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April 03, 2017


Laura DiSilverio

I am totally with you on this, Hank! I realized several years ago that the most frequent stressor in my life was cooking dinner. If I had the decision made early (or the day before) and had the ingredients on hand, my whole day was less stressful. Did that lead me to doing something smart like planning my menus and shopping a week in advance. No. Adding two kids to the mix doesn't make the task any easier. I've already warned Tom that our eating habits are going to change as soon as both girls are gone this fall. :-)

Karen in Ohio

Hank, I hear you. Steve is gearing down for retirement, and I said, what about me? When do I get to retire? Being responsible for the contents of someone else's stomach(s) gets really old after 35+ years.

Here are some of my go-to "desperation dinners":

Omelets. Steak salad (or salmon salad), with leftover meat from the previous night. Last night I made chicken salad to serve on a green salad. Instead of mayo I used mashed avocado, and added thin-sliced scallions and raisins, along with curry powder. Are you seeing a trend here? When I don't want to actually cook something it gets served cold as a salad. I usually make enough that we get more than one meal out of a dinner, because I'm so weary of this nightly process.

The other thing I do is make soup, planning for it to get eaten over the course of a few days. It gets frozen into two-serving portions for later.

Other than that, I've got nothin'. I'll watch to see what others say!

Hank Phillippi Ryan

If freeze into two portion servings, too, Karen! And whoa, we are BIG on steak and salad. Or salmon and salad.

Once I was in a store and said to myself--oh NO, they are out of baby arugula. And then I burst out laughing at my first world problem.

oh, and stir fry with whatever is left over.

Hank Phillippi Ryan

I freeze, was what that was supposed to say..

And Laura, you are so right. It is so reassuring to know that I'm all set for dinner. Jonathan has always said he would cook as much as I wanted, but somehow that doesn't work. We had a deal for many years the he handled Thursdays, whatever he wanted to do, and that was terrific. I said to him--don;t even ask me. Just present it. Wow. I loved it. Even though there was a lot of pizza.

Kate Gallison

Harold has taken up cooking as a hobby. New Orleans cooking mostly. It's swell if you really like shrimp. Tonight I'm making black beans and yellow rice, though. A can of black beans partially drained mixed with the juice of a lime or two and some chili powder and cumin, heated while the (commercial) yellow rice cooks. Stir chopped cilantro into the beans and serve over the rice garnished with sour cream, chopped cilantro, and chopped scallions. Serves two. Yum!

Hank Phillippi Ryan

Really, Kate? I never would have thought of that..hmmm. (Could I add shrimp??)

And could Harold come to our house? (You're invited, too...)

Liz Milliron

Hank, I'm with you. I often tell people I don't want a chef, I want a meal planner. Someone to come up with the ideas and do the shopping. The making of the food I can handle. And it does not help when I ask, "So what do you want for dinner?" and I get either blank stares or "Food" as the answer. ("What kind of food?" "Good food." Argghhh!)


Being a bachelor, I usually grab take out or nuke a TV dinner. I'm too tired by the time I get home from work, and would rather be reading, working on reviews, or watching TV. There just isn't time to cook, especially for one, since it's the same amount of prep and clean up time no matter how many you are cooking for.

Yes, I'm lazy, but it works for me. At least so far.

Cathy M

I'm sitting here laughing at all the comments, because everything sounds just like what goes on at our house, including the response that Liz gets to her question about dinner. And I made it more difficult when I became vegetarian 26 years ago. My husband still eats chicken and fish, so I make that for him sometimes. Otherwise, he gets his meat portions at work at lunch.

Pasta is my default meal and I make marinara sauce in quantity and freeze it. I do the same for vegetarian chili in the crock pot. And summer meals of bread, various cheeses and fruit salad are easy. Vegetarian tacos and taco salad, made with Boca crumbles instead of meat add some variety.

