In short, the things that make life as a working mom possible are:
1. Have a live-in maid.
2. Have a live-in cook.
Essentially, we should all just be Emily Gilmore- only nicer to our help. And our child(ren).
BUT, in the event that you do not happen to be filthy stinkin rich like Emily and me, I came up with a few hypothetical tips that could help with your lack of 1 and 2 above. Okay, never mind. They're not hypothetical. They're actually exactly what I'm doing right now because actually, I'm not filthy rich. I'm sure you never guessed that.
At any rate, when I returned to work in November, I quickly realized that one of the most important Life Things that I was going to need to revamp was our meals. For the last year-ish, we'd been using eMeals for our meal planning. We loved it. It certainly made coming up with meals and shopping a lot easier, and we were always really pleased with our meals. But it meant we cooked (and cleaned up) every (or most) nights. Which was fine when our days consisted of just going to work + going to the gym + dinner + doing whatever we wanted til bedtime. It was great! I loved the variety of foods, the new dishes and flavors I learned to cook with...all of it. But once Millie came along and I went back to work...well, I have basically 3 hours between getting home from work and her going to bed. There's a zero percent chance I want to spend 30-50% of that time cooking and cleaning. I want to spend every minute possible kissing these sweet cheeks:
So something had to change.
My friend Amanda has mentioned over the years that her family's 'thing' is to just make one big dish (casserole or whatever) on Sunday and they just eat that reheated all week for dinners. To be honest, when I first heard that, I was like...yuck. I mean, who wants to eat the same thing for dinner for five nights in a row? Not me.
But once I realized that my desire to have exciting, fresh meals each night conflicted pretty badly with my desire to spend as much time as possible with Millie, that idea started sounding pretty smart. Boring- but smart. So Matt and I started doing our meal planning similarly. We plan meals and shop for our food for the next week on Saturday, and then cook several meals (on Saturday and Sunday) that will last us through the week. I still can't fathom eating the exact same thing for every single meal, so we usually cook three-ish things that will last through 4-5 lunches and 4-5 dinners. We include lunches in our plans because packing a sandwich is often the quickest way to ensure I go out to eat for lunch. Blech.
I found these meal planning sheets in the Dollar Spot at Target a few years ago- they're great! I just wish they had Saturday and Sunday on the top, since that's when our plans actually start...but that wouldn't really make much sense at all in general, so we just adapt.
A lot of the time we double recipes (like Matt went ahead and made two quiches on Sunday so that we could have them for more meals...not much more work up front, but saves a lot of work later in the week. Also, please note that these are crust-less quiches and generally healthy, so no need to judge that we eat a quarter of a quiche each as a serving, ha), and we also have a number of approved super easy and fast things we're willing to cook from scratch for a 'fresh' meal (like brinner, loaded baked (microwaved) potatoes, etc.) if we end up with not quite enough servings from our main meals. We always eat at our Mexican restaurant on Tuesdays (BOGO tacos) and sometimes we get extra tacos there to use as meals later in the week, too. Ha. They're cheap and fabulous (even reheated), so it only makes sense to me! There are a lot of catered events at my work- I don't normally get to partake in these meals when they're actually being served, but the leftovers almost always end up being available for the staff (and staff husbands who come for lunch, like Matt!) to eat on later. We can always count on there being leftovers for us to eat on Thursday, but often it'll work out that we get free meals there other days, too! This is awesome because FREE FOOD (it helps that we're not terribly picky eaters). That's why we usually leave a space or two blank, to account for unexpected foods...and if none arrive, we just go out to eat or wing it with a quick and easy meal.
None of this is terribly revolutionary, but I think what's been the most helpful is figuring out what meals work well for this kind of 'meal plan.' Obviously it's best if the foods are the kind that reheat well and don't get grosser as the week goes on. It's also good if the meals are filling by themselves- we don't really plan for side dishes. Sometimes we'll throw in an orange or banana or something, or maybe a salad if we're feeling super ambitious, but pretty much this is a one-dish shindig. Slightly boring, perhaps, but the beauty of not cooking + no cleanup (besides putting our plates, forks, and a Pyrex dish in the dishwasher) on weeknights is really priceless and worth a little monotony. So we want the meals to feel satisfying on their own, plus be relatively healthy. Oh, and I don't like the meals to be too similar to one another- like, not 3 varieties of rice-based casseroles. Or three soups. If I'm going to eat the same things all week long, at least they can be a little bit different.
