I know there are a few people out there who seriously love food. They love to wander through fancy produce aisles and choose the ripest, freshest vegetables. They take them home and slice, dice, and puree them with wild abandon. Then they pair them with fine cuts of meat, seared on pans that cost $500 or grills that cost as much as my car.
The rest of us just want the Food Fairy to show up and put some food in our mouths.
This article is for those of us looking for the Food Fairy, the Grocery Fairy, and the Dishwashing Fairy. We are exhausted by cooking and eating and cleaning and just want the madness to end. For you, I share my newly learned lunch lady secrets. Lunch ladies are pros at kitchen efficiency; we know how to serve 400 kids every day like it’s easy. If you put the following ideas into practice, you too can serve a bunch of people and barely break a sweat.
1. Start with a clean kitchen. If your kitchen is currently less than sparkling, take the time to clean it up first and get everything in its place. Trust me, this should be the last time you spend three hours scrubbing in here.
2. Clean up as you cook. If you’ve started with a clean kitchen, it shouldn’t be a problem to run a sink of hot, soapy water and throw your pans and utensils in there as you work. Take a few seconds to wash the dirty bowl and the sticky spatula. You’ll shave a lot of frustration off the end of your meal.
3. Keep your meal plans simple: entree, one side dish, and a lot of fresh vegetables. We have Mrs. Obama to thank/blame for this plan. She’s taken on school lunches during her term as First Lady, and that woman loves a good salad bar. As a result I spend two hours every day preparing veggies, but the kids have gotten used to it and we all like it a lot. This will simplify your family’s eating, too.
4. Buy in bulk. Everyone knows this saves money, but it saves time, too. It’s fast and efficient to scoop into twenty-five pound bags of rice or beans. Caution–do not buy delicious things in bulk, like chocolate chips, ice cream, or potato chips. Bad, bad idea.
5. Plan your meals ahead of time, whether it’s a day ahead, a week, or a month. Heck, plan the whole year if you want. Half of my time at dinner is spent standing in front of the open freezer, not knowing what to cook. Once I commit to a plan, the frustration is gone.
6. Do not leave the kitchen until it’s clean. Seriously. I know you’re tired. I know you hate to do the dishes. But if you have been cleaning up as you go, you shouldn’t have too much left to wash. Just finish up the dishes, wipe down your counters and stove top, and out you go. Trust me, when you walk into your clean kitchen tomorrow morning you’ll thank me.
The lunch ladies are a wise bunch. I hope you’ll try this approach if your dinner time has you grumpy and frustrated. I promise it will work. But I’m not going to lie–going out to eat works too. Happy Dinner!
Here’s my new menu planner. Please note that I haven’t used it to plan any actual meals. I’m getting there!