Although working from home has become the new normal these past few months, it is tough juggling the demands of your job with the very real predicament of feeding your family every single day.
Here, three home cooks share their top tips for balancing cooking + working.
Plan meals and do the prep work in advance
Planning meals ahead of time can be very useful during this period, because you minimise wastage and know exactly what you’re doing when you head into the kitchen. Which is why a lot of home cooks have opted for this approach in tackling their daily meals during the movement control order (MCO).
Account manager Nazliyah Mohd Ali says this is how she has been navigating her new reality of cooking and working from home.
“I work with a lot of different companies that I have to liaise with at home and I need to cook every day as well. So to minimise time wastage, every Saturday and Sunday, I will pre-plan what I want to cook for the week.
Schedule working hours
For many people, their working hours before the MCO were often erratic and long, which meant cooking at home wasn’t even on their agenda. But with the MCO in effect, some people have found that they have been able to better manage their time and factor cooking into their daily schedule.
“Usually, I have to attend court almost every day to conduct trials. Then I will go back to the office and do paperwork and I often travel out of town as well. So typically by the time I reach home, it is 9pm, so I don’t bother with cooking, ” says Adibah Ishak, a lawyer.
Since being forced to work at home, Adibah has realised that time management is key to ensuring she is able to cook daily meals.
“Before, I wasted a lot of time travelling or stuck in traffic jams. But now I have the whole day to sit and focus on work. So I start working at 9am and am normally able to complete my work by 3pm. Then I will start cooking after that, so dinner is ready on time, ” she says.
Keep to what you’re good at
While it can be tempting to try new dishes every day, save the exotic recipes for the days when work isn’t constantly beckoning. For everyday meals that won’t have you tearing your hair out in frustration, stick to tried-and-tested recipes that you can nail quickly and without any additional hassle.
“My mother and father had a Malay restaurant, so I am good at making Malay food. If you ask me to do Western food, I don’t know how to go about it. But if you give me onions, ginger and ikan bilis, I can improvise and cook with it. So my food during the MCO has been simple, kampung-style Malay food like sambal and asam pedas – that is my specialty and what I’m familiar with, ” says Adibah.
Do research before embarking on new dishes
For young children, eating the same meals over and over again can be extremely boring. If you have the time and the inclination in between work, incorporate some variance in your meals.
Raymond Ng, who works in his family’s property development business and is a co-owner of a local Japanese restaurant, says he has been cooking colourful meals for his family every day.
“I will do research on different kinds of cuisines on YouTube, Google and Facebook before going out to buy ingredients or getting fresh produce delivered. The kids will get bored if I cook the same thing every day, and as a parent, I want them to be happy with their food.
“So far, I’ve done full Italian meals, Japanese meals and even full-course Korean meals. Before I cook any of the cuisines of these countries, I will show my children some information about each of these countries and what their delicacies are. They’re stuck at home and can’t go out, so I feel like by cooking these exotic things, they are able to travel somewhere – even if it is vicariously, ” he says.
Delegate duties when you can
Even with all the planning in the world, work can spring up on you and you may not be able to do the cooking for the day. So if there is someone else in the household who can help with the cooking, rope them in.
“I try and cook three meals a day, but if I have to work in the morning, my wife will help me prepare breakfast. And if I have meetings that run past 12pm, she helps me prepare lunch. But I always make it a point to cook dinner – no matter what, ” says Ng, who also gets his children to help out with simple cooking tasks.
Check what your kids like to eat too
There’s no point cooking up a feast if your children won’t eat any of it. So as much as possible, make sure there is at least one thing on the table that they can – and will – enjoy.
“I do ask my children what they want to eat beforehand and I make it a point to cook something for my four-year-old especially as he is quite particular about food. My 11-year-old son can eat spicy food, but for my younger son, I have to make sure he eats well so I will cook things that he likes, like soup and noodles, ” says Nazliyah.
Really savour family meal times
One of the positive attributes of the MCO is that it has exponentially increased the amount of time families have with each other, especially time spent cooking together and eating together.
“Before the MCO, I was so busy. In a week, I could only spend Sunday with my family – the rest of the week I was at work or out for meetings, so the MCO has been a blessing for me. I think it’s a good time for families to bond, especially around cooking and meal times.
“And the bonding makes a difference, because when I cook now, my kids will hug me and thank me for the food, so I am definitely enjoying this part of it, ” says Ng.