Baked potatoes (white and sweet) are favorites with salads. And we're both fond of Waldorf salad along with either quiche or a frittata. And for an easy vegetable, I roast white potatoes and carrots that have been sliced into wedges and tossed with olive oil. And in the fall I like to make an oven baked dish of acorn squash, Fuji apples, walnuts with some butter and brown sugar.

And if you're looking for an easy way to do rice, I've found the steam in a bag brown rice to be a great time saver and try to keep a few bags in the freezer. That way you can increase the nutrition of stir fry without the time needed for long cooking of brown rice.

One last suggestion if you're looking for a new way to do sweet potatoes, there is a recipe in the old Joy of Cooking for sweet potatoes with orange juice that is like getting dessert instead of a veggie. That's always on our Thanksgiving menu.

(Wow. This was long.)

Hank Phillippi Ryan

I agree, Liz! Just TELL me. I can cook, I just can't think. xo

Hank Phillippi Ryan

Mark, I have to say...that sounds great. Jonathan wouldn't mind TV dinners, I'm sure...come to think of it, he might love them. Lemme check. Thank you! (They were such a treat as a kid, even the gluey mashed potatoes. When I was single, I will admit to you, I pretty much lived on diet vegetarian lasagne. And baked potatoes with broccoli.

Hank Phillippi Ryan

Cathy M, this is ALL great info! Thank you! And I agree on the brown rice.Great solution. I have been known to walk to the Chinese food place in the town center and just ordering take-out brown rice to avoid the pain of making it.

TAcos, tacos! I am making tacos!! xoo

Jayna Monroe

You really don't have to give up delicious spaghetti and red sauce dinners. Whole grain pasta isn't that bad for you. But if you must be pasta-free, use spaghetti squash instead. It tastes wonderful with a good red sauce to which you can add other vegetables like mushrooms and peppers and a small amount of lean ground beef. And parmesan, of course.

Storyteller Mary

Reservations? Delivery? I tend to make enough for several meals when I do cook. Or here's a wild idea -- alternate the responsibility. It makes everyone appreciate the meal more.

Pat Marinelli

Oh Hank, I hear you. Honestly it just gets worse are you get older. I’ve been cooking meals for us for almost 50 years. Kids have been out of the house for the better part of 20 years. We try to be low salt and I’m diabetic so we try to watch the pasta also. Hubby won’t eat steak, lamb or seafood other than salmon and cod. I’m allergic to shellfish and garlic lately. So what do I cook?

I make caprese salad, bruschetta with avocado or ricotta and veggies, and salad. I use a lot of fresh herbs in summer and freeze or dry them for winter. I make a wicked soup with meat or chicken and without. I freeze tomato sauce, soups, any cooked meat meal. If I make a whole chicken, I get the largest one possible and make meals of chicken and gravy to be served later with rice or potatoes and a green vegetable. When I make meatballs for sauce, I make large ones and tiny (both chicken and beef) ones. The tiny ones go in my wedding soup. I bake four or more sweet potatoes and mash and freeze the leftovers. Like you I keep peas in the fridge, also spinach (for tomato Florentine soup or tortellini and spinach soup), green beans, leeks. After my St. Patrick’s Day corned beef and cabbage, I make corned beef hash (for breakfast or dinner) and cabbage and noodles for other meals. If you don’t want to make noodles, spiralized zucchini or spaghetti squash will work.

I make a menu on the back of my grocery list for the meals I’ll make from that shopping trip. We have our groceries delivered because neither of us can’t navigate the grocery store anymore. I also make a list of what I have to make with that food order, i.e. meatballs, zucchini pancakes, hamburgers. All these items are to fill the freezer. This hardly takes times and I write it down when I keep a running grocery list.

Sorry this is so long, but I hope I helped you.

