Editors' Picks

Feeding a New Family

April 18, 2012

Pea Shoot and Baby Arugula Salad

After our first child arrived in January, I was determined to make sure our family dinners didn’t devolve into a relentless parade of Chinese takeout and pizza. Several weeks before Clara was born, we had bought a small chest freezer, and I spent all of my free time in the kitchen so that I could fill it with lasagna, shepherd’s pie, brisket, and various soups and pasta sauces. I hoped having a stockpile of homemade meals would keep us from falling into the all-too-tempting takeout trap. (See here for more on my freezer adventures.)

Three months in, we still have a lot of freezer meals stored up (yes, we ended up ordering pizza more than once in those early days), and I've resolved to make the most of them now that Jonathan and I are both back at work full time. This of course involves planning, something I have historically embraced in most areas of my life -- with the notable exception of weeknight dinners.

Shop the Story

I’m now much more strategic about my food shopping. I used to make decisions on the fly about what to make for dinner, leisurely popping into a hodgepodge of gourmet shops on the way home from work, and sometimes getting a meal on the table as late as 10pm. These days I try to map out our meals for the week in advance, taking stock of what’s in the fridge and freezer and placing a regular order with our local grocery delivery service for basics like milk, juice, yogurt and cereal, plus the items I need to supplement whatever I’ve chosen to defrost that week. I keep a running list of what’s in the freezer on my phone so I have it with me at all times.

 myFridgeFriendGreenmarket Greens

Sounds pretty dull, right? The silver lining is that every chance -- no matter how small -- I get to just browse for food is like a mini spa treatment for my soul. If I happen to pass by a Whole Foods on my way to a meeting, I seize the opportunity and dart in to pick up some charcuterie and organic fruit. The Food52 offices are near the Union Square Greenmarket so occasionally I’ll steal a few minutes during lunch to pick up a wedge of locally made cheese or to linger over the gorgeous but exorbitantly expensive baby lettuces, eventually scooping up just enough for a fragrant salad for two that evening.

Nettle Cheese

These moments are precious in their scarcity. And when my husband and I sit down to eat, while it's gratifying to revisit the sausage ragu I froze back in December, it's that hunk of soft cheese or the vibrant spray of green on my plate that makes me feel like, while I'm now somebody's mother, I'm also still me.

Last week, I assembled this simple meal by cobbling together elements from the freezer, fridge and farmers market. What are some of your favorite ways to steal a few moments and treat yourself to something delicious?

Oliver Clark’s Meatloaf

Mashed Potatoes

Pea Shoot and Baby Arugula Salad with Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette

Serves 4

  • Juice and zest of one small Meyer lemon
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 6 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 4 cups densely packed pea shoots
  • 4 cups densely packed baby or wild arugula

See the full recipe and save and print it here.


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All photos in this post were taken with the new Nokia Lumia 900 Windows Phone.

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • luvcookbooks
  • hpcooks
  • FoodieGoesHealthy
  • AntoniaJames
  • Kitchen Butterfly
    Kitchen Butterfly
I'm a native New Yorker, Le Cordon Bleu graduate, former food writer/editor turned entrepreneur, mother of two, and unapologetic lover of cheese.


luvcookbooks September 8, 2012
Thrilling to hear that food shopping is a mini spa treatment for you, too. Farmer's markets in the summer are like nectar to me. In the winter, Whole Foods cheese department.
hpcooks April 26, 2012
Thank you, Merill. Not only are your posts informative and extremely helpful, they are beautifully written (don't diss that degree in comparative lit!). I think there's some synchronicity going on here with all of us — I had a much needed Ladies Night in the city (San Francisco) two weekends ago and one of my girlfriends, a highly organized and full time working mother of two, is an advocate of 'batching it' -- her term for batch cooking. I listened with rapt attention, sipping wine, and made a vow that I need to do this, too. I've been a fly by the seat of my pants cook but with our toddler
and my husband and my work schedules, evenings have been a frantic mash. Thanks to you and all these ideas, I'm going to get my act straight and commit to meal planning. Have you heard of Pepperplate.com? One of my friends turned me on to that app that allows you to create a meal plan, shopping list and recipe index. She said it's been a godsend. I'm now adding tons of recipes I've found here. Here's to more sharing. Thanks again, and congratulations on your journey into motherhood. I look forward to reading more from all of you.
AntoniaJames April 26, 2012
Thanks, hpcooks, for the tip on Pepperplate. I actually posted a question to the Hotline a few weeks ago, asking for recommendations for menu-planning + shopping apps for the iPad. This looks great! ;o)
FoodieGoesHealthy April 20, 2012
I like to cook some extra veggies and chicken at the beginning of the week and then use them to quickly whip up some meals later in the week. This week I grilled asparagus, zucchini. and herb chicken. I steamed broccoli and carmelized onions. Throughout the week, I put the ingredients in salad, pasta, enchiladas, and "make your own pizza" on toasted lavosh bread. Also, the veggies are great in frittatas, and the leftover chicken can become chicken salad. My additional tip is to have fresh herbs on hand; they make a meal more flavorful and extra special.
AntoniaJames April 19, 2012
I've been doing what you're doing, Merrill, for 30 years, i.e., since I married Mr. T. When we were young, overworked, childless associates, we still tried to eat home at least 5 or 6 days a week (not take-out), simply because being home at a table with a candle, and eating good food, restored us like nothing else. That often meant homemade bread and simple soups. We're no longer young associates, and are back to mostly just the two of us since the boys went away to school, but the pleasant rhythm of this often-challenging life continues. ( I took my dinner organization methods to a whole new level during my 15 years as a commercial litigator with two young children. We ate then and continue to eat at home no less than 6 nights a week, in the dining room, with our sterling, every meal, together, including breakfast and most weekend lunches. It's one of the better things I did for my sons. That and requiring them to read the New York Times starting in elementary school and to report on an article at dinner. But I digress. )

