I used to be one of those people. I didn't just make homemade chicken stock — I roasted chicken bones until fragrant, then gave them a long, slow bath. I didn't toss stuff in a slow cooker — I sautéed and seared first, in the sincere belief it made a difference.
And then I had a baby.
I'd been organized enough to stuff the freezer, anxious that the baby would arrive early. (In the end, she came 10 days late — so I added two slabs of macaroni and cheese to the arsenal.) But as the weeks went on and supplies dwindled, I wondered how we'd eat. Some days, lunch consisted of stuffing deli turkey in my mouth while jiggling a banshee on my hip.
One day, my husband asked if I wanted to do the grocery shopping. It sounds crazy, but it was exactly what I needed — to get out of the house and think about something other than our baby. And as I wandered the aisles, high on independence and sleep deprivation, I started to see a few supermarket shortcuts— things that could help me put homemade dinners on the table, but with less fuss than I did pre-baby. Here are some of my new tried-and-true picks.
1. Roast chicken
All hail the supermarket roast chicken! Tonight's dinner, tomorrow's lunch, and maybe more. If you're feeling ambitious, wrap the carcass in foil and freeze it for chicken stock (which, I have learned, can be made with zero fuss in the slow cooker).
2. Pre-cut vegetables
Sure, pre-cut vegetables are more expensive than buying whole vegetables, but given the choice between breaking down a butternut squash and washing my hair, I'll take the latter, thanks.
Good stock is your gateway to better-tasting soups, stews, and casseroles, but it pays to read your labels. I found that our grocery store's in-house brand offered the best value, the simplest ingredients list, and decent flavor.
Quick oats are a good starter food for babies and they're surprisingly versatile. For a tasty substitute for breadcrumbs (think: meatballs or meatloaf), make oat flour by pulsing in the food processor. Or add body and nutritional oomph to blended vegetable soups — just add oats toward the end of the cooking time and blitz as usual.
5. Fast-cooking food
For good food fast, you need food that cooks quickly. Frozen peas are a good option, pre-washed spinach can go from clamshell to plate in less than five minutes, and baby potatoes cook way faster than grown-up ones. Don't forget the microwave, either: Poke a yam with a fork, wrap it in a towel, and nuke it for three minutes. For pastas, look for skinnier noodles like spaghettini or angel-hair pasta (capellini) that cook faster.
These days, my pasta maker and ice cream maker have taken a backseat to the slow cooker and immersion blender. One day I look forward to making homemade ricotta-spinach ravioli, or burnished boules of sourdough. But for now, I'm happy to let the supermarket help me make dinner.
Welcome to Dinner with Kids
This series explores the shifting dynamics of the dinner table when kids are involved. We asked families of all shapes and sizes for their tips for mealtime success. You'll learn a few things, laugh a whole lot, and find that when kids are involved, dinnertime is always a little more eventful.