Laurie Sterbens

I use plantoeat.com. You put all your recipes in (it will automatically import from websites) and just drag the recipes over to the day of the week and it automatically makes a shopping list that you can get on your phone. When I come home I already know what's for dinner and have the ingredients. Having all the recipes there where I can see them helps me to not make the same things every week. Okay some things I make every week because tween in house, but I do try to change it up. I also put the meals on a dry erase calendar in the kitchen. I may be a little neurotic about the dinner planning.

Valerie Francescato Jackson

About 4 years ago, my husband and I moved my parents out to CA to live with us. Yes, we're crazy. Now we cook for them 5 or 6 nights a week. I use an app that sounds similar to Laurie's, called Paprika. I LOVE it! I can plan my menus a week ahead, export everything to a shopping list that sorts ingredients by aisle, and it syncs with my phone. I take that to the store on Sunday morning, and I'm all set for the week. Many times, my husband will ask me what's for dinner tonight, and I have no idea. All I have to do is look at my app, and it tells me! It has really been a lifesaver. And no, I don't have stock in the company but maybe I should...

One other thing I do for inspiration is to watch cooking shows. I don't always make the exact thing, but it gives me great ideas.

Lisa Rice Wheeler

The truth is, most nights, I just don't feel like cooking. Now that Mike is retired, he helps more with cooking, but only if I've already planned dinner.

Some things we do:
Stirfry using whatever's in the crisper. And tamari sauce and, if you have some, whatever fresh herb is on hand.
Anything you can roll into a tortilla (your choice of plain, wheat, spinach or tomato tortilla). Throw in celery for crunch, cilantro, plain yogurt or sour cream.
Breakfast for dinner never fails.
Grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup.
Crusty bread, cheeses, olives, hummus (and wine).
Roasted veggies, any combination, with olive oil, garlic, favorite spices (New favorite: carrots cut up and tossed in olive oil and Chinese Five Spice).
When I brown ground beef, I brown a lot of it, add onions, garlic, whatever else I want (for example: red or green peppers). Then I package this in freezer bags, freeze them on a cookie sheet (flat), and file them in the freezer. When I'm ready to make spaghetti sauce or chili or other recipe using ground beef, I'm almost done when I start. You can cook the beef from frozen if you start with low heat and a lid.
Cook a whole chicken (roast or poach). Have some the first night. Take what's left apart and store in 2-to-4-serving sizes in freezer bags. Use for chicken salad, stir fry, or pour jarred Indian sauces or barbecue sauce over some of it for a fast main dish.
Make a huge batch of meatballs. Freeze them on a cookie sheet and transfer frozen meatballs to a freezer bag. That way, they're not stuck together. Use by themselves or in sauce.
Cook a pound or two of shrimp, clean it, and put it in the refrigerator. Now you have a high-protein snack, shrimp for a salad, or shrimp for a stir-fy. Or to add to a tortilla.

My go-to weeknight cookbook is by Leanne Ely: Saving Dinner the Low-Carb Way. She offers menus, easy-to-follow recipes, and a grocery list for each week.

Hank Phillippi Ryan

Oh, Jayna, I tried spaghetti squash, and I really thought it was going to be fabulous. But I kept expecting it to taste like spaghetti! SO funny. Maybe I'll try again. (Plus, it's so amazing that it works, you know? How can a vegetable do that?) I didn't jazz it up as beautifully as you did..maybe I'll try it a la Jayna!

And I am very hot of those spiralized zucchini and summer squash and sweet potatoes. So pretty and fun!

Hank Phillippi Ryan

Mary, yeah. ANd Jonathan is great about it. Sometimes, between us, it's more trouble than it's worth. As I said ,we used to do Jonathan-Thursdays, but somehow that faded away.

Hank Phillippi Ryan

Pat, you are a treasure trove! Frozen mashed sweet potatoes--you can do that? And chicken meatballs? Hmmm...that sounds great. Can I make them without breadcrumbs?

I am going to print all of this out...thank you!

