Maybe you're one of those people that makes the family dinner and says, "This is what we're having. If you don't like it, you don't eat." I admire that sort of fortitude, but I am paying a penance form being a picky pain in the ass as a child. Now I prepare three dinners every night. One is for me, one is for my wife, and one is for our five-year-old. It sounds like a chore, and it is, but with a little forethought and a few tips you can get used to maneuvering among several different dinners at once.
Rice Cookers Rice cookers, and for those of you that like to get up early, crock pots, are a godsend to someone trying desperately to get several different meals going at once. You can make a dozen or more dishes entirely within a rice cooker, including sausage and rice, chicken and rice, and... well, you get the idea. The point is that it is a small device that can be shunted off to the side and forgotten while you deal with other things. That's part of the magic of multiple meal prep; finding shortcuts not for time, but for attention.
Stagger Leftovers When it comes to my own fare I like to stick with things that I can make and eat for several days. Pots of turkey chili, chicken and potato combos, or even just broiled burgers and reheated sweet potato fries. You sacrifice one day of extra effort for three days of leisure where you just pop one entrée in the microwave and you're good to go. It can cut your workload by a third and keep husbanding that precious attention span. If you're carefully in how you plan your days, you might end up only actually cooking one dinner a night through staggering leftovers.
Pastas Between having a young child and a semi-vegetarian wife we cook a lot of pasta in my house. Pasta is a miracle because it's boiling water and that's it. Maybe you heat up sauce or sprinkle butter and cheese. If you're an enterprising soul you can give the whole thing oomph with fresh warmed garlic bread or a pack of the cheese and pepper they hand out at Star Pizza. Regardless, it's one less set of instructions you have to hold in your head and easy to manage while concentrating on other dishes.
The Cheat The point in making dinner at home, aside from the art of it of course, is that it is almost always cheaper. Especially if you keep your kitchen stocked with spices and essentials. Simple economics will always win out.
However, always keep an eye out for a day when one member can be placated with a cheap take-out while the rest dine on leftovers or simple fare. I've picked up dollar burgers from McDonald's while the kid had reheated mac and cheese and the wife ate two pieces of spinach quiche. Likewise, sometimes my wife will pick up cheesy grits from Pappadeux on the way home from her shift at the hospital while the kid and I split hot dogs and steak fries. Always be on the lookout for a time-saving deal.
Practice I mentioned McDonald's earlier, and they have something very important to teach us in food prep; practice and consistency in preparations produce consistent results. Each Big Mac is more or less functionally identical to each other Big Mac.
You've got to pay attention to your recipes, and hone them for your family and lifestyle. The actual stated instructions in a cookbook are fine as a starter, but you're going to want to experiment to tailor the dish to your intended person's taste. Try to make it at least three times in a two-month period so you can get the nitty gritty down.
Family Menu I am dead serious. Make a family menu. Pretend your house is a restaurant and your family is ordering their food.
If you're cooking every day then it's easy to forget what all you are even capable of making. Recipes that delighted two years ago might be forgotten by someone bored with the recent fare. In my house we have a printed list of everything I make from complicated tofu cashew dishes to ham and cheese sandwiches. What's the point of having option if no one knows them?
Making several different dinners can be a difficult and occasionally, thankless job, but it is doable with planning and energy. If you have any more tips on how to make the process easier, tell us in the comments.
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