MONEY

How to Cook a Real Dinner for Your Family…and Finish Before 9 p.m.

Luke Tepper

First-time dad Taylor Tepper asks parents and cooking experts for advice on feeding a family while maintaining your sanity. What he learns: Focus on formats.

Last week, I stood in the first aisle of my local grocery store for a few minutes blinking at a bin of scallions.

I had a cart in one hand, a shopping list in the other, and a podcast playing in my ear. I needed to grab a bunch of groceries, get home and make dinner.

But at some point in the produce section, I fell victim to a momentary lapse of cognitive function, as if I was a computer that had overheated. For a moment, I wished I had simply ordered in Chinese.

A parent’s day is long. Ours starts at 5:30 a.m. with a groggy baby and two sleep-deprived parents, and I don’t return home with dinner’s ingredients in tow until 7 p.m.

To be clear, I genuinely relish the responsibility of providing my family with sustenance. Plus I know there are real benefits to eating real food prepared at home: We can eat more healthfully and save a few bucks in the process.

But my problem is that I’m terrible at planning. I’ll look up a recipe before I head home from work, buy everything on the ingredient list (often forgetting that I have a quarter of the stuff at home), walk home and make the meal. On that day last week when I paused in front of the scallions, for instance, I ended up preparing a baked chicken dish with Kalamata olives, dates, tomatoes with an herb jus and mashed potatoes.

Delicious. Only, my wife and I finished eating close to 9 p.m.—at which point I devolved into a coma.

I know I’m wasting time and money. I need help. I need a plan.

So I turned to a few experts: KJ Dell’Antonia, who as the lead writer at the New York Times Motherlode blog has written on her successes and failures of cooking for a family, my friend Cara Eisenpress whose cookbook and blog BigGirlsSmallKitchen.com document dinner prep in a diminutive Brooklyn apartment, and Phyllis Grant, a former pastry chef whose blog DashandBella.com chronicles meals made with her kids.

The Game Plan

“Obviously I’m a big fan of planning,” says Dell’Antonia. “There’s nothing like realizing that it’s 4 pm and you’ll have to make dinner again tonight—but not only do you know what it is already, but you’ve got all the ingredients and maybe some prep work done. Saves my life every time.”

But what type of plan is best for a busy working parent like me?

Cara told me to forget about specific recipes and think more broadly.

“When planning, think in terms of formats,” she says. “Pasta, hearty soups, stir fries, roasted cut-up chicken, and eggs are all classes of weeknight dinner that are so simple to vary.”

In other words, rather than shopping for a pasta dish on Monday (like Lemon Fettuccine with Bacon and Chives) and then returning to the store on Tuesday in search of ingredients for for another (say Orecchiette Carbonara with Scallions and Sun-dried Tomatoes), plan on whipping up two pasta dishes and a chicken entrée over the next few days and then map out recipes from there. That way you’ll buy overlapping ingredients.

At the same time, though, be mindful of planning too far ahead, says Cara.

“Don’t shop for the seven nights’ worth of formats—you’ll waste food and money if something comes up,” she advised. “Better to plan out fewer and then grab a few miscellaneous staples that could turn into dinner as needed, like extra onions (caramelized onion grilled cheese), a box of spinach (lentil soup with spinach), or some bacon (breakfast for dinner).”

Grant even suggests preparing more than one night’s worth of a neutral protein like chicken, which she notes “can be a life saver, You won’t get sick of it because you can dress it up with some many different flavors and techniques.”

Most importantly, Cara said, make sure you have a stocked pantry—including olive oil, vinegar, mustard, salt, rice, pasta and cheddar, among others—to augment whatever recipes you’ve chosen.

The Defense Formation

After you’ve figured out the formats and recipes you’re interested in for the next couple of days, it’s time to actually buy the food.

But the grocery store is like a casino: The thing is designed to have you spend more time shuffling along the aisles so that you look at more food. They even mess with the music (see #19 here).

If you’re not careful, you’ll arrive home with a beautiful jar of jam that will sit in your fridge for the next six months. (Guilty!)

That’s why Dell’Antonia recommends shopping with a list, “and not buying anything that’s not on it,” says. “Ridiculously, I save money by sending my babysitter to the grocery store when I can. Her time costs me less than I’d spend in ‘Oh, look! Halloween Oreos!'”

