Like any friend would, I wanted to help. But I’m not an attorney so I couldn’t help her out in her law practice, and I’m not an event planner, so I couldn’t help with the bar mitzvah preparation. We live across a large metro area from each other, so I couldn’t realistically even help her out with shuttling kids around.
The only thing I could think to do for her was to take some of her family’s meal preparation off of her hands. So I offered to make her a week of meals and hand them off to her. Naturally she demurred, not wanting to inconvenience me, but I insisted. Heck, I can whip off a meal faster than a blog post. And I’ve gotten pretty fast at doing that!
So I flipped through the electronic pages of one of my touchscreen cookbooks--the one for busy moms--and I found 3 easy recipes that would be easy to double. Usually I suggest that busy people make nested or ensemble meals. That means making a second, third, or even fourth meal from one base meal. That way new flavors are introduced to keep from boring eaters’ taste buds. And lots of times I switch cuisines so that a meal that started out Italian may reincarnate as Asian inspired later in the week, and then again maybe as Mexican.
But Lori was in such a pinch that I didn’t think she had even the 10-20 minutes it may take to play around with leftovers. So I decided to just double three old favorites:
· Baked Rigatoni With Meatballs with a Caesar Salad and Ciabatta Bread
· Rosemary Chicken With Mushrooms, Brown Rice, and French Beans
· Sweet ‘N Spicy Chili with Cheddar Cheese and Ciabatta Bread
I planned to pack them up in covered foil pans with instructions to spoon servings onto plates and reheat in the microwave.
And then I got curious. Could I make an entire week of healthy and well-balanced dinners for a family of four for under $100, I wondered? (I figured there’d be more than six nights’ worth of food, and Lori confirmed that assumption, so I decided to just call it seven.) And if I could do that, how long would it really take me to make the food?
I carved out three consecutive hours in my Saturday schedule. Then I bought Lori’s groceries. The total bill was $ 84.49. A huge Caesar salad and two loaves of bread from Costco would add $14.00 to the tab, making a total cost of $98.49. Dividing that total by 7 showed that each night’s dinner cost $14.07, or $3.42 per person, per meal. Yes! Mark the first goal as achieved. Next I got to work on making the food. I set the stopwatch feature on my phone and timed myself cooking at a normal pace.
The chili takes the longest because it’s got the most ingredients in it, but mostly because it takes 2 full hours to cook on the stovetop. Once I had all of the ingredients in the pot, though, all I had to do was stir it occasionally. The Rigatoni also had to bake in the oven once assembled, so I made that next. Rosemary Chicken takes 20 minutes. The French Beans took 10 minutes more. I finished all 3 double meals in 2 hours and 43 minutes.
That means the family cook, whether it’s Mom, Dad, Grandma, or an adult or teen child could spend about 3 hours on a Saturday cooking meals for the entire week. Dividing the 163 minutes it took me to cook by 7 meals shows that each meal took an average of 23 minutes and 28 seconds to cook. Not bad for seven balanced, healthy, and delicious dinners.
Time and cost aside, it would be nice to know if the Duff family liked the food as much as I seem to like boasting about it. So I decided to ask them to find out. Here’s what Lori had to say:
“The truth is, I was so busy that if Colleen had dumped a few cans of Spaghetti-O’s in a pot for me it would have been helpful and welcomed. As it was, my family – even the picky eater – loved what we got. I liked the chili a lot – very different and unexpected flavors and textures stewed together in a big pot of yummy. My son loved the rosemary chicken. My daughter picked out everyone’s meatballs from the rigatoni and popped them in her mouth. My husband threatened to leave me and chase Colleen to the ends of the Earth. When I told him I had her cookbook on my phone, he quit packing.”
All in all, I’d say they liked the meals.
If you’d like to feed your family and realize the same kind of time and money savings, check out my YouTube channel and pick up one of my touchscreen cookbooks. Then figure out how to spend your savings!