Making Parenting Easier #4: This Tip Will Change Your Life

I’m a fan of Oliver Burkeman’s Guardian column, and particularly of its title: This column will change your life. Awesome.

This post was Angela’s idea, actually, and the tip that will change your life may or may not be above the line. Hopefully for lots of readers, the tip that will change your life will be in the comments below.

This has changed my life! Cook big meals, freeze them, and serve through the week. | Sacraparental.com

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Nicholas calls his weekly business-shirt ironing his ‘admin.’ This post is about the admin of your life, from household management to getting the kids out the door with all the stuff they need, to organising your banking and your lunchbox. The kind of stuff you wouldn’t have to do yourself if you lived (upstairs) in Downton Abbey.

So give us your best life admin tip, ok? One little or big thing that makes your life easier. Probably something you’ve learnt the hard way, perhaps developed and refined, and the kind of thing you’d love to see other people learn the easy way (by reading it here!)

Victorinox Chef's knife. Get one now. Seriously.

Victorinox Chef’s knife. Get one now. Seriously.

I’ve been delaying writing this for a bit since Angela suggested it, because I didn’t know what to offer as my own tip. I’m feeling much more organised and on top of life admin since we settled in Wellington a couple of months ago, but there’s nothing revolutionary about that – it’s mostly been remedial progress!

But yesterday I revived an old practice that has been dormant while I’ve been unwell, and it really might change your life if cooking in the evening is a grind in your house.

Before SBJ was born, the norm in our household was that I would cook dinner a couple of nights a week, and always make enormous amounts, so our freezer was well-stocked with home cooking (and our fridge with the kind of left-overs that don’t freeze well).

I froze lots of single servings so my husband and I could take dinner-type meals to work to the envy of nearby sandwich-eaters. It bumped up our vege intake and saved money on buying lunch.

But the real advantage was in the several nights a week when the first person to be home or hungry could put the rice on and chop up some broccoli while the tagine or casserole or curry was reheating. So little effort for a proper meal. On a very hard evening you could even just settle for the freezer meal and some toast and you’d be eating pretty well.

With a toddler in my life, cooking in the evening has become all but impossible. I just can’t drag myself through it given the energy it takes to pay attention to both him and the food, when we’ve barely stopped all day.

We had an unpleasant experience eating out last week which gave me the needed impetus to get back into batch cooking. We need to be able to eat at home without me having to gather my wits five or seven nights a week, at the worst time of the day.

So yesterday I enlisted Auntie Lydie, Auntie Laura and my husband to spend the day with SBJ, while I cooked. For the first time, I went the whole way and cooked three different dishes in huge batches: a tagine, a casserole and African beans, all with lots of vegetables (so we don’t even need to do side-dishes when we use them).

I was limited by only having one big stockpot (a bigger one is now on the shopping list for next time), but in a few hours I still managed to create:

  • dinner for five people last night
  • 3 ice-cube trays of casserole vegetables to freeze for SBJ
  • 8 single-serve meals for my husband to take to work
  • 9 dinners for our household
  • 3 dinners for other households
  • 2 snack-size pottles

How’s that for brilliant and amazing? It’s the first time I’ve done a deliberate more-than-tonight’s dinner cookathon, but just counting all that up, it was totally worth it, and once I get another huge pot, it’ll take a lot less time next time.

Practicalities, if you’re interested:

To make the most of your normal dinner meals:

  • Invest in a very large pot
  • Once a week, plan to cook an enormous batch (aim for 4x the normal amount) of something that freezes well.
    I’m a one-pot cook at heart, so I favour things like chili, pasta sauce, casseroles, tagines, curries, dhal, beans, soups, cassoulet – anything you serve with a spoon :)
    You can also freeze more elaborate things like pies and lasagnes if you’re in the swing of those, but they don’t multiply quite so easily.
  • Organise or clear out your freezer so you have space for home cooking.
  • Label the meals you create. My labels say things like:
    African Beans x2-3, dairy-free, Feb 13.
    I used to use a white-board pen to write on containers, but our stationery is in storage still, apart from, strangely, a packet of white stickers, so I used those this time. Much tidier, though more annoying to wash.
  • I mostly use takeaway containers for freezing, as well as those nice Sistema boxes (like Tupperware). You want inexpensive containers that stack well to make the most of your freezer space. I don’t reheat in the plastic containers.

