During these last several weeks of isolation with my family, I feel like I’ve traded in my chauffeurs’ cap for a chef’s hat. My kitchen, which used to be my sanctuary for meal preparation, has taken on the feel of a 24-hour diner. It seems like the sink is breeding its own dirty dishes, and someone is always passing through to check out what’s in the fridge – and it’s not always my girls or my husband.
To combat this craziness, we’ve been making family dinners together a nightly priority. Great, in theory, but getting a little stale with my same-old, same-old standby recipes. It doesn’t help that cooking during quarantine requires more advanced meal planning than ever before; I’ve replaced those quick trips to the grocery store for big online shopping orders, which hasn’t always gone according to plan. And my apologies to local restaurants, but we’re just not huge fans of takeout dinners. (I did buy some gift cards, though. Gotta support small businesses!)
To shake things up, we decided to plan our own Restaurant Week here at home. We took a poll and agreed on several of our favorite restaurants – Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Chili’s, Panera, etc. Then we hit up Pinterest and found copycat recipes of our favorite entrees. The girls and I had a blast watching how-to videos on making many of our beloved dishes. It was the most fun I’ve had cooking during quarantine! The biggest hits of the week were shrimp scampi, Zuppa Toscana and homemade Wisconsin Mac ‘N’ Cheese, inspired by Noodles & Co. (For this recipe, I would cut the sauce in half or double the noodles, FYI.)
A few tips? Check the ingredients before shopping or placing your grocery order to 1) make sure you have everything and 2) consider the nutritious aspect of your meals. We wound up with a lot of white pasta, heavy cream, and Parmesan cheese dishes – not that I’m complaining! If I had to do Restaurant Week again, I would add in more salads and reserve one night for leftovers. Also give yourself plenty of prep time, especially if you are experimenting with one or more new recipes each night.
Some other things I’ve learned while cooking during quarantine:
- This is a great time to clear out your fridge, freezer, and pantry. Pitch expired (or unidentifiable) food items, and get creative with what surprises you might find.
- Letting kids help in the kitchen truly is a life skill. Want to throw in a math lesson? Let them bake cookies but only use small measuring cups and spoons to practice their fractions.
- Stuck for meal ideas? Do a dinner of just appetizers, or challenge your family to a “design your own grilled cheese sandwich” competition.
- Breakfast is a solid go-to any time of day or night. We regularly have cereal for a snack, and scrambled eggs with diced veggies and potatoes makes a quick lunch or dinner. Shake it up by topping with salsa and throwing on a tortilla for a breakfast burrito.
- Speaking of salsa, you can spice up your standard meal plan by expanding your boundaries, whether that means going Thai, Greek, Indian, or some other ethnicity altogether. Take a night and make your own sushi. My kids loved it.
- Find a tablecloth, candles, and your fancy dishes for a restaurant experience at home. Or spread a picnic blanket on your back deck and eat sandwiches in the sunshine.
What are your suggestions for cooking during quarantine? Let us know in the comments!