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From Crock-Pots to 'Cook-Overs': Your Dinnertime Confessional Tips

We touched a nerve recently when we asked about dinnertime as part of On the Run, our series exploring how crucial everyday decisions are made about food and exercise.

"No matter how close a relationship I develop with the Crock-Pot," wrote mom Celeste Higgins, it's still hard to get dinner on the table before 8 p.m.

We here at The Salt get it. (Many of us are working moms with kids at home.) And so we want to share some of the savvy, time-saving tips you sent us through email, Facebook and Tumblr, along with snapshots of your weeknight creations.

Swearing By The Slow-Cooker

Lots of you told us that the slow-cooker is a big help. "We eat a lot of Crock[-]Pot dinners," Jennifer Rippy of Cincinnati told us.

And Shannon Cobourn, who lives in the suburbs of Atlanta (a region known for its long commutes), is in the same boat.

On a recent Thursday, she made a BBQ Pot Roast (scroll down for the recipe). While the dish was cooking on low for six hours in the Crock-Pot, she was able to finish up a work project, pick up her two kids from after-school activities and help them with homework.

'Cook-Overs,' Not Leftovers

From <a href="http://dinnertimeconfessional.tumblr.com/post/44544479837/this-is-dinner-for-my-boyfriend-and-me-he-usually#posts">KF</a> in Champaign, Ill.: Baba ghanoush, a spicy cilantro chutney with bread, and veggies for dipping
/ Dinnertime Confessional/Tumblr
Dinnertime Confessional/Tumblr
From KF in Champaign, Ill.: Baba ghanoush, a spicy cilantro chutney with bread, and veggies for dipping

Leftovers are easily forgotten, but if you cook with the intention of multipurposing your creations, you may end up with something more exciting.

It works for "KF" from Champaign, Ill., who wrote in to our Tumblr Dinnertime Confessional that what she and her boyfriend prepare over the weekend can last most of the week.

"Sometimes he'll make several of these dips/sauces/spreads on Saturday or Sunday," she told us, "and we use them to make vegetarian [sandwiches] and other meals throughout the week."

And they've got another tip that's working for them: He cooks, she cleans up. (Hey, it's always good to know your strengths.)

Build A Meal Around A Protein And Multiple Colors

Many a home cook knows the feeling. You open the door to the fridge and nothing pops. So how to go from rut to inspiration?

You can start by going big on color. Pull something green and something orange from the crisper (for example, green beans and sweet potatoes) and let the creativity start flowing (hopefully).

TPC from Dayton, Ohio, shared how this strategy played out in her family dinner: Cinnamon-spiced agave drizzle served as the topping to sweet potatoes, while haricot vert filled in the green space.

From Dayton, Ohio, <a href="http://dinnertimeconfessional.tumblr.com/post/44522407895/dinner-for-my-babies-miles-5-micah-3#posts">TPC</a> shares her dinner: "Sweet Potatoes with a cinnamon-spiced agave drizzle, served with haricot vert (french green beans), and curried chicken (thighs) and cornbread."
/ Dinnertime Confessional/Tumblr
Dinnertime Confessional/Tumblr
From Dayton, Ohio, TPC shares her dinner: "Sweet Potatoes with a cinnamon-spiced agave drizzle, served with haricot vert (french green beans), and curried chicken (thighs) and cornbread."

And for the protein part of the meal? TPC started by taking the chicken out of the freezer in the morning. "Thaw your protein out that morning and build a meal around it!"

Shop And Plan For The Entire Week

"I find it helpful to make a menu for a week at a time," writes J.S. from Sandy, Utah. This works even better if you can get organized enough to compile a gigantic shopping list and buy everything in one trip.

J.S. says she has help. "My 3 girls (15, 13 and 10) help plan the menu and cook the meals."

And she says everyone in her house is happy with the system, even if it takes some thinking to get a vegan version of the meal on the table for her eldest daughter, who is vegetarian.

Here's their meal from last Sunday: turkey meatloaf muffins, roasted garlic Yukon gold potatoes and green salad (vegan alternative: maple glazed tempeh).

Spice It Up: From Cardamom To Lavender

Lea Pittman, the mom of a 9-year-old son, doesn't want to entertain him with TV. Instead, cooking is a way to be creative.

"One day he wanted to make lavender butter," she wrote us, "so we ran some blossoms from our garden through the coffee grinder" and added some cream. "Blam-O, lavender butter."

She says she's arranged her work schedule so she can be home in the afternoons — its a "luxurious sort of poverty" she says — trading income for more free time. Whether it's adding cardamom to a pastry recipe or making something very simple, "we have so much fun making dinner together and hanging out."

Postscript: Here, as promised, is Shannon Cobourn's recipe:

BBQ Pot Roast

  • 3 pounds boneless chuck roast
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 8-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1⁄4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon yellow mustard
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Brown all sides roast in hot oil in large skillet. Place roast in Crock-Pot. Saute onion and garlic in same pan with drippings from roast. Add to Crock-Pot. In a small bowl, mix together tomato sauce, sugar, vinegar, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. Pour over roast. Cook on low 6 hours.

    Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.