A Guest Post from the real talent behind A Reluctant Foodie - my wife
I'm often accosted with the phrase, "Where do you find the time to cook? I could never do what you do!"
Well, frankly, bullshit. Pardon my bluntness. With a little foresight, planning and help from the diners, you too can have an interesting and exciting meal, at least once a week. Here's how my system works: planning for Meatless Monday starts the week before, when we're eating the current MM. We discuss flavors we like, things we haven't had in awhile, new things we'd like to try, and what needs to get used in the pantry. Your food becomes very personal when you have a conversation and consider.
Then the implementation of ideas begins. Recipes are looked for, remarked upon, perused and discarded. It can be as simple as a 'search' for 'tamarind' on the epicurious.com site or opening one of the cookbooks and looking at the vegetable and/or pasta/side dish offerings. It really shouldn't take more than a half an hour or so to narrow down what you'd like to make, and you could spread that out to ten or fifteen minutes here and there, when you have a moment. You must eat, why not make it as fun and tasty as possible?
During the week or weekend proceeding MM, get your necessary shopping list together. Find a cool new ethnic store -- walk around. Go on a Saturday and try the kimchi that's being forced on you by a Korean grandma, so pushy but so adorable you can't say no. Not close to a asian/indian/hispanic supermarket? Go online! There are a ton of options out there, all ready, willing and able to sell you something delicious. Heck, your local supermarket probably has what you need, and most of them now deliver. (Thank you Peapod!)
"I can't cook" IS NOT an excuse. Can you read? I betcha you can if you're here. Pick up a simple cookbook, read, follow directions. One of my favorite food websites, Chow.com, has a list of ten cookbooks for newbies, buy one. Read, gather ingredients, follow instructions. You can cook, don't make me call you out. "I choose not to cook" is much more accurate if you're a Can't Cook Person, and I'll buy that.
Please don't forget, Meatless Monday suppers can be as simple as grilled cheese and tomato soup. Who doesn't love that? You can always add some spinach to your grilled cheese, or sauteed broccoli rabe, a couple of pieces of sundried or fresh tomato, basil, chutney, use a new cheese, piggyback multiple cheeses, you get the idea. Make your tomato soup from scratch, or add herbes de Provence to your can o'soup, use milk instead of water, a little Worcestershire sauce and garlic powder, spring onions and queso fresco, wild rice from an instant bag-o-rice and a little tofu. Too out there? I went over the line with the tofu? It's a perfect pairing with the tomato, trust me ;) You'll hardly know it's there.
As for getting the diners involved, ask your kids to come up with some ideas. Get them in the kitchen, put them in front of a food website, ask them what they'd like to try. Make them wash their hands and get in the kitchen with you -- give them a knife, that usually works! A butter knife and some green beans for tykes 3+. I believe any kid over the age of 5 or 6 should have had supervised experiences with paring knives, but I come from a foodie family and may be slightly biased toward knowing how to feed yourself and others well. My favorite Chef Cousin had a knife in his hands at 3. His father freaked out. His mother supervised and Nick learned. No more father freak out, Nick is training to be a Chef. I'd like to think my cooking with him strapped to my back when he was a wee young Buddha may have had something to do with it - don't burst my bubble.
So you have a plan, you've gone shopping, you've made your meal and eaten well. Clean up is the bane of most cooks, and I'm no exception. I do try (after many years of being harangued, pleaded with and cajoled) to clean as I go. But there's a rule in our house --- He Who Doesn't Cook, Cleans. Team effort and all. So train your support staff accordingly, or become the cleaner yourself and hand over the reins to the Cook in your family.
If you have a plan and a team on board, you are on your way. Meatless Monday shouldn't be difficult or time consuming, unless you want it to be. Of course, you can always go out! We're always open to hosting a couple of new cleaners, ummmm, I mean diners, at our home on Monday nights.