Many men and women are just like me. On a given night, we face middle schoolers arriving home dragging dead cicada wings stuck on their shoes, announcing starvation; high schoolers, who may or may not have a boyfriend with celiac disease in tow; and a bevy of tutors, employed to prevent these modern children from failing subjects for which they have no particular aptitude, and who also seem to arrive with appetites.
Summer can offer a brief break — let the kids’ camp manage 400 slices of bacon each morning — or it can add to the chaos, as friends visit with their families and children come home from college and turn your kitchen into a 24-hour diner, including the part where someone else does the dishes.
Recipes are often not kind to cooks for the many, with their civilized notations (“serves four”) and their refusal to rescale easily for six, or eight (at least not without copious chopping). We need help.
Here are some essential tips, gleaned from the experiences of other cooks, and from my own kitchen
Form a Battle Plan, Early
My Sunday ritual involves pulling out cookbooks, opening recipe websites and grabbing for the scrap paper on which I always have three lists: meals I will make Monday through Thursday (Hungry on Friday? Hit the leftovers!), a shopping list for the market and one for the regular grocery store.
Cheryl Flake takes this a step further, by planning her meals for the entire month and making her children help pick what she will make. “You have to have some skin in the game, realizing that every meal won’t be your favorite,” she said. Everyone gets to veto two items, based on their own scarring childhood experiences with liver and stuffed bell peppers. “I swore to myself I would never fix something that someone would rather go hungry than eat,” Flake added.
Fall in love with a specific dish that scales well
Then tell your entire family that, as they did with the stepdog, they will now start to love it, too. In heavy weekly rotation at my house is shakshuka, a dish I learned to cook in Morocco that can be made in many different ways.
It takes mere moments to prepare, packs a flavor punch and gives everyone their own little bit of protein.
Dishes that can be prepared assembly-line style also work well as regular guest stars.
Try chicken Milanese: One kid can be in charge of the flour, another the egg, and you can manage the drop into the oil.
Stock the tools of the many-mouths-to-feed trade
Sheet pans are a must; they hold multiple pieces of chicken and potatoes, savory slab pies and layers of simply salted zucchini.
A rice cooker will conceal your lack of inspiration with carbs. I’m sorry, but I must insist that you buy a simple slow cooker, which can be used for oatmeal in the morning, pork butt at night and Indian food whenever, all year-round.
Rely on ingredients you always have in the pantry
In mine, that would be cans of spicy diced tomatoes, which can jazz up chickpeas, diced chicken, deep bowls of pasta and something resembling tacos.
One of my indispensable ingredients, believe it or not, is ketchup, the base of the weirdly delicious stir-fried chicken with ketchup on nytcooking.com, made special with smoked paprika.
Be Like NATO: Depend on other nations
My go-to weeknight recipes tend to be those gleaned and, if necessary, scaled up, from India, Mexico and the Middle East.
Many of these dishes are stewlike in their proportions but flavored in a far more compelling way than mainstream American versions of the same, and can be made in — yes, I’m talking about this again — a slow cooker.