Hi friends, you’re watching Subsequently Sweeter, where life hacks are actually survival skills, but things get a little better every day. I’m Sara, and today I’ll be sharing my dinner time solutions for when my PTSD flares up and what do you know — it’s dinner time.
Some days, I feel like I have two choices: make dinner, or be nice to my family. Before I was diagnosed with PTSD, I often chose cooking dinner, but I spent the evening snappish, easily offended, and creating barriers between me and the people I love most. After my PTSD diagnosis, I realized what was going on, and we had a few weeks where we ate take-out more often than not. I was much more fun to be around…but then the guilt started to set in.
Ugh, my family is eating so much grease with this pizza. I’d think. Or, There is sooo much salt in Chinese food, my son is going to be thirsty all night. Or, Why is a simple chicken sandwich so expensive? Surely there are better ways we could be using my sweet husband’s hard-earned income.
Or worse: I hate that it’s my fault that we’re eating like this.
But then I got smart. Our dinners are much simpler affairs now, but with less time on my feet, trying to balance a hot stove and a toddler, my stress levels are much lower and we are much more likely to enjoy our time together as a family.
I love this method because if I do one easy task, I’ve managed the most stressful part of meal prep for a whole week. Thawing is no big deal. I don’t have to stand at the stove for ages. Getting everything to finish cooking at the same time becomes a no-brainer. So here’s what I do:
A couple of times a month, I bake a whole family-sized pack of chicken breasts topped with a little salt and some kind of versatile seasoning, like lemon-pepper or a combination of onion and garlic powder.
Once the chicken cools, I shred about half of it in my Kitchenaid and cube the other half. Then I weigh the chicken, portioning it by how much I think my family will eat in one meal, and place it into a sandwich bag. Then, into the freezer it goes, ready to be thrown into whatever it is I make that week. Late afternoons are some of the hardest times to be a mom with PTSD, so quick dinner prep is top priority.
By the way, the same techniques apply for other meats and other cooking methods. I’ve done ground beef in the crock pot with great success, particularly because I leave out the lemon pepper and add minced mushrooms and onions instead. Delicious! If you’re not into meat, there’s always the option to simmer a vat of seasoned beans or lentils.
It is absolutely worth the extra dime or so to get the frozen vegetables that you can just steam in the bag in the microwave. These bags come with instructions, yes, but remember, every microwave is a little different. But if you’re willing to experiment a time or two, you can win the fight against overcooked vegetables once and for all.
Another point in their favor: it’s 100% okay if they’re an afterthought. (And if my PTSD symptoms have been triggered, you’d better believe they’re an afterthought!) They cook fast and are more appealing when they’re still hot anyway. I’ve even cut them open and plopped the bag on the table with a spoon. One less dish to wash! It’s boon to moms everywhere.
Easy as Boiling Water
You know the beauty of dishes like rice or noodles? You boil a pot of water, dump ‘em in, and forget about them for 10 minutes. That’s 10 minutes that you can spend reading a book to your kids, opening the mail, or just taking deep breaths — whatever your PTSD is calling for in the moment. You can also make potatoes in the microwave. Your microwave may even have a handy setting just for that. And if that’s not fast enough, there’s always a piece of toast or a warmed tortilla. My 2-year-old loves tortillas, and a happy toddler means a happy mom. (Mostly.)
Spice Blends Your Family Loves
Sometimes it’s all you can do to get two or three food groups on the table to feed your family — but now they want you to make it cohesive somehow? Don’t throw in the towel just yet. Just grab a bottle of your favorite spice blend. Chili powder turns chicken and rice into a Mexican-inspired rice bowl. Italian seasoning and Parmesan cheese turns pasta night from “blah” to “ta-da!” And only took you an extra four seconds of thought to make it happen.
I personally like to create my own spice blends and reuse empty spice bottles to store them in in my pantry. That way, my taco seasoning has a little more kick, and my Italian seasoning has plenty of rosemary. (Plus, no funky unpronounceable ingredients if that’s important to you.)
Keep Staples in the House
My toddler eats cheese and fresh fruit at almost every meal, so we always have these in the house. Think about what that is in your family, and keep it on hand so that on your especially symptomatic days, you can pull it out of the fridge and know that your family is getting at least one thing they like.
As you can see, there are definitely ways for you to get a home-cooked meal on the table without actually having to do much cooking at all. Better yet, these are easy enough that the members of your household that are not struggling with PTSD — like a significant other or a responsible older child — could pull dinner together with minimal instruction.
That lets you take care of you, which is important — because you are important. And the better you get at acknowledging that, the better you’ll become at making each day subsequently sweeter.