Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Night Off

Reality: Moms are busy people. (Dads too.) Whether you are a stay at home parent, or a working parent matters not, life has a way of filling up with events that require your attention. Every parent has had that day full of productive errand running, successful playdates for the kids, school, dance class, whatever filled up your day. Maybe you yourself had a quiet day because *gasp* you were sick. No sick days allowed here! Walking into the kitchen knowing you need to get a meal on the table QUICKLY to prevent the overtired overhungry little people from coming completely unglued is not unheard of in the parenting world.

As a parent of a child with multiple allergies we do not have a "safe" fast food option. No drive-though solutions for us. No matter how long and exhausting my day has been, there will be cooking in it. No matter how much effort it takes to stand up there will be cooking involved. That is my reality. I know many of you share it.

Yes, I have had days when I walk into the kitchen, open the cabinets, then sit in the floor and cry. Why? Because I'm too tired, too sick, too (insert adjective here) to face cooking again. Breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, sometimes another snack. All day. Every day. Food. Some days I JUST WANT TO ORDER PIZZA. I want easy. I want a Night. Off. Cooking.

If you can relate to this, if you need a night off now and then, some relief from the never-ending parade of meal preparation... start planning now. Because yes, you can have a night off. You just can't decide to take the night off with no advance preparation. Spontaneity is a thing of the past.

I can almost see heads nodding in agreement. YES! I do get tired of cooking. Yes! I'd love a night off. Yes! How do I sign up?

Step one: Leftovers are not for lunch. Or at least not all the time.  I know! I love the ease of serving reruns too.  And I promise that you can still do that, just in moderation.  When you have taken the time to cook a meal that a) your allergic person loves, or b) takes more time than you usually have, freeze any leftovers.  This can mean the one serving that escaped being devoured, or the three servings left because snacks were served too late.

I like to use quart size zipper bags.  I put a single serving of sauces, soups, or entrees in each bag, and gently press it flat while using the contents of the bag to press all of the air out.  I'm left with a vacuum sealed individual portion that stacks wonderfully in the freezer.  Label it with the contents and date and lay it in there to wait for you.

The reason for freezing in individual portions? Two.  First, if you throw the bag into a lunchbox, it is defrosted in time to warm gently and enjoy at lunchtime (for the older crowd).  Second? If you run screaming into the kitchen at just after meltdown o'clock and need to put a meal on the table for your allergic person you simply cut the baggie open and dump the contents into a large skillet and it heats before Barney even sings his first song.  You can do the same with multiple portions.  Because you freeze them in such thin layers, they heat/defrost quickly.  You can serve just as much as you need.  One portion for the kiddo while you have cereal, or two portions to share because Daddy is working late. Whatever.  You are not committed to a family sized meal.

Sometimes I actually plan to cook extra, so I can have enough to freeze.  Isn't that a crazy idea?  Rather than gamble with the chance of leftovers I just double the recipe.  If I'm already cooking it, it really isn't much extra work to just cook more of it. (Although, some days the kids foil that plan by just eating more of it!)

That, my dear, is the easy way to get a night where you don't have too cook. Just heat and eat.

For those of you with fabulous family and friends, that you love and trust... you can teach them to cook a safe meal or two.  Give them the recipe, specify which brands you use for the ingredients.  Teach them about cross contamination.  Decide whether they should cook in your kitchen or their own.  It's a lot of up front work, training someone to meet your comfort level.

But then? You can call at lunchtime and let them know how very sick you are and ask if they could cover dinner for you.  Or plan in advance one night a month where they will cook for you just because.  (Don't forget to offer to do the same for them! All parents like to skip cooking sometimes.)

One more option for you.  Restaurant.  Ask your support network for ideas on where you could eat.  Which places are known for working well with allergic customers?  Check out or  for reviews from other allergic families.

And I think my next post will need to be tips on how to eat out successfully.  Because there are ways to increase your success and your comfort level when eating out.  After all, a night out of the kitchen doesn't count if it creates more stress than it saves.

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