Hank Phillippi Ryan

Laurie, wow. I am going to check that out instantly. It would be such fun even to play with it. And you don't sound one bit neurotic--you sound organized! Applause applause!

Hank Phillippi Ryan

Valerie--I can see what I need to do this weekend--check on these apps! (Or maybe come to your house.I mean--what's two more people, right?)

Cooking shows, yes. I agree they are inspirational. They are good for showing why things work, and unexpected combinations.

Hank Phillippi Ryan

Lisa: come to my house RIGHT NOW. I have never thought of doing that with ground beef. GENIUS.

Roll it in a tortilla! Love it. Or in a big lettuce leaf, right? Not as delicious, but less carby.

You are all amazing! ANd I am so happy I am not the only one who wonders about dinner.

Hank Phillippi Ryan

And now, sitting at my desk at Channel 7, I am STARVING. xooo

Pat Marinelli

Yes, Hank, you can do the chicken meatballs without bread crumbs. I bake them. As to the sweet potatoes. I just mash them and put them in a freezer bag. I use snack size and then put a few bags into a larger freezer back to protect them. I also freeze pesto the same way, and sloppy Joes.

Ellie Enos

My brother invented his famous 3 day chicken as a solution to your dilemma. He roasted a good sized chicken for day one. They would have it with baked potatoes and a vegetable or salad.
On day two the leftover chicken became Chicken Ortega Casserole; layered leftover rice, diced Ortega green chilies, diced tomatoes cheese, etc.
On day three the leftover casserole is transformed into Pueblo Chicken Salad. The cold casserole is broken up in a bowl and blended with fresh tomatoes, diced marinated artichoke hearts, etc. He uses mayonnaise, salt, and pepper, but you could find a lower calorie dressing. Refrigerate for a least an hour to let the flavors mingle.
These days, he may pick up a rotisserie chicken or El Pollo Loco and jump straight to day two.

Hank Phillippi Ryan

Pat, thank you! I will definitely try that! (Do you have a meatball recipe? I'm sure I can find one..)

Ellie! Standing ovation! Brilliant brilliant brilliant. Oh, my gosh, breaking up the casserole. I am in AWE.

And starving.

Whoa. Love it.

catriona mcpherson

I live by leftovers. In a two-person family a big enough chicken roasted on Sunday can keep us afloat for days. And I agree with you on the wonder of cauliflower in place of starchy carbs!

Hank Phillippi Ryan

Yup, roast chicken is the meal that keeps on giving..xoxo

Karen Salemi

My secret is that I married a man who enjoys cooking. My mother asked me how I was so lucky and I told her it was not luck, but a requirement. I calculated all the meals I would have to provide and decided I was not doing that. Even when my kids were little and my husband travelled a lot, I'd cook enough for a few nights and we'd eat that meal until it was gone. Horrifying to many people, but I personally believe that we are not wired to have something different at every single meal. I think that's an artificial construct encouraged by the food industry, especially the breakfast food industry. But don't get me started on all my food theories. My favorite meals don't involve cooking at all--cheese, bread or crackers, and fruit, or salads. Also, my best advice if you don't want to cook is to simply not do it. That's worked for me.

Hank Phillippi Ryan

Just one of the many reasons I love you, Karen!

Rhys Bowen

This really touched a nerve Hank. I don't mind the actual cooking. It's the planning, thinking up the meal, shopping for ingredients that I don't like. When John says "what had you in mind for dinner tonight?" I now reply, "no ideas. Brain dead. You think of something!" And if I say "you cook" we usually go out!

Hank Phillippi Ryan

SO funny--because you think: why do >I< have to think of it? Just TELL me what you'd like, and I will HAPPILY make it.

Karen Salemi

You could say you're happy to cook but only if your husband chooses the meal. After a few nights of fending for himself or being served cereal, he might offer up some suggestions. With apologies to Jonathan, who is a wonderful man, and I'm sure he's happy to eat anything you cook.

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