Before Pete Wells was PETE WELLS, he wrote an inspiring column in the New York Times Magazine about cooking with his son Dexter, who was born with food allergies. It was a touching combination of thoughts on working fatherhood and practical cooking advice. I loved this column for its honesty and respect for his wife, who shoulders the majority of the responsibility of feeding their family day-in and day-out, despite the fact that Mr. Wells was/is the parent waxing poetic about it to millions.
A newly-minted Brooklynite in my early 20’s, I would go for a long run on Sunday morning, grab the Times weekend edition from the bodega, shower, make myself a plate of eggs and a French press of hot coffee, then crawl back into bed and spend the remainder of the afternoon with newsprint smudged fingers, daydreaming about my New York City future, the highbrow stories in the iconic paper as my guide. I was unsure of the specifics, but I knew it would include children of my own, and of course, cooking.
Seven years later I am a well-seasoned Brooklynite, and now, like Mr. Wells and millions of others across the country, I’m a parent racing the clock every evening to finish my work, answer late-in-the-day emails, pick up my kid from daycare with patience and positivity, then attempt to put a home-cooked meal on the table before he (and/or I) suffer from an exhaustion and hunger fueled melt-down. Dude, this working parent gig is hard.
This brings me to the title of this post, which is inspired by Mr. Wells’ column all those years ago. I’ve given the “get a pot of water on the stove ASAP” instruction to many in my healthy cooking classes and nutrition lectures, but until recently was not following my own advice, which is this: On week nights, walk in the door and before almost anything else, put a large pot of water on the stove and set to medium-high. Maybe I take my shoes off and set my kid down first, but not always, thanks to the practice of babywearing. When setting the pot on the stove, rarely have I determined the evening’s menu. (Note to self: Follow more of own advice and start making a weekly meal plan…)
Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner
But here is the thing, no matter if I decide to cook brown rice, or whole grain pasta, or quinoa, or barley, or potatoes, or carrots, or broccoli, at least 75 percent of the time it will require boiling water (or stock, but I actually use base, not liquid stock). With a pot of water going on the stove, it feels like dinner is already underway, and I am less likely to resort to delivery, which will be less tasty, less healthful, much more expensive, and not actually much faster than cooking.
Four easy-peasy, boiling water-based dinner combinations:
- Whole wheat pasta + fresh spinach added in the final minutes to the pasta water + fully cooked chicken sausage + canned, diced tomatoes + tomato paste + dried basil + parmesan cheese
- Brown rice topped with sautéed onions + bell peppers + chicken breast strips + chili powder + canned pinto beans + fresh cilantro
- Barley + seared flank steak + blanched & shocked broccoli topped with toasted almonds & lemon zest
- Stock + diced chicken thighs + mirepoix + diced zucchini + bay leaf + whole wheat orzo
Please, share your strategies for winning the weeknight dinner race and other thoughts on maintaining a healthy family meal routine in the rush of working parenthood.
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