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Toronto, Canada

312 Adelaide Street West, Suite 301
Toronto, Ontario - M5V 1R2
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6 Dinnertime Hacks for Foodie Parents

Written by Katharine Chan

We all know how it is coming home from work. It’s dinnertime and everyone’s a Starvin’ Marvin.

My husband and I both work full-time and by the we come home, it’s a mad dash until our daughter goes to sleep. We are also adventurous foodies. We fell in love while searching for the tastiest and flakiest croissant at a hole in the wall bakery located in the République Arrondissement of Paris. Then he proposed to me after we shared a deep fried sheep’s brain sandwich at an obscure deli in Cairo (apologies to all the vegans and vegetarians out there).

We’re not just Foodies but food is a huge part of our Chinese culture. Both of us have childhood memories of our moms’ cooking; that home cooked meal always brought the family together. So when we became parents, we had to develop tactics to continue those memories for our daughter while satisfying our foodie cravings in a time crunch. Most of the time, we’ve been able to avoid calling for take-out or delivery. How do we do it?

Group Your List Into 3 Categories

I divide my grocery list into 3 categories: proteins, carbs and plants (fruits and veggies). My kitchen is almost always stocked with carbs and proteins.  We buy the largest bags of rice and freeze most of our bread.  We always have dried noodles, pasta and potatoes in our kitchen.  We freeze our meats and stock up on canned and dried legumes when they go on sale.  So during the week when I need to pick up groceries, it’s only for fruits and veggies.  It makes the trip short and sweet since I only need to go to one area of the store. I’m in and out. It also keeps those snack temptations at bay. My husband and I will go on the big grocery trips once a month or so to replenish the meats and pantry goods.

Play Russian Roulette Meals

For dinner, I pick one item from each category to make a meal.  It can be baked zucchini and chicken served with pasta.  Or beef ribs stewed with napa cabbage and rice. Or turkey meatballs and sweet bell pepper with rice noodles.  What to make for dinner becomes a fun and easy decision. It also gives me an opportunity to be creative (obviously within the limits of a toddler’s tastebuds).

Prep your Veggies (Do it Rough and Keep the Skin)

I often buy veggies that are seasonal (and they’re cheaper). I like the ones that are easy to prep like zucchini, any type of cabbage (I’ve been loving Taiwanese cabbage at the moment), broccoli, green beans, kabucha squash, yams, tomatoes, carrots, mushrooms and peppers.  I find the most time consuming part of cooking is preparing the veggies (washing and chopping) so I do a lot of that the night before.  I rough chop everything. I mean who has the time to mince, dice or julienne anything? Plus, the food processor’s a bit loud for a sleeping toddler. I also keep the skin on for most root veggies.  Did you know unpeeled yams gives you more nutrients than peeled ones?  The more you know.

Learn a Fancy Word: Mirepoix

My mom always had celery, carrots and onions in the kitchen.  It was her way to add flavour to her dishes but also to make sure we ate some veggies even if it was hidden in her steamed minced pork with mei cei (preserved vegetables).  There are some crazy days when I have no other veggies except these. Those are called soup nights.  I get a big pot of water going on the stove, rough chop these three items, add the chosen meat item, a can of cannellini beans and some leftover rice or dry pasta. I let that simmer while I get other mom things done. I’ll add a dash of pepper and whatever herbs I have at the moment. Then I’ll get the grassfed butter out of the fridge (because all foodies know butter needs to be at room temperature), put a couple of frozen multigrain buns in the oven and voilà, dinner is served.

Treat One Pot Meals like a Global Adventure

Speaking of getting other mom things done, one pot meals are time savers. They allow me to have some time while the food is cooking to do other things. There are a ton of ideas online but I like to keep it simple. I pick my items from the 3 categories and then I pick a cuisine type. I ask myself, “What part of the world do I feel like travelling tonight?”

Mexico? I’ll fetch a can of crushed tomatoes, salsa, and avocado, taco seasoning and a couple of frozen tortillas.

China? I’ll grab the soy sauce, black bean sauce, hoisin sauce, sesame oil and/or oyster sauce and make some rice.

Japan? I’ll add some dashi and sake to the pot, sprinkle some bonito flakes and shredded nori and garnish with drizzle of Japanese mayonnaise.

Korea? I’ll grab the kimchi and gochujang from the fridge.

Middle East? I’ll add the spice blend that I bought from the local Persian market

India? I’ll scoop some masala and add a few cups of plain yogurt.

Thailand? I’ll dig up the curry paste and open up a can of coconut milk.

Embrace Leftovers

With one pot meals, I tend to make enough so there is plenty left for tomorrow’s dinner. That way, we get to travel somewhere new every other day. Some meals are even better the day after because the flavours have intensified overnight.

So far, our daughter has been loving her food adventures with us. She loves daikon, chicken feet, beef tendon and liver pate. Now we just need to find a place that sells deep fried sheep’s brain sandwiches.

Any PLNers who also love food? Let me know how you’ve satisfied your foodie cravings as a busy parent.

*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Parent Life Network or their partners.