What I Learned from Wo-manning the Grill

My goal this summer was to get more comfortable using our outdoor gas grill.

Why? Well, first, it was a very hot summer and until recently, we didn't have any AC so using the stove wasn't an option. Second, I wanted the kids to be able to play outside while I was making dinner. Third, thinking of grilling as a man's job felt uncharacteristically old-fashioned and rooted in gender stereotypes. We share other responsibilities. We both change diapers, do dishes, take out the garbage on garbage day (that's a lie, I take out the garbage only when he's traveling). So why not share the grill?

Yet even as someone who cooks all the time, I was intimidated by the metal chamber filled with propane living in our backyard. I was mostly afraid of burning down our house. But I was also worried about ruining proteins, wasting money, and about whether or not my food would taste good. 

Luckily, my husband's a grill master and a great teacher. He handed over the reigns, taught me the basics, and assured me I wouldn't start a fire. If you've been following on Instagram you'll know that it's been quite an adventure. I've tried grilling vegetables, cooking proteins, and even making paella. Some dinners have been more successful than others but along the way, I've learned a lot and I've realized that getting comfortable manipulating the heat of the grill has made me a more competent cook overall.

If you're sick of chopping while someone else has all the fun outside, here are a few key lessons I've learned while wo-manning the grill:

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How to Survive a Kitchen Renovation

I talk to a lot of people about food both formally through health coaching, and cooking classes, and also informally. Me, at your next party: "Hi, I'm Kelly. What do you eat for dinner?"

In doing so, I've learned that many of us value a home-cooked meal but struggle to get dinner on the table due to work, family, friends, kitchen renovations, etc.

Through these chats, I've also learned that many of you are pretty brilliant at devising strategies to make eating well possible despite the obstacles in your way.

Which got me wondering, why keep these cooking strategies to myself? 

So starting today, I'll periodically share stories of people trying to eat real food, while keeping up with a career, family, friends, and while trying to save a minute at the end of the day for good wine and bad TV.

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Meal Formula #3: The Shortcut Skillet

What do you make on a Thursday?

No really, at the end of a long week when supplies are running low and the weekend is almost in sight, what's for dinner? 

For me, a Thursday meal has to be easy and fast. It has to make use of any ingredients left in the fridge. And it has to feel virtuous enough to land on a weeknight but indulgent enough to kick-off the weekend. By the way, does Thursday feel like the start of the weekend to you? Maybe I'm just holding onto my college days (pub crawl, anyone?). 

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Meal Formula #2: The New Taco Night

Tacos are basically the perfect meal. Easy to make, customizable for picky eaters, and they can be as simple or as complicated as your night allows.

Plus, everyone has fond memories of taco night. Those crunchy shells, that shredded cheese, the tear of the seasoning packet bursting with flavor...

But after awhile you start wanting something new. Maybe you're tired of iceberg lettuce or you're not sure about the questionable ingredients found in most seasoning packs.

I rely on some type of taco night each week in order to use up whatever's left in the fridge while delivering a meal that everyone likes. Which means The New Taco Night is our second meal formula (more about the first meal formula here).

Take a look at a few examples below. These meals follow the same formula yet you can vary the proteins, vegetables, and wraps to keep things interesting, to use what your family likes, and to make the most of what's in your capsule kitchen

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Meal Formula #1: The Asian-Inspired Grain Bowl

I used to make a big batch of one recipe and try to eat it throughout the week. But inevitably by night 2 or 3, I'd be bored with that pot of chili, or crockpot chicken with salsa and wanting to pick up something new.

I've also tried following new recipes each night in order to keep things interesting. But that's not sustainable either because following a recipe requires one, time to plan to make sure I have all the ingredients and two, the ability to focus while following a recipe (hello, toddler on my leg). Two things I can't guarantee on a weekly or daily basis.

What works best for me most of the time, is following meal formulas instead of recipes. In other words, basic templates that work with a variety of different ingredients. Once I understand the formula cooking becomes second nature and I don't have to focus or scroll through a recipe on my phone. And since these formulas work with everything on my capsule kitchen list, I always have the right ingredients on hand. 

One of my favorite meal formulas is the Asian-Inspired Grain Bowl. It's easy but it tastes complex. It's customizable so you'll never get bored and you can modify it easily for picky eaters and dietary preferences.

Here are a few examples of this simple and outrageously delicious formula on my dinner table. All the meals below follow the Asian-Inspired Grain Bowl formula yet are so different from one another.

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It Is Possible

When I was working in the corporate world it felt impossible to cook and have a career all while raising a family. It was so overwhelming that I decided to quit my job and return to school to study nutrition in order to figure it out. 

I have good news.

It turns out it is possible to cook real food and have a full life but only if we completely change the way we think about cooking.

Here's what we have to do:

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