Even on my busiest days, I can take a few minutes to do a quick shopping errand, sometimes just to buy items as ordinary as a few onions, some cilantro and fresh vegetables for dinner from our local produce shop. I'm lucky to have developed warm and enjoyable relationships with my butcher, cheese lady and produce market staff, so it also provides pleasant interactions with someone who isn't a client or across a negotiating table. It made me laugh to read Merrill's characterization of those little errands as a mini spa treatment for her soul. How true!!

I often work late a couple nights a week for the sole purpose of making sure I can get out, mid-day on Fridays, to the Asian farmers' market in Old Oakland, and my favorite Chinese grocery and poultry shops near that market. Nothing restores me the way that does!

I've loved reading all the answers, and am inspired to incorporate some of the many excellent suggestions into my own systems. (Yes, they're systems. That's why they work so well.) ;o)
Kitchen B. April 19, 2012
Oh Merrill, I recognise the excitement at being able to snatch time here and there. In fact, wondering how to fit in shopping for Mozzarella tomorrow.

My fridge/ essentials - no knead dough which allows pizzas in minutes, salsa which doubles for tortillas and pizza sauce
My freezer essentials - bread, soup (we try to have a soup night every week), and Oliver Clark's meatloaf - thanks to you. I make a double batch of meat loaf everytime - some gets frozen, some gets crumbled with tomatoes to make a tasty bolognese....

lastnightsdinner April 19, 2012
Planning and strategy are super important, but the ability to "fall back and punt", as we like to say, has been extremely valuable to us in the months since Julian was born. Every day is different, and we just never know if a fussy baby or a late train home will interfere with our pre-arranged dinner plans, so we've learned to leave ourselves at least two or three non-takeout options with respect to our dinners. It's nice to know that I can come home and prepare, say, some pork cutlets, in one of three different ways using what we've got around in the fridge and pantry, depending on our mood and how the day has gone, or that if actual cooking is out of the question, we've always got the ingredients for a big composed salad on hand.

We've had the added challenge of making sure that we've always got stuff around for my husband's breakfasts and lunches. While it's great that he can work from home and be with the baby all day, as any work-from-home parent knows, it can be a challenge sometimes to carve out time to feed yourself well while you're also looking after a little one. But feeding ourselves well is more important now than ever, since Julian has started solids and we want to be sure we're modeling good eating habits for him.

Like you, we still try to make sure we hit our favorite cheese shop, butcher shop, and farmers markets when we are able to. We are lucky in that we have a new little market right at the end of our street, which carries not only staples like milk, butter and yogurt, but great locally produced cheeses and produce, so when we can't make it out to the farmers markets, we can still enjoy a sprightly salad of tender local greens, or a snack of soft little Hannahbell cheeses. Those little touches make our weekly, oh-so-easy, roast chicken a little more sexy ;)
Jestei April 19, 2012
For feeding families: Freezing in serving sizes is important. Also fast to cook proteins that can go in pasta i,e. salmon, really good sausages, best quality tuna. Learn to accept that twice a week you'll have pizza or take out or burgers on the grill. It's okay, dinner content is not a moral issue. Finally, sometimes I feed the kids and just enjoy really good cheese and wine while I clean up for my own dinner. Makes me feel adult again.
Merrill S. April 19, 2012
I've definitely been doing those solo cheese and wine dinners recently too. Since Jonathan hates cheese (!!!), whenever he's not home for dinner, I seize the opportunity.
aloiret April 19, 2012
this post reminded me of a time long past.....Now I subscribe to the Six O'clock scramble @ www.thescramble.com and it's probably one of the best decisions I made as a mom.. I love it and am totally relying on it for weeknight dinners.
Merrill S. April 19, 2012
Will have to check it out!
Devangi R. April 19, 2012
This is definitely a helpful article. I am big on planning whether it is food related or anything else. And, so I honestly loved this. These tips will sure be helpful in near future, if not just now. Thanks!
SpiceRoots April 19, 2012
Sometimes, it takes a blog post like this to make you realize that technology makes life easier. Even though I make menu plans a couple of weeks in advance, I never thought of making a running list of what's in the fridge or the freezer before shopping. The result is that I mostly end of buying more of the same thing. Thanks for the wonderful idea.

