At first, it was hard to accept that the time I used to have for myself before having a baby was only a distant memory. I wasn't doing anything crazy, but I could have gone to the gym anytime, or go to the cinema...you, moms, know the gist.
One thing in particular that I found the hardest to re-incorporate in my life was cooking. This has always been my number one way to relax, switch off from the world. However, with the arrival of baby Grace I felt I had to find a new way of de-stressing, because cooking wasn't going to happen, until I adapted my style to a busy mommy life. That was the trick!
So, what were the new challenges that didn't allow me to cook like before? Less time, excessive noise with pots and pans (we live in a 2 bedroom apartment and it's easy to wake the baby up), too much clean up for a very tired me.
After few months of experimenting, I think I've found the little secrets that allow me to prepare one hearty meal every day. Surely, these are not hacks only for moms, but whoever feels that they could do with a little more of homemade cooking using their time and energy more efficiently.
Obviously, I could have resorted to buy more ready made food, but I cannot highlight more the importance of homemade cooking. Firstly, it's cheaper in the longer run, then it's so much more packed full of nutrients, vitamins and everything your body needs. With our very hectic lives, we need all the goodness we can get!
Lastly, I want to highlight that in my home we could never have only a soup or a sandwich for dinner. My husband is a big eater and he's been brought up with having a good hearty meal consisting of greens, carbs and animal protein and possibly a little dessert every single day. He comes from the North of England and it's cold most of the year, which explains why he loves stews and anything comforting.
So, here I share my little secrets...
Roasting with parchment paper (or baking paper)
This saves a lot of time in cleaning. Also, I tend to use the baking paper twice before throwing it away unless it's very burnt, because it's better for the planet and it's expensive.
I love roasting vegetables, especially sweet potatoes wedges: with a drizzle of oil, salt, pepper and a bit of fresh or dried herbs you have a fantastic side dish; plus, you keep the potato skin on so no peeling. Sometimes, I mix it up and throw few carrots on the tray too with a little of maple syrup. Last winter it was all about roasted cauliflowers with cumin and turmeric. Whatever the vegetables, you can always mix 2 or 3 different ones and cook them on the same tray with virtually no cleaning afterwards.
Choose one cooking method per meal
When I roast vegetables, I make sure that the rest of the dinner is either cooked in the oven too or it's super simple in terms of prep and cleaning, like soft boiled eggs, smoked salmon, deli meats.
If I use the oven, I choose meats or fish that can bake while the veggies are roasting: chicken and salmon work pretty well. After a good amount of seasoning, I wrap them in parchment paper and then foil: this way the smell that comes from the fish is trapped and you won't end up with a fish-y kitchen.
It's definitely getting hotter here and these days I prefer to steam my dinners. Invest in a good size steamer so that you can cook all your meal at the same time. A good steam combination is salmon with lemon juice, sweet potatoes and peas. I wrap the fish also in the steamer to keep the fish moist and also it'll make cleaning a lot quicker too.
Stir fries are also another way of making simple and healthy dinners with only one pan to wash. You'll need a good 10 minutes to chop the veggies, but cooking is a lot faster than a roasted or steamed meal, so overall it won't take you longer. For the base I add avocado oil, soy sauce, grated fresh ginger (but also ginger powder works), chili flakes for a kick and one crashed garlic clove. Let it cook for a couple of minutes, then add onions first, cook for 5 minutes, then the rest of the vegetables. Add tofu or prawns and voila' dinner is served.
Don't underestimate the power of frozen produce! Frozen fruits and vegetables have the same amount of nutrients of fresh ones and they're already chopped for you. I always have a bag of peas, peppers, artichokes hearts, blueberries and raspberries in my freezer.
In desperate times, I can always whip up a quick frittata using only frozen veggies.
If also it's a particularly busy day and we are hungry, I use precooked brown rice that I pop in the microwave and it's ready in 2 minutes. There are many brands out there and many use vegetable oils which, I think, gives a bad taste to the rice. It took me a couple of failures before finding a good brand (for those in California, Trader Joes organic brown rice is really good).
Of course, if you are not like my husband who thinks a salad is only a side dish. This is a great way to get your dinner on the table in less than 10 minutes with very minimum cooking and messing around. To make it a complete dish, add some proteins. If you need more tips on how to create the most nutritional salad, check my old post here.
Choose vegetables that need little or no preparation
Artichokes, winter squash, rutabagas, green beans (if the ends haven't been trimmed) tend to take more prep time than, say, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini. If you are always in a hurry, try to avoid those hard to prep produce and, instead, choose 'simpler' ones. I love artichokes, but I have no time and am clueless about cleaning them properly, so I buy them frozen. Winter squashes (or butternut squash) are so delicious, but if you don't have a very good knife you can end up chopping a finger or having dinner after 2 hours. Leave these vegetables for the weekend or for when someone can help you out.
I am still refining the art of making noise-less and quick dinners, but these tricks have helped me massively in putting something delicious on the dinner table every evening.
And yes, once or twice a week we indulge in a 'cheat' meal, where we buy a roasted chicken or simply get a burger from Shake Shack. Although I love cooking, mama needs to put her feet up sometimes.