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Take-Out Queen? Make-Ahead Mama? What Are Your Weeknight Dinner Tricks?

My first day back to work after maternity leave was a breeze, and even somewhat exciting. I got up early, fed the baby, made myself presentable (mascara! Clean clothes!) and kissed my little family goodbye for the day. I was welcomed back many times over, and sympathized with among other working parents. My desk was still neat from when I’d left it before Kaspar was born (thank you, nesting instinct), and my inbox was full to the point that it hadn’t even accepted new emails for five weeks, rendering everything in it so thoroughly irrelevant that I was able to delete, delete, delete to my heart’s content. Of course, by day two the reality started to set in; getting up early wasn’t quite as easy, and leaving my family was not easy at all. My inbox started filling up with emails that mattered, and my nesting instinct was obviously long departed as the piles of incoming work (I’m evidently still needed!) accumulated. I was prepared for this, though, and—now a week and a half in-- I think I’m adjusting pretty well to our new routine.

I did have an unexpected “ah hah” moment on that first day, however, upon arriving home. Aaron had spent the day with Kaspar (and we all know what that’s like); he was happy to hand the baby off for a few minutes, and I was happy to take him. Kaspar, for his part, gave me an enormous smile (this is me melting), and then returned to his half-finished bottle. When he was satisfied, I burped him and sat him in his bouncy seat so that I could get started on dinner. I’d planned ahead so that I wouldn’t get caught up short on ingredients and end up feeding us scrambled eggs.

My plan was to make a brown rice and vegetable salad with garbanzo beans. I thought that because it was a one-dish meal, and an improvised one at that, it would also be quick and easy to prepare. No dice. I’d gotten a little over-zealous at the farmer’s market, and between peeling and dicing the five or six different vegetables I’d purchased, preparing the rice, and—most notably—stopping to interact with Kaspar every few moments at his irresistible behest, it took me a full hour and a half to make dinner. By the time we finished eating, Kaspar was ravenous again. And by the time he was asleep in his crib, the dinner things cleaned up and my breasts pumped, it was coming up on midnight and we were both thoroughly spent. I realized that workday evenings are going to be different from here on out. Kaspar and I are going to want to get our quality time in, we’re all going to want a good meal, and that meal is going to need to come about efficiently.

Let me put it out there that Aaron is a great cook, and he does make dinner on a regular basis. He mastered, in his bachelorhood, the simple and solid dinner. I, however, have always cooked for sport; I read cookbooks in bed and take pleasure in assembling meals that make sense aesthetically, thematically, and so on. I can turn out a Sunday dinner like nobody’s business, but I have some Monday-ready meal plan learning to do.

So, I determined this past week to serve up five efficient, and delicious, weeknight meals. I dusted off the food processor, busted out the pressure cooker, and delivered on my promise with only one dud (a too-rushed coconut curry). My appreciation for salad greens and salmon has always been sound, and I have reaffirmed my faith in their bounty. I discovered, too, that a tricked-out frittata is just a hair shy of scrambled eggs (but no one has to know). And, after years of snobbery around the topic of rotisserie chickens, I must now divulge that I am a total convert. I am sold on the rotisserie chicken. God’s gift to hungry, harried parents. Point blank. But, all success in my weeklong endeavor aside, it’s come around to meal planning time again, and I realize I might repeat myself if I don’t get some new ideas (there’s only so much rotisserie chicken a family can eat in a week, after all).

That’s where you come in. What are your weeknight dinner secrets? Are you a take-out queen, a make-ahead mama? What are your fast favorites? We all have to eat. I want to know what you’re eating.