My favorite way to steal a bit of me time is to buy Olives. If there are olives on the snack plate.. I feel like me .
Merrill S. April 19, 2012
Olives! You're so right.
weekend A. April 20, 2012
I logged in to say the exact same thing about olives! Olives, some cheese and a good piece of bread is all I need to feel human again after a long day at work and before the after-dinner marathon of toddler-wrangling begins.
ChefJune April 19, 2012
What a thoughtful piece, Merrill. Busy empty-nesters can benefit from your organizational suggestions as well. We'd all eat more healthfully with just a little planning ahead.
Merrill S. April 19, 2012
Glad you enjoyed it!
testkitchenette April 19, 2012
I think these are great tips for new families and families in general, large or small. I lead a fairly busy life teaching cooking classes, teaching school children, and attending chef school (at night and on the weekends) so I usually make one large pot of something vegan or vegetarian dish that I can have for lunch or dinner throughout the week and so besides a salad I always have a vegetable at hand. I always keep roasted beets and collards around as well. My husband eats more meat than I do so along with the vegetable dish I simply roast or grill as needed. A little bit of planning goes a long way. Thanks, Merrill!
Merrill S. April 19, 2012
Thanks for sharing!
arielleclementine April 18, 2012
loved this! before baby henry, i planned and shopped for one or two meals at a time, flitting off to central market almost daily. now, i menu plan on friday nights and the whole family shops at the farmers' market and the grocery store on saturday. i much prefer it this way, and i find that i'm a lot better at using up leftovers too. thanks for sharing, merrill!
Merrill S. April 18, 2012
I'm sure you're an pro by now! I'm still getting used to this new rhythm...
Fairmount_market April 18, 2012
One strategy I like to use for meals is to make a big pot of something on the weekend that can be featured in a number of different quick meals during the week. A pot of flavorful beans is great in this way. You can have chili and toppings one night, quick seafood tacos and salsa another night, and quesadillas and a big green salad a third night. Or stock your freezer with a portion of the pot for a rainy day. I love that you're treating yourself to delicate greens. You deserve it!
Merrill S. April 18, 2012
You're reading my mind -- next week's post will be about this very same strategy!
The F. April 18, 2012
This is so completely true! Although I only have one child, who's 2.5 years old, I couldn't agree with Merrill more, you need to be organize, have a freezer full of delicious meals and have a plan! Great article and the salad looks fabulous! Thank you for your sharing your mommy time management skills!
Merrill S. April 18, 2012
My pleasure! Glad you liked the article.
rapearson April 18, 2012
I like the iphone list idea as well. Anybody have any favorite apps that help them out with shopping or meal planning? I'll have the check out that MyFridgeFriend app you have a pic of. My daughter is 15 mo. old and this year I've been really into meal planning -- although I have slacked the last few weeks, I admit. Also I freeze cooked brown rice, quinoa, farro, etc. and it's super handy for those nights I forget to start the brown rice an hour beforehand.
Merrill S. April 18, 2012
Yes, great strategy! More on that next week...
Panfusine April 18, 2012
Wow.. This is yet another of your winner recipes!! Looking fwd to making this salad!
Merrill S. April 18, 2012
Matilda L. April 18, 2012
Thanks for the update on the freezer exploits--I have a two-month-old, a 2.5 year old and a 5 year old, so my freezer meals are like money in the bank! (Although sometimes I don't have the presence of mind to actually take the meal out of the freezer in time for it to thaw before dinner.) I've been hankering after a chest freezer, but I've been afraid that this will only encourage my food-hoarding tendencies. The iPhone list is an excellent idea! (I was also looking at creating a Google docs spreadsheet of freezer stock and spice inventory.)
Merrill S. April 18, 2012
Wow, you must be super busy with three little ones!