Tuesday, January 19, 2010

In the Kitchen - Meals Ready to Eat

This week we have several nights where we have very little time for dinner. Two of the nights have only a 30 minute window between people getting home and having to leave again for some other activity. Having a good, homemade, sit down together dinner is something of a challenge on such days. Sounds like the perfect time for stew or some kind of crock-pot meal. Except half the people at our house wont eat most of those kind of meals. Some of that is because they are kids (we are working on it but that's not a battle one wants to engage in on a day when everyone is already stressed, rushed, and tired.) We also have some people with dietary constraints because of allergies or personal philosophies. Some days I feel like a short order cook at some crusty old diner. Trying to get four custom meals on the table at the same time, takes more than two hands and one small stove top. So on days like today we rely on MREs. (We used to call them Meals Refused by Ethiopia when I worked for Uncle's Airline.) Meals Ready to Eat are meals we have prepared in advance, frozen in family meal sizes with all the freezable bits together in one bag. We pull them out in the morning to thaw. Then when it's meal time it usually only takes 15 minutes in the oven or on the stove top to have things ready. (Sounds a bit like the traditional casserole in the freezer, or TV dinners, but ours are better.) For example, tonight we are having our version of sushi. It's not really sushi, but it works on the same idea. The rice was precooked so it will be fast to warm back up. The fillings are various pickled veggies from the pantry, sliced carrots and peppers (or what ever fresh crunchy things we have available), thinly sliced marinaded flank steak, and marinated sliced tofu. Everything was marinaded and cooked before it was frozen. All we have to do is quickly warm a few things, and put them out on the table. Everyone makes their own version using what ever bits they like. It's fast to put on the table, it's lots of fun to eat, everyone likes it because there are lots of different choices, and we eat well. If we get things out of the freezer in the morning then it only takes about 10 minutes to have everything on the table for a very nice dinner.

We usually have one "Big Cooking Day" each month where we spend the day cooking up large quantities of ingredients for our MREs. That one day of cooking and packaging makes it so we can have nice family dinners even on days we are really pushed for time.

How do you deal with dinner on you busy days?
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