How to Plan and Cook Family Meals When You’re in Lockdown

“On YouTube, it’s longer tutorials, or if you want a more complicated dish,” said Aronson over the phone. “TikTok is something short and quick that you can learn quickly.” Aronson cooks a lot of fresh meat and vegetables, but her dishes aren’t complicated and she doesn’t always start all the way from scratch.

For example, one of her more popular TikToks shows a quick way to dress up instant ramen. “Stir-fry with some tomatoes and ground pork, add some garlic,” she explained. “It’s kind of like a tomato meat sauce, then you boil the ramen and put the sauce on the noodles. You can use some of the package as seasoning and it tastes pretty good. And it’s pretty quick.”

Instant ramen is a building block for a fast meal. Mountford also suggested prepping other building blocks before dinner time. For example, if you really like tacos, you can start pre-making batches of pickled onions to keep in the fridge. If you like pizza, you can pre-make tomato sauce and pesto and keep batches in the freezer.

“It limits the amount of time you work every night,” Mountford explained. “If you’re used to eating at a more interesting level, just make basic ways to finish off the meal more quickly.”

You’ll have to figure out what quick starters and shortcuts your own family likes through trial and error. For example, my 5-year-old has started premaking batches of cinnamon sugar to sprinkle on toast, and “pink sauce”, a mayonnaise and ketchup concoction that goes on fries and pizza.

Another, slightly more sophisticated starter that has become a favorite in our house during quarantine is Omsom’s lemongrass BBQ. Developed in collaboration with chef Jimmy Ly of New York City’s acclaimed restaurant Madame Vo, the starter is a marinade for sliced pork shoulder, tofu, or shrimp. After I fry it, all ll I have to do is boil water for rice noodles and shred some mint.

Write It All Down

When you have to gear up for the grocery store like you’re heading into WWII-era trenches, it can be a source of anxiety. There’s always grocery delivery. Mealime and Ends & Stems will both send a list directly to a grocery shopping app.

But if you shop in person, Mountford’s first tip for streamlining grocery shopping is to keep your grocery list somewhere where you can access it the minute you run out of something. She uses a simple pen and paper. After several grocery-store related meltdowns, I upgraded my simple fridge whiteboard to a McSquares weekly planner, so I can plot out meals next to their ingredient list.

“It’s important to have a list out that you’re constantly adding to,” said Mountford. “The moment you think, ‘I have to go to the grocery store, what should I buy?’, You’re going to forget things. Or you’re going to fill the list up with things that sound nice but you don’t have a plan around.”

Apps like AnyList will allow multiple users to contribute to grocery lists. You can also share a Google Doc with your partner or roommates. However, I personally find the tiny hurdle of having to find my phone to be too much of an obstacle to keeping any online grocery list up to date.

If you do like to keep a list online, Mountford suggests using a spreadsheet to upgrade your grocery game, personal-chef-style. Organize each of your groceries by section—dairy, meat, vegetable—to whip in and out of there as fast as possible. It’s more efficient, and it’s also helpful to limit your possible exposure to Covid-19.

Make It Fun

This is much easier to do if you have children in your house. But since Mountford, Aronson, and I all have young kids at home with us, I thought I’d mention it. When I asked her for sources of inspiration, Mountford joked, “You should look around at who lives with you.”

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