This week I’m doing something a little special here at Words to Eat By: an entire week of guest posts! I’ve invited some blogger friends, all parents, to write about their families’ experiences with food. Today’s post is from Christine Gross-Loh of Origami Mommy. Christine is the mother of four children under ten, god bless her, the youngest of whom is only eight months old. Her family is based in Japan, and her posts about crafts, food, and family are often inspired by her surroundings. Here Christine shares one of the ways she makes mothering a large family seems so easy: flexible recipes.
I have four children, including a little baby, so I have some pretty strict requirements for what we eat for dinner every day: it’s got to be good and healthy as well as super-fast! Over the years, I’ve honed some strategies for getting dinner on the table. Here are just a few:
- Try to cook early in the day so that at the end of the day, when everyone’s hungry, dinner is already ready or just needs to be assembled.
- Combine prep work (chopping vegetables, making sauces or marinades) for several meals at a time if possible.
- Enlist the help of the kids in age-appropriate ways – chopping, stirring, helping to set the table.
- Learn how to eyeball amounts to minimize the measuring you need to do. (Measuring slows me down! Though of course I do it when baking).
- Print out a running list of your favorite dishes, divided into categories (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, desserts, etc.). I swap out lists each season so we can take advantage of the growing season, and I add to it whenever I can in pencil if we’ve tried a good recipe I want to add to our permanent repertoire. Having a list like this on my refrigerator helps jog my memory when I need ideas. If you’re really organized, you’ll take this list and then create a rough daily menu a week or a month in advance. I do this on and off and there’s no doubt it saves time. (Although finding the time to do something that will save me time can sometimes be tricky!).
- Cultivate a few tried-and-true recipe formulas that you can turn to in a pinch. I memorize a few handy and versatile dishes which can become as simple or elaborate as I want, depending on what we have in the fridge. Because the basic formula is the same, I don’t have to think too much and yet I can make the end result taste fresh and new just by changing ingredients.
One of our basics in the summertime is a Korean-inspired Asian noodle salad. It’s fast, easy, refreshing, and children seem to love eating vegetables when they’re prepared this way. Use whatever salad ingredients you have on hand.
Asian-Inspired Noodle Salad
Noodles – We usually use soba or somen (thin Japanese white noodles) but egg noodles (ramen) or glass noodles (bean thread or cellophane noodles) or rice noodles work well too.
Vegetables such as leaf lettuce, carrots, cucumber, daikon radish, bean sprouts, scallions, cilantro, arugula – whatever you have on hand!
Cook noodles as directed, drain, rinse, and cool.
Make a dressing by mixing 2 tsp. soy sauce, 2 T rice vinegar, 1 T sesame oil, a pinch of sugar, and some black pepper. Double or triple amounts as needed. As I said above, I don’t really measure, so just mix and taste and adjust until it tastes right to you!
Arrange leaf lettuce in a bowl (or bowls), add noodles, top with the sliced vegetables, pour dressing on top, sprinkle with sesame seeds, and serve. Good add-ons are: slices of chicken, tofu chunks, srichacha or sweet chili sauce.
Variation: If you’re using southeast Asian noodles such as rice noodles or bean thread noodles, you can try dressing the salad in lime juice/fish sauce/sugar/chopped garlic and put thin slices of fresh basil in the salad, too.