Cooking three different dishes yesterday was more challenging, logistically, and took all my brainpower. The main trick was coordinating which pot to use for which dish and what needed to be browned or sauteed before going somewhere else. So my tips for next time (things that will be preeeeetty obvious to most of you):

  • Invest in more than one very large pot.
  • Decide exactly what to put in each dish (I’m a bit more free-and-easy by preference and just use what comes to hand, but that was doing my head in yesterday).
  • Chop everything before you start any cooking. It’s very satisfying to see a bag of onions turn into a bowl of chopped ones! (My new $35 Victorinox knife takes much of that credit.)
  • Figure out what pots you can use for each dish, how many will fit on the stovetop or in the oven at once, and therefore what order you need to cook in.

So there’s my tip: regularly cook more than you need and freeze the rest.

What’s your tip that will change my life?

DSC02706

My happy, happy freezer.

For more tips on Making Parenting Easier, check out the rest of this series:

#1: 12 ideas to make you feel better

#2: Meet your neighbours

#3: Get some sleep

#4: This tip will change your life

#5: Living in the gap

#6: Jenny’s 6-week menu

#7: How to help siblings love and respect each other

And you are warmly invited to join us at the Sacraparental Facebook page for daily links, encouragement and resources, and/or follow me on Twitter and Pinterest.

Making Parenting Easier | 12 ideas to make you feel better - worth a look if you're feeling a bit down on yourself at the mo | Sacraparental.com

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46 comments on “Making Parenting Easier #4: This Tip Will Change Your Life”

  1. Jenny Bucksmith Reply

    I love to freeze leftovers or make bulk but we only have a small freezer and I tend to take any leftovers for my lunch the next day. However, my life-saving tip that I owe a lot of my sanity to, is my 6 week menu. For me, the worst thing about cooking tea is not knowing what to make. With my menu I now have 6 weeks of meals planned out so I know exactly what I’m cooking each night!! LOVE it! I have some favourites (home made pizza, nachoes etc) that make a couple of appearances, and always homemade fish and chips on a Thursday night (our Friday night here). I hope to sit down soon and add a couple of extra weeks to it. This eliminates so much stress for me. I also have a shopping list on the laptop with each week’s needs highlighted. I’ve pre-printed off the lists for a couple of months and the current one is on the kitchen whiteboard for me to highlight anything that needs restocking as soon as I run out. I highly recommend this! :)

    • Jenny Bucksmith Reply

      I also used to have a plan for my washing, so I could spread out washing sheets and towels etc throughout the week. But that only worked when I wasn’t working and had all day to hang out washing. Now they get done when I remember… :/

    • not a wild hera Reply

      Wow, Jenny, you are brilliant and amazing. What about a guest post with all the detail of your meal planning regime for us mere mortals who don’t know where to start?

      (Anyone else who’s keen, make sure you leave a comment to encourage Jenny to part with her secrets!)

        • Jenny Bucksmith Reply

          Oh gosh, I’m not sure it would amount to much of a guest post…write down all your favourite meals, make up a calendar for however long you want to create a menu, share out the meals, fill in any gaps with new recipes you find (pinterest comes into its own!!) and that’s about it. :)

          • not a wild hera

            At the risk of making assumptions, and also of being a bit cheeky, I think we’re after YOUR WHOLE SIX-WEEK MENU please and all the paperwork!

            I volunteer to write up the post if you send me the files…

            Is that what we want, folks?

      • Pippa Reply

        If you can’t get over the fear of pressure cookers, can thoroughly recommend a slow cooker!

        • not a wild hera Reply

          Yes, good recommendation, Pippa. We have one but I’m not in the swing of using it, as it isn’t really big enough for bulk cooking for us. Must rethink that though, and get back into using it for soaking beans etc, at least.

  2. Caroline Reply

    I was going to say “menu planning” too, although ours is only a 2-week cycle and we often deviate from it. Still, it’s nice to have a default option.

    Will have to think of another tip now!

  3. Frank Reply

    I so need these tips! I menu plan, but only a week at a time – would love to hear Jenny’s tips!
    I regularly cook up big lots of food and freeze them. We’re lucky to have inherited a chest freezer with our house, so I aim to fill it with grab and go meals.
    I have two tips that have made my life easier post baby. One is baby led weaning, no making purees or separate meals, Lachie just eats what we do. And if he doesn’t eat it, that’s okay, he’ll make up for it another time. Letting go of the whole “but he hasn’t eaten enough!” stress was awesome!
    Number two is to help deal with toy clutter.
    I rotate Lachie’s toys both in and out of the house. I got sick of tidying up his messes all the time, so he now only has access to a small number of toys at a time. The rest are hidden away and every week or couple of weeks, I take some of the stuff from the chest and swap it with the stuff in the cupboard. I do this with his books too, so he usually only has about 6 books on his little shelf at a time. Less mess, and he seems to be more engaged with what is out than before. Plus he doesn’t get bored with the toys as each week there’s a new set! I try to always have: a jigsaw puzzle, something blockish to build things with, something musical, something role play related (eg tea set, doll and bed etc), a pull or interactive toy (spinning top, hammering pegs etc) and a soft toy out. He also has books he can access, paper and crayons he can ask for and of course the mama climbing frame.
    Once he stops being interested in something, it goes in the shed for the future, or else if I hate it or if he wasn’t that into it, it goes to the Sallies. (this is the out of the house rotation…)
    I’ve also gotten good at saying to grandparents who have bought him something “he’ll really enjoy it when he comes over” or “he has a lot of toys at our house, why don’t you keep it at your place” or something along those lines.

