As part of our Healthy & Whole series, we’ve been getting questions about how to “make it happen” — just how to find the time and energy to cook up healthy and delicious meals each week, especially for working parents. For some advice, we’ve looked to the queen of making it happen, our friend Annie of the blog Annie’s Eats. Annie is a mom, resident physician, and author of a fabulous renowned blog, and she still manages to put nutritious food on the table for her family. We caught up with her here to share some of her secrets on just how she does it! And don’t skip this if you’re not a parent – she has some great tips for everyone, no matter your season of life. Thank you so much, Annie!
You’re a full-time resident physician, part-time blogger, and full-time mother of two, yet you manage to cook wholesome and delicious meals for your family. How do you do it?
For me, it’s all about planning, planning, planning. I think one of the biggest obstacles to weeknight meal preparation is figuring out what to make. If you already have a game plan, it’s much easier to get into the kitchen and start cooking. No time wasted standing in front of the fridge scratching your head.
Every weekend, I take an hour or so after the kids go to bed and plan our meals for the following week (see more about my menu planning strategies). I do any prep that I can in advance. Finally, I utilize my freezer a lot so I can pull things from the freezer as needed (see my tips for stocking the freezer).
We’ve talked a bit on our blog of embracing new things, and not fearing failure. However, what happens if you have a failure in the kitchen and have several hungry mouths to feed? PB&J?
Thankfully, because of my meal planning efforts and keeping the fridge and pantry well stocked, even when plans for a meal go awry, we can throw together some semblance of a meal. We may not all end up eating the same thing on those nights…it’s usually a bit of a hodge podge. My husband really loves cereal, and embraces this as an opportunity to eat it :) But we do try to make sure the meals are somewhat balanced with fruit(s) and/or veggies. It’s okay if every meal isn’t perfect and if some are complete flops. At least you’re making the effort and moving in the right direction.
What are the three top things you’d recommend to a working mom or dad (or anyone, really) who are just starting out cooking?
First, start out with quick, simple meals. If you are new to cooking in general or just don’t do it often, starting with easy meals makes it more likely that you will follow through. If you plan something overly complicated or time consuming, it’s more likely you will opt for take out or a pre-packaged option. Second, choose recipes you are almost certain to enjoy. If you choose a recipe with ingredients you are unsure of to start, you may be unhappy with the results and less likely to try again. Finally, when you find a recipe you like, consider making double batches to freeze some for later. Homemade freezer meals are so convenient to have around on especially busy days, and they beat the heck out of frozen lasagna.
Do your kids eat anything? How do you recommend accommodating picky eaters?
We do everything we can to help our kids develop non-picky palates, and embrace trying new things. I feel the vast majority of picky eating behaviors are reinforced and become ingrained when parents offer their children an alternate option because they express dislike for a particular food or meal. If children realize that all they have to do is complain and they will get their way, that’s exactly what they will do. This creates expectations and habits that can be tough to break.
There is no reason to believe that they can only handle bland, typical “kid” foods. Children raised in other countries are certainly not eating macaroni and cheese or chicken nuggets for every meal! In our house, our kids eat what we eat, with almost no exceptions. We teach them from the time we introduce table food that eating vegetables is part of a healthy diet whether they like it or not (though we do our best to help them like it!) For the part of the parent, it often feels so much easier to simply give in to the child’s demands but trust me – it is well worth the effort to consistently present this message. The kids eventually become accustomed to it and (most of) our meals are definitely made easier because of this approach.
Of course, they are still kids, and they still have their moments of picky fits (likely more an issue of control than a true dislike for the food). On those days where we are not making progress at the dinner table, rather than fight about it, we cover the plate, save it for later, and let our child know that when they are hungry again their dinner will be waiting for them. And honestly, they usually do a lot better the second time around.
Do you have any “go to” recipes you’d recommend for families (or anyone, again)?
Some of our family’s favorite simple, mostly quick recipes are:
About the Authors
Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.
Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.