How do you fit cooking into your daily schedule?
Aaron and I share responsibilities for cooking. Even though we are quite busy, the routine is pretty much fixed and is driven by my seven-year-old daughter Audrey’s school or camp schedule. Audrey needs to be on the school bus by 7:30am. Aaron or I make her breakfast. The breakfast choice is usually based on what Audrey wants to eat. It does not vary a lot from day-to-day–2 waffles, yogurt, fruit, orange juice, and vitamin. While Audrey eats I make her lunch, which is also very simple. Either cream cheese and bagel or cheese sandwich and a fruit. I make my breakfast after Audrey is on the bus, usually yogurt and granola, eggs and toast, or a salad. If I have an early morning meeting, I’ll grab a piece of fruit and eat it in the car.
Aaron and I are responsible for our own lunches. Aaron makes his breakfast and lunch; sometimes he makes my lunch as well. The lunches often consist of salads. If Aaron does not have time to make my lunch, I either have a fruit that I always stock in my kitchen, or quickly assemble a salad or create a “random plate of stuff” from whatever is in the fridge. If I am meeting clients around lunchtime, I always have a small bag of nuts in the car.
For dinner Aaron and I share cooking depending on who arrives home first. Aaron works 40-60 hours/week and I often have early morning and evening meetings so our schedule changes often. On Sundays Aaron and I review our upcoming schedules for the week so we know who is getting Audrey on the bus in the morning, and picking her up from after school in the afternoon. We cook something most days and also do a lot of leftovers. Audrey sometimes fusses about it and I joke, “Are we on the Fuss-Bus again?” Although I would like to have more variety in meals, if I had more time; I would rather have family time together rather than spending time on cooking big meals every day. To save time, I also do food assembly rather than big cooking and presenting on the table. I have an island in the middle of the kitchen where I put the freshly-cooked food, leftovers, and (pre-washed) salad in the bag. Everybody can take it from there buffet style. This saves extra dishes and time and effort to do those dishes. We also have a fixed menu for dinner pretty much every week. I usually always have salads and for main dish we often have chicken burgers, pasta, quesadillas, or breakfast for dinner (omelets or scrambled eggs and toast.) Again, the choices are driven by what Audrey would eat easily.
We are not big on desserts but I always have fruit stocked on kitchen counter. I like to make baked donuts when I have more time. Aaron is more into making pies. But dessert is not something we make on regular basis.
We always keep apples and bananas in the house. For snacks, Audrey likes to have fruit, popcorn, chips and hummus, cheese and crackers. We also bring her water bottle and some snacks when we leave the house so she can get something to eat and won’t be hungry.
We cook in the same ways for weekdays and weekends. I try to prep some of Audrey’s lunch snacks for the coming week on Sundays. For example, peel and chop carrots, which is the only vegetable she will eat in her school lunch.
How much time do you spend on average on preparing meals including cleaning?
Around 1.5 hours every day not including the cleaning. We have a dishwasher, which is a huge timesaver. Audrey helps unload the clean dishes.
How many trips and time/trip do you spend on doing grocery?
I usually do one trip per week and I get everything for the week. I batch grocery with other out-of-home errands on weekend to save time. On average I spend 45 minutes per grocery shopping trip.
Do you pre-plan your menu before you go to the grocery store?
No. Since I pretty much repeat my menu every week, I already know what I am going to buy.
What are your favorite places to eat?
We eat out once or twice a month, usually for a weekend lunch when we are spending time together as a family and it’s not convenient to go home for a meal. Again this is driven by where Audrey would like to eat. We usually go to local restaurants like Pizza Aroma, Viva Taqueria, and Moe’s.
What is a favorite dish you like to make?
Baked Blueberry donuts. I got the recipe from a magazine. (Kelly shared the recipe with Traffic Light Cook and is given below).
TLC Observation: What makes Kelly’s meal preparation sustainable?
Kelly describes herself as a mom, an entrepreneur, and a spouse. She started her project management consulting company Illume Projects from scratch in 2011; in 2017 the startup has clients in the waiting list. In addition to her personal and professional roles, Kelly finds time to mentor budding entrepreneurs as a guest lecturer at Cornell University and serves on the board of directors of the Ithaca Free Clinic. While Kelly acknowledges there is not enough time in a day to go through every day-to-day activity, meal preparation remains on her everyday to-do list. The family does not eat at fast food restaurants to avoid extra food expense and over-processed foods. Here are some observations from Kelly’s meal-preparing practices, that offer actionable insights for making healthy meal preparation sustainable:
- Team work: If you live in a multi-person household, then team work toward making meals at home is almost essential to keep the cooking sustainable. Even kids can help their bit, like in this story, taking care of an easy but repetitive task such as helping unload a dishwasher.
- Awareness about eating healthy– choosing foods close to the source and understanding negative effects of processed foods– from a book (or self-research during pregnancy.)
- Keeping meals simple and iterative that saves meal-planning time.
- Cooking more than one meal per cooking occasion and using leftovers.
- Restricting grocery trips to mostly one/week.
- Not making desserts often and keeping fruits in an accessible place and using those as on-the-go breakfast, snacks, as well as dessert. This practice not only saves time, but also bodes well for health as it cuts down on sugar intake.
Busy People Cook: This series gets a glimpse into the lives of people who are busy, working full time often raising kids, but still make time to prepare healthy meals. If you would like to share your meal preparation practices/philosophy in the “Busy People Cook” section, please write to us at [email protected] We would love to feature your picture, but if you are camera shy, we can also share the photo of your favorite recipe that you like to cook.
Baked Blueberry Doughnuts
- 11/4 cups Whole-wheat flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter (softened)
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup blueberries
- Powdered sugar (optional)
- Preheat oven to 375F. Spray and flour six 31/4-in. cups of doughnut pan. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
- Beat butter and sugar with a mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds. Beat in egg, buttermilk, and vanilla. Beat in flour mixture; fold in berries.
- Spoon batter into pan, filling each cup 3/4 full. Bake 15 minutes, or until golden; let cool. Remove, dust with powdered sugar, if desired. Clean pan. Repeat with remaining batter to make 4 more doughnuts. Serve at room temperature or reheat. Doughnuts will keep for two days.