels sounds lovely but in reality you could have bought high quality versions of both of them from your local store and you could have had several hours free to do other stuff.

I'm not suggesting that you give up cooking completely (far from it) but just evaluate each thing you want to cook to determine whether the time spent on it is worth the outcome.

For example, I don't bake bread because its messy, time consuming and far quicker and easier to just get it from the local baker. I will, however, cook dinner 6 out of 7 nights.
posted by mr_silver at 1:29 AM on February 12, 2011

I try to save time while cooking, and to enjoy the process of cooking.

Mark Bittman's books give recipes and show an approach that strip the unnecessary time from very nice meals. Changes your perspective. Very effective.

Also, books with good cooking technique like the superb Time-Life cookbooks give a broad fundamental understanding - this helps to pare the time off of favorite recipes.

In one word: CHEAT. Cheat at cooking.

Here's a ridiculously effective recipe:
- Rotisserie chicken
- "Old-style" French mustard w/ mustard grains
- Jonagold apples

Slice the apples. Dab mustard on chicken and apple, eat. Great with any kind of greens, spinach for example. Can be transformed into a salad.
posted by krilli at 5:26 AM on February 12, 2011

(+1 on big pantry and kitchen gear)

And have fun. It is possible to have fun. You can do anything you like. In the kitchen, you're a kid in a sandbox filled with limitless possibilities.
posted by krilli at 5:28 AM on February 12, 2011

I hardly ever used packaged/pre-prepared meals. I cook from scratch almost exclusively, often in quantity so that I can freeze portions. I treat myself to a take-away curry about once a fortnight, but that's about it.
posted by Decani at 6:24 AM on February 12, 2011

What do most people do, what is the norm, etc. -- with all due respect, I think this is the wrong question.

Your cooking is an issue because it prevents you from doing other chores, like cleaning and laundry. If you're not finding time to do the amount of things that you need to do, then either your husband has to do more housework or you have to do less cooking.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:17 AM on February 12, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses. The question wasn't really posed to tell me what was right/wrong - obviously different strokes for different folks - but I was just curious what other people do on typical nights, since dh and I were in disagreement with what "most people" do. For me, I think I need to rely more on frozen veg and skip chopping, peeling, etc and also make larger portions for subsequent evenings. I do enjoy cooking and can't see me NOT doing so, so I guess it's in the shortcuts, like you guys mentioned - prepare for the week, leftovers, frozen veg, etc. I guess I also have to take into account, which was pointed out, with a 6 month old baby, I suppose I have to cut myself some slack.

As a non meat/chicken eater, I do find it more of a challenge to make quick nutritious well-balanced meals, and I think that is a lot of the problem for me, along with chopping and peeling veg. Any tried and true quick veg standby recipes are appreciated!
posted by dublin at 3:37 PM on February 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

We have two children under 5 and both of us work full time. I do the cooking. My time savers are bags of frozen vegetables (especially in the winter when the quality is better anyway), plain frozen fish already portioned (usually salmon, Costco has wild), frozen shrimp/prawns, basmati rice rather than brown, frozen pasta (though I make my own sauce) & anything in the slow cooker. I also love my food processor for quick chopping.

I would say that two or three times a week I use something like frozen pasta, pre-cooked whole chicken or IKEA meatballs. We probably eat out once or twice a month.
posted by Cuke at 5:35 PM on February 12, 2011

I have 3 kids, I work, spouse stays home. 2 kids and I eat a paleolithic diet (meat, veg, fruit, seeds, and nuts). Remaining 2 members eat omni.

We cook and eat at home 2-3 meals a day (packed lunches for kids and sometimes me for school/work), 7 days a week and eat out maybe once or twice per month. No packaged foods. All scratch whole foods, a few frozen veggies.

This afternoon I bulk roasted 2 butternut squashes, and large baking pans of zucchini, peppers and onion, and another of cauliflower. My son made pizza dough bases from dough in our bread machine today, and also another loaf of whole wheat bread.

We eat dinner leftovers for lunch. We bulk cook and we use the crockpot and large electric skillet a lot.
posted by kch at 6:09 PM on February 12, 2011

it sounds like you're probably saving a lot of money by preparing food yourself instead of relying on ready-made stuff. changing your cooking habits is necessarily going to change your cooking budget! if you love to cook, maybe splurge on a housekeeper once a week so you can do the things you love without your house feeling neglected and minimizing the amount of preservatives your kids eat.
posted by andreapandrea at 7:33 PM on February 12, 2011

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