Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Cooking Casebook: How to cook everyday for family

We have home-cooked food for most of our meals these days, and I've gotten used to cooking everyday for the family. However, I must admit that I am not a good cook, and after we got married the hubby did more of the cooking than I did! All I was able to manage previously was spaghetti bolognese and porridge, and it was only when the kids came along, was I "forced" to learn how to cook.

Fast-forward to today. The hubby says that I've grown to be a much better cook, and I'm still cooking almost every day even while heavily pregnant. Cooking has become even more a necessity in our home these days, since we have two kids with food allergies (you can read our tips for managing allergies here), and one really fussy eater who takes ages to eat if he doesn't like what is on his plate. Most of us in the family are sensitive to the MSG (monosodium glutamate) that is usually added to food that is cooked outside of the home, and we find that MSG-laden meals tend to affect the quality of the kids' sleep. We also have one kid who very much prefers Western food, while another loves his rice and soup. So being able to cook and plan for meals that suits everyone (including a toddler that is occasionally teething!) makes more sense compared to catering our meals, or eating out frequently.

We've had well-meaning friends and family who have encouraged us to cater our meals during this period of time, since cooking at a hot stove while sporting a big belly isn't a walk in the park. We did try catering our meals when I was pregnant with Lil J, such that I only needed to cook small portions of food for Junior J when he was a toddler. However, given that we need to feed three kids now, doing our own cooking just makes more sense, and really helps us to save too!

I've had friends ask for tips, so I thought I'd share what helps us to manage everyday cooking:

:: Plan your meals: 
If you want to cook every day, you must spend some time a week (or every fortnight/month) meal planning. This planning is CRUCIAL if you want to cook everyday. The time spent planning meals actually saves you time, since it means you can grocery shop once a week, and more or less get all the ingredients you need at one shot, instead of having to make four or five trips to the market or supermarket. (But sometimes we do a quick trip to the market mid-week if I want to get veggies that don't stay fresh for long in the fridge.) Meal-planning also helps you to save money, since you only buy what you need. I usually do my meal plan at the start of the weekend when I have more time to sit down to think, and I email the list to the hubby since he does the supermarket run (but I'm hoping to make the switch to Google Sheets in time to come). Meal-planning will take longer when you first start with it, but it does get faster and easier as you go along. There are even apps to help you in your menu planning!

:: Think SETS when planning meals:
There are four aspects that I consider when doing my weekly plan:

  • Schedule: I refer to our family schedule of activities when planning meals. I slot in quick and easy recipes for busy days, and more complicated meals on weekends when I have more time to cook. Planning this way also means I know when I need to start meal preparation, such that I remember to start crockpot dinners after lunch, and start defrosting food at suitable times. Some working mums do their meal-prep on Sundays, and actually cook portions of their meals, then freeze them to use across the week.
  • Expiry dates: I try to check the fridge and larder for food that I need to use up. This way, you reduce wastage.
  • Themes: This is what some recommend, to have a theme going through the weeks (eg. pork on Mondays, chicken on Tuesdays, OR crockpot meals on Thursdays, and oven-baked on Fridays, etc). We don't exactly follow this, but I try to vary the meals and ingredients used across the week. Having a theme might help, since there is a predictable rhythm, and meal planning would get easier as you get used to this standard cycling of recipes.
  • Simple:  Keep the meals as simple as possible, especially when you are first starting out. No five course dinners please! The best recipes are those that take less than 30 minutes of preparation. I tend to favour one-pot meals (less washing up) and crockpot meals (dump and cook).

:: Bookmark and try new recipes when you can:
To avoid getting myself into a rut and cooking the same ten dishes all the time, I try (very hard) to attempt a new recipe every week if I can manage. I usually bookmark interesting recipes that I spot being shared on FB, or I search for recipes of meals that I feel like eating (which gives me motivation to cook that meal!). I usually note down recipes that the family likes, and recipes that are simple and quick. These I bookmark and sort according to type, so that I can pull them out easily during my meal-planning process (we'll be sharing some of our favs soon in another post!).

:: Cook double, and freeze the extras:
I usually cook our dinners from scratch, and then I freeze the extra portions of soups/pasta sauces/meats for our lunches. Our mornings tend to be busier, so I need lunch prep to be fast. Usually I would just heat up a frozen portion of pasta sauce or soup, and then cook noodles/rice/pasta for lunch. This way, we get home-cooked food for lunch, at double-quick time! I also freeze small single portions for the toddler, for the times we are headed out to eat. (Click here for our list of freezer-friendly beef recipes!)

:: Organize the freezer:
We used to just shove all our meats into the freezer drawer, and all the packets were lumpy and oddly shaped. These days, I try to spend a little time packing all the meat packs so that they are as flat and uniform as possible (works very well with minced meat!), and this means I can store more, and reduces the frequency of our market runs (we usually prefer to buy our meat from the wet market compared to the supermarket, for various reasons). I also sort our meats so that I can easily identify them (they tend to all look the same after you've frozen them). 

Cooked food is stored in freezer-ware and labelled before it is stored, and the date (of cooking) is included. I occasionally clear the freezer of older batches of frozen food, so having the dates written is helpful!

:: Use the slow-cooker or crockpot:
Our crockpot has been such a life-saver these days, since it can be left to cook without you having to be around, and we can head out in the evenings and still have dinner on the table after we get back. These days, I've been using it frequently to cook pasta sauces, meats and soups.

:: Outsource if needed, and get your groceries delivered:
We usually do a weekly grocery run. Sometimes though, we find it easier to get our produce delivered instead, such as if everyone is sick or it is hard to head out (like during that period with the haze). So far, we've ordered meats, vegetables and fruit from PurelyFresh, and we've been quite impressed with their service (though of course, shopping online would be a tad more expensive compared to shopping at the wet market). Some friends we know order their fruits from Lazyfruits and their fish from Song Fish. Others have tried shopping online at RedMart or Honest Bee (we've yet to try the former, and the latter seems to have issues with delivery when they run their promotions, so we never got to make our orders). Finally, many of our local supermarkets also provide online shopping, such as NTUC, Giant, Cold Storage and Sheng Siong, and you can get a list of other alternatives here

I must say that initially, I found it hard to cook everyday. However, it got easier with practice, and these days we get to eat a whole range of meals in the comfort of our home, from steaming hot pho to sizzling steaks. If you are just starting out, know that you would need time to get the hang of it, but it is possible, and you don't need a helper to be able to cook everyday. It is worth the effort since you know that your family is eating well, and you are actually saving money along the way! 

PS: To read more about our adventures in the kitchen, as well as some of the recipes that work for us, click here


  1. Jus, you are so amazing to be able to cook everyday! I found it challenging before I gave birth to no.3 and even more now that he is out. Haha. Was trying to make dinner just now and he kept crying and I was trying to see if I could bf and peel carrots at the same time since time was running out. Tough indeed! I am not half as organised as you and somehow I still like to bring the kids out for grocery shopping and take a walk in the supermarket. Our meals are always planned last minute too. I've much to learn from you! Thanks for all the pointers and for being an inspiring mum! :)

    1. Summer: Oh hugs, it's not easy cooking when you have a newborn, plus two other kids! You are amazing to be able to handle the groceries with the kids in tow, hang in there and it will get better!

  2. Great tips, mama J! We just shocked ourselves with the amount of money we've been spending on eating out these few months when I recently did a financial review for our household budget so we're trying to cook and eat at home more often. I'm terrible with cooking so I'm starting with soups, porridge and noodles. Really tempted to get a slow-cooker!



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