PUBLISHED: 5:46 PM on Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Strategies for eating well most of the time
A line of SUVs, minivans and one hulking Hummer snake slowly around a fast-food emporium, linked together like the boxcars of a toddler's toy train. Inside each is a work-weary parent resigned to buying pickup for that night's meal.

One SUV holds a mother in her 30s who made plans to cook for her family, but an afternoon meeting ran late. Just as she was leaving the office, she had to take an important phone call that lasted longer than it needed. She tries to be a champion in the business world and the planet's best mom. It's a battle few can win.

Remnants of broken toys, a crayon or two and Goldfish crumbs sully the floor of her expensive vehicle. Her oldest child sits next to her, while the youngest is strapped safely in the back in her older brother's hand-me-down car seat. Last week, the parents celebrated successful potty training of the youngest and took a couple of weeks worth of diaper money and splurged on a bottle of wine.

When she arrives at the microphone, she leans her head out of the vehicle's window and shouts down at the menu board for food she knows isn't the best.

Tapping the accelerator, the SUV lurches to the window where she will finish the transaction. She fights back the guilt, rationalizing that she had prepared a home-cooked meal the night before and the night before that. Accepting a bag of Styrofoam and cardboard containing burgers and fries, she vows it won't happen again this week. It's a deal with the devil she has made before.

Moms, I feel for you. I don't know how you do it. My wife and I don't have kids, and we barely see each other. When I'm too tired or uninspired to cook, I call one of my favorite eating spots while on I-95.

They're on my cell phone speed dial.

But we all could be better home cooks if we put a little thought into the "What's for dinner?" question.

We need to strategize for a weekly cooking plan that realistically accepts the premise that at least two nights a week the primary cook is going to be too tired, too late or too uninspired to cook from scratch.

This is when doubling up on the nights you do cook makes sense. I'm not talking about spending four hours in the kitchen cooking two complete meals. Rather, think of ways to make the meal last two days.

The easiest is to prepare twice what you need for that night and serve the same meal the next. It's efficient but boring.

So instead of re-creating the whole meal think about doubling up on the protein. It takes maybe 10 minutes longer to prepare two chickens than one for the oven. The cooking time is the same. After dinner, cut the meat off the second bird to be used for chicken salad for the next night.

Or, cut the meat into large slices and chunks and reheat it the next night for chicken fajitas or to add to a salad.

Make extra burgers and reheat the extras to add heft to a rice dish or a soup. What kid doesn't like sloppy joes?

London broil is a large piece of beef that works well the next night re-heated for sandwiches.

When whipping up mashed potatoes, make two batches at once. Second-day potatoes warmed in a skillet are wonderful and too easy.

Fast food is a necessity sometimes. There's no sin in making the occasional purchase. But with a little planning, pizza can become a weekend treat rather than a Wednesday night old reliable.

Macdonald is a food writer for Morris Communications in Jacksonville, Fla.