In our bid to survive the difficult pregnancy and then baby phase of raising triplets, we ate take-out ALOT. I already had to cook for my husband’s work meals (he works in an island off Singapore where there is no food available so making his work lunches became priority) and before the kids turned one, I also had to prepare for them sodium-free meals and all food preparing just made me hate cooking. So when there was no work lunch or kid-friendly meals to prepare, I would prefer to eat at restaurants or get my husband to bring home take-out. It really hurt our pockets because buying food has gotten really expensive in Singapore. But it was short-term. I told myself once the babies grew up and I had more time, I will return to cooking.
So when 2016 rolled around and I feel life has sort of settled into a predictable routine, I decided to return to home-cooking. I found it hard, however, to adjust to having to cook for 6 people, even though 4 of those people were still toddlers. I found myself off in all my grocery calculations. I was always short on ingredients and a portion that I would made intended to last 3 days, would only last 1.5. And on top of it all, I found it exhausting to prepare meals every day. So I came up with a plan.
First, I bought 4.5 litres slow cooker. I try to avoid stove-cooking as much as I can because it was exhausting to tend to the stove. I prefer making one-pot meals where I can throw everything in and let it cook in the oven or slow cooker. I already have an oven, so having a slow-cooker to complement the oven meant I can cook two meals at one go.
Second, I did mega-batch cooking. Like for example, I would cook a huge portion of beef stew (to go with rice, bread or mashed potatoes) in the slow cooker, and then another huge portion of casserole mac and cheese in the oven. The portions I made were easily meals for 3 days, and that included my husband’s meals. So I didn’t have to cook again until 3 days later. I tend to cook at night when everyone is sleeping so there is no kid whining for my attention. I usually researched ahead in advance one-pot meals that I could keep in the fridge for up to a week and when the time came to eat it, all it needed was just a reheat.
Other favourite quick meals that I can make in huge portions are seafood or vegetarian bee hoon, salmon topped with lemon butter sauce, mushroom brown rice, roasted chicken, vegetarian lasagna rolls, and seafood or vegetarian udon (sometimes soupy, sometimes stir-fried). I am also learning to cook more soups because they are so easy to freeze and reheat for a quick bite.
I also make bread once a week, but I usually make enough bread dough so I only need to knead the bread once. I freeze the extra bread dough and take them out to bake whenever the bread that is already out on the shelf has finished (bread goes really fast in our household).
Suffice to say we depend a lot on our fridge. We love it when there are leftovers because that means meals for another day! When we are invited for meals or birthday parties, and there is leftover food, we are always the first to say that we will take whatever leftovers there are. We are strangely unique in that sense because Singaporeans actually do not like to freeze or keep leftovers. They prefer all their meals made fresh. I actually picked up batch cooking and meal-freezing when I was a graduate student in USA, trying to stretch my budget. I lived with an American room-mate then and she opened my eyes to the world of leftover meals.
Sadly though, our current fridge is tiny which is why I can only make enough food to last three days. If we had a much bigger fridge and freezer, I would certainly cook enough to last at least an entire week. So I already told my husband we need a humongous fridge and oven for our new home. The goal is to completely reduce eating out to maybe once a week or once every two weeks. It will allow us to actually save more money in the long-run because the bulk of our expenditure actually goes to food. It will also improve our health because outside food has loads more sodium and MSG.
So if you have to cook for tons of people like I do, I recommend investing in an oven and a slow cooker. You don’t need a fancy oven or slow cooker. My oven, though small, is only $100 plus and my slow cooker, which is considered big, is just $80. I also advise building a repertoire of one-pot meals and studying up how to freeze food. The reason I say study is because not all foods can be frozen or kept long in the fridge, and for safety reasons, its good to learn how to safely keep leftovers so that no one ends up getting diarrhoea or salmonella unintentionally. Having a microwave also helps for food re-heating but you can always use your stove, oven or rice-cooker to re-heat, which is what we do.