    The great thing about this, as well as reducing the tripping hazards in the lounge, is that before bed we get him to put away his toys, we shut the cupboard door and hey presto! Lachie play area has converted into an oasis of adult calm.

    • Angela Reply

      Very interesting Frank. I was sure you’d have some good ideas! I hear often of the idea of rotating toys but have never felt we’ve had the need here, but you could almost persuade me….

    • not a wild hera Reply

      Thanks, Frank, you’ve really got me thinking about the toy rotation. We do it on a more macro scale – there’s a bunch of stuff in a wardrobe that we’ll swap in soon – but the year of travelling with only the toys we could carry actually made me less keen on minimalism.

      SBJ went through several months of being insatiably interested in everything he could see and explore, and we just didn’t have enough new things, and had to borrow and steal from the cousins!

      But I really like your thoughtful approach about the kinds of things you have out at once, and now that SBJ is a bit older, and more into actually playing with something rather than carrying it around and posting it places, I’ll give this some more thought.

      We have all his toys in baskets on a bookshelf so, like you, it’s quick and easy to tidy at the end of the day and feel like things are contained.

      We sort of fell into baby-led weaning because SBJ steadfastly refused purees and loved picking things up. Because I still breastfed a lot through the introduction of solids (and still do), I was pretty relaxed about the calories and nutrition from other food, and it has worked really well for us. Like in your family, we don’t cook different things, though there are a couple of dishes that now seem to go down better if they’re slightly pureed (nacho beans etc sometimes).

      I imagine this kind of approach wouldn’t work for, or would cause extra stress for some people, but it has been great for us. A nice spin-off is that he’s content to have fruit unpeeled, unstoned etc. Pulling off cherry stalks with his teeth before eating the fruit is a recent trick :)

  4. Angela Reply

    Thanks Thalia! I thought your tip was going to be: Buy a Victorinox knife!
    I do a lot of thinking about what isn’t working in our house and how to make it easier. Can I give more than one tip?
    We have baskets in the bathroom for each child, so that when they get undressed their clothes get put in the right basket, rather than scattered all over the bathroom stool (or floor!). It also means that if I can’t get to putting their clothes away that night, at least the next day they are in a contained space so can be easily found and also it keeps the bathroom looking tidy.
    I keep different sized pottles of sunscreen all over the place to help me remember to apply it – in the bathroom, in my room, in the car, and even a tiny, tiny pottle in my purse. I never have to worry about forgetting it!
    I have a pathetic inability to remember/take notice of what’s in various containers in my fridge. Usually it’s leftovers, half of something out of a tin or the odd thing I have prepared ahead for lunches. So now I hand write labels for them and it’s much easier to remember to use them the next day when the words jump out at me.
    Thanks for all your ideas, can’t wait to hear more.

    • not a wild hera Reply

      Great tips, Angela (and yes, more than one is excellent!)

      I find baskets great, too, for all sorts of things. Messy things look tidier in a basket. We have a ‘toy basket’ in the bedroom, which really means that anything I find on the floor or bed that is SBJ’s gets flung in the basket and suddenly the room looks tidy!

      I must follow your sunscreen lead. I do the same with blistex (lip ointment tubes) because I lose them so easily – so tiny!

      I really might try your sticker approach for the fridge. I’m the same with wasting leftover bits and pieces because I forget it’s there/what I meant to use it for.

    • Spaghetti Reply

      I like the basket idea too – I recently bought 2 ‘laundry’ metal buckets (red and black) so I can put my ‘normal’ wash clothes in one and my ‘delicates’ in the other, as I discard them during the week. Just a small thing, but now I can just pick up each bucket as I do each wash, no more sorting. Simple pleasures :)

  5. Lynne King Reply

    About 35 years ago I developed a routine for regular chores. Monday: clean the shower, loo and basins, water the pot plants. Tuesday: dust. Wednesday: vacuum, clean the loo. Thursday: grocery shopping. Friday: clean the loo. That way I never had to go into a panic thinking, I’ve got to vacuum this floor before it starts growing things. All these years later guess what? I still do the same routine, except for grocery shopping which has become a very random as-and-when affair, and loo cleaning needs less attention with one person not four!