Here are a few of our favorite recipes we've been using. You may notice that most of them are from Budget Bytes. That is because I am obsessed with that webpage and everything I've ever made from there is amazing. If I could marry a webpage...phew.
-Sausage and Kale Skillet- someone brought us this when Millie was a newborn and it was what introduced me to Budget Bytes! This meal is AMAZING and we make it...ummm...often.
-Lemony Kale and Quinoa Salad- we polished off this in one meal, but it was delicious!
-Bacon and Spinach Pasta with Parmesan- you start with BACON, so there's really no way this one can go wrong. It's awesome and reheats surprisingly well (pasta isn't always a sure bet in the microwave).
-African Peanut Stew- we've made this one SEVERAL times and I am kinda obsessed with it. Lasts at least 3 meals- it's surprisingly filling and satisfying, considering there's no meat in it!
-Slow Cooker Chicken and Dumplings- best c&d I've ever had, hands down. Sadly, I can't double this recipe because my crock pot isn't big enough, so we can only get 2.5ish meals out of it.
-Slow Cooker Chicken Taco Bowls- lasts forevvvvverrr. Like at least 4 meals.
-Sweet Chili Chicken Bowls- YUM. Similar to the taco bowls, but with an Asian flair!
-Spinach, Mushroom, and Feta Crustless Quiche- delicious, but obviously we make ours sans mushrooms because we are not disgusting. We do throw in other random veggies to make it more exciting, though!
-Creamy Chicken and Black Bean Enchiladas- super good, and the homemade enchilada sauce is awesome! Makes a lot!
-Paleo Chop & Drop Roasted Veggies & Sausage- one of my favorites- I actually took this to Thanksgiving dinner this year (minus the sausage)! Chopping up all the veggies takes forever, but it's worth it in the end.
-Slow Cooker Chicken Caesar Sandwiches- we haven't made this one lately, but I remember it being awesome the last time I made it.
-Crock Pot Turkey White Bean Pumpkin Chili- this is my go-to chili recipe, but I basically double all of her spices. I find it a little bland as written...so use a heavy hand!! I also sometimes use venison sausage instead of turkey. That definitely kicks things up a bit!
-Zesty Quinoa Salad- not a very creative name, but SUCH a good salad. I've taken this to several potlucks and people always compliment it! Also, it gets better as the week goes on and the flavors all blend and soak together.
-Moroccan Stew- I discovered this one during my hardcore Endo Diet (remember the 'bird food diet'??) days, and it's just as good now as it was then. Yum.
Eating the same thing multiple days in a row is a lot less miserable when the food is awesome. But even if you're only planning to eat it once or twice, you should check out these recipes...because who doesn't like easy new recipes?
So this whole meal planning thing has made my working mom gig a lot more manageable. As soon as I start thinking about whining about having to eat leftovers again, I just ask myself "would you rather waste Millie time cooking and cleaning up?" and the answer is always no, and I just go microwave my soup and consider it a small (and privileged) sacrifice to 'suffer' through leftovers to gain time with my baby. I'm sure at some point we'll change things up and start cooking at night again, but this is really working for us for now. It also really helps that (and honestly, is probably ONLY possible because) Matt is an equal partner in all of this planning and cooking. I would die (not really, but maybe) if I had to spend my Saturday and Sunday cooking and cleaning up from all these meals. Luckily we tag-team, so Matt does at least half of it while I get to relax and play. That way it doesn't end up being a huge burden on either of us. I'm thankful for a husband who not only parents equally, but participates in every aspect of running our 'household' (which brings me back to sounding like I'm Emily Gilmore...) and doing the not-so-fun parts of adulthood (like cleaning) alongside me.
If you have any favorite recipes that make awesome leftovers, please share!! Also, if you do happen to be mega rich and want to share your live-in maids and cooks with me, I'm open to that as well. Thanks!