  6. Spaghetti Reply

    Also, although I’m a (very) keen ironer, if you’re about to go to bed and realise you haven’t ironed those trousers/shirt – try this: firstly, hang the item up overnight, then, when you take a shower in the morning, hang the item up in the bathroom to “steam-iron” it (even better if it stays in while others shower too). It’s not quite as good as the real thing and works best on lighter fabrics, but it can save the day if you’re short of time :)

  7. Janet Dubac Reply

    Wow! This is so impressive and amazing! Very good read and I can really put these wonderful tips to good use. Anyway, very space efficient with the freezer, I love it. :)

  8. Ginnie Reply

    Immense amounts of like for this post! Micah comes home from shift ravenous so having individual servings of dahl in the freezer that he can reheat is so good and for him having lunches to take. I find making giant batches of cookies/biscuits/muffins work well too. Then when you have to take a plate to a function you’ve got something tasty, domestic godlike and cheaper than a quick trip to the supermarket to pull out. Also good for Micah’s lunches and Ginnies coffee dates. Borrowing a kenwood mixer or kitchen aid for the day greatly improves the pleasure of this!

    • not a wild hera Reply

      Good on you, domestic genius Ginnie (and welcome to the married state!)

      Great idea to borrow the mixer for a day of bulk baking. I should borrow a bigger pot for my next cookathon – why didn’t I think of that? Ah, it’s fab having a blog!

  9. Jody Kilpatrick Reply

    Two tips we are trying to get better at: meal planning and micro chores. Our meal plan is just for a week and we factor in one meal that is leftovers along with something quick and simple toward the end of the week that can be frozen if the leftovers are the bulk of the meal (eg dahl). We are trying to keep a list of chores broken down into 5-or-so min slots so that little bits of spare time don’t be need to be wasted thinking about what to do!

    I am also very strict on how many toys are in circulation!

    • Pippa Reply

      Micro-chores – what a brilliant idea. Not sure I would go as far as life changing! But house changing certainly – 3 weeks in now and it has made a huge difference. Thanks.

  10. andrew Reply

    thing that has raised our standard of eating while making htings easier (and reducing food thrown out to next to nothing) was a recipe database.
    my wife coded an access database with the recipes we like to cook, with the ingredients involved in making it. a five minute exercise to tick and flick the recipes we want to cook during the next fortnight, and a shopping list is generated with everything needed.

    a few photo albums in the kitchen with the recipes typed up and printed out and we’re home and hosed.

    reduces stress in wondering what to cook / do i have all the weird ingredients that are needed to make that thing.

    also prevents just cycling through a small number of easy recipes.

    with housework, my wife loves the “fly lady” system where you attack small areas of the house every day, and don’t feel overwhelmed by it all.

    • andrew Reply

      another massive thing that has been a good thing is an upright freezer.
      you can then freeze down all your meals if that’s the system you prefer, and still have enough room for ice cream, frozen stock, ice cubes (for whisky), and frozen veggies.

      • andrew Reply

        sing out if you want a copy. it might not be precisely what your husband was planning, but it might give some ideas to start with / modify to suit.
        Greta decided it was too complex to do in excel, but access (as clunky as it is) managed to be the right tool.

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  12. Lynne King Reply

    Definitely the advantage of doing bits of housework each day is to break it up into managable pieces and not be overwhelmed by it.

    When I was cooking for a family I never got into meal planning, I just couldn’t do it. I spent a lot of time staring at the meat counter in the supermarket looking for inspiration. It was common practice then to have meat with every main meal and that was the basis for what went with it. I always looked at the specials as I couldn’t afford expensive meat. We drifted into a habit of having mince on Thursdays. There are umpteen ways to cook mince, the family liked it and that was one less meal to think about. Saturday night we had a roast – showing my age now – and Sunday the cold meat from the roast. Friday was casual and sometimes takeaways so that only left three nights of the week to think of a meal from scratch.

    I always look at the supermarket specials. I’ve stopped junk mail but I can look them up on the internet. I buy all non-perishables that I use regularly when they’re on special and feel quite hard done by if I ever have to pay full price. This does require a bit of storage space. I buy frequently used meat like mince and chicken when it’s on special and freeze it, dividing it into meal sized portions first – just wriggle the mince apart with your fingers through the glad wrap until it’s barely touching.

    • andrew Reply

      i initially mis-read your last sentence as “I frequently buy used meat like mince….” which got me musing that was really taking budget shopping seriously. :-)

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