Also, look for items that will make your cooking life easier, says Cara. “Don’t shy away from shortcut ingredients. Find brands of tomato sauce, salsa, stock, pre-washed spinach, ravioli, etc. that you like: each of those gets you a third of the way to dinner. There are some vegetables I think of as shortcuts too because they require so little prep: a potato you can rinse and then bake, and my go-to, fennel, where you just remove the outer skin, quarter what’s left, and roast to get a super simple serving of vegetables.”

Kickoff!

Time to practice my new strategy.

I replenished up my pantry—I was a little low on olive oil and pepper—and decided to prepare Chicken with Figs and Grapes from Grant’s blog. I even bought a little extra chicken and stock for some soup later in the week (guess I was in a chicken format mood.)

Her recipe calls for about a dozen different ingredients, but since my pantry is already full, I only need to pick up the chicken, anchovies, figs and grapes.

I’m in and out of my local grocery store in five minutes (without jam!) and before long my kitchen is humming right along.

The dish is relatively easy to prepare and after a little less than 30 minutes in the oven, my wife and I have a meal for tonight and tomorrow. I arrived home by 7:15pm and we finished eating around an hour later, about 45 minutes quicker than normal and nearly a Tepper weekday record.

Our stomachs were full, the kitchen relatively clean and my brain didn’t wither like a raisin during the process.

A sense of peace had been restored in my life.

Adulthood can be difficult—after a long day of work, it often just feels easier to order a delicious Korean BBQ kimchi burrito than expending the time and effort to put together a meal. So sometimes the Teppers do just that.

But as Cara says, “Cooking at home is one of the best parts of being a grown-up. You get to eat exactly what you want when you want it. So, if you like to eat, you like not spending all your money, and you like putting relatively healthful food in your body, you should probably learn to cook.”

And if you’re going to do it, plan ahead.

Taylor Tepper is a reporter at Money. His column on being a new dad, a millennial, and (pretty) broke appears weekly. More First-Time Dad:

TIME psychology

The Reason Your Child Might Be Less Creative

child
Getty Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Our schools and workplaces claim to love creativity — but the research shows they don’t reward it. In fact, they punish it.

“…students with the highest GPA’s were the ones who scored lowest on measures of creativity and independence…”

“…supervisors judged their workforce the way teachers judged their students. They gave low ratings to employees with high levels of creativity and independence…”

Via How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character:

Teachers rewarded repressed drones, according to Bowles and Gintis; they found that the students with the highest GPA’s were the ones who scored lowest on measures of creativity and independence, and the highest on measures of punctuality, delay of gratification, predictability, and dependability. Bowles and Gintis then consulted similar scales for office workers, and they found that supervisors judged their workforce the way teachers judged their students. They gave low ratings to employees with high levels of creativity and independence and high ratings to those workers with high levels of tact, punctuality, dependability, and delay of gratification. To Bowles and Gintis, these findings confirmed their thesis: Corporate America’s rulers wanted to staff their offices with bland and reliable sheep, so they created a school system that selected for those traits.

Teachers often say they love creative students. They don’t:

Judgments for the favorite student were negatively correlated with creativity; judgments for the least favorite student were positively correlated with creativity. Students displaying creative characteristics appear to be unappealing to teachers.

Are you a creative person? Want to be a CEO? Good luck. You’ll need it:

In sum, we show that the negative association between expressing creative ideas and leadership potential is robust and underscores an important but previously unidentified bias against selecting effective leaders.

(To learn the secrets to increasing your child’s creativity, click here.)

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join over 130,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

What To Read Next:

How To Raise Happy Kids – 10 Steps Backed By Science

Good Parenting Skills: 7 Research-Backed Ways to Raise Kids Right

How To Have A Happy Family – 7 Tips Backed By Research

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Parenting

Parents Upset Scandal Sex Scene Aired Right After Charlie Brown Special

KERRY WASHINGTON
Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope on Scandal Adam Taylor—ABC

A glimpse of Olivia Pope and the president was too much

Parents are miffed that ABC aired a sex scene on the show Scandal just moments after the kid-friendly Halloween special It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, which meant that if kids didn’t change the channel quickly enough, they might have seen some steamy action between Olivia and Fitz.

“Shame on ABC for putting a peep show next to a playground,” Parents Television Council president Tim Winter said in a statement. “In less than 26 seconds, we were taken from the Peanuts pumpkin patch to a steamy Scandal sex scene. Twenty-six seconds, boom. Unless parents had the remote control in their hand, thumb on the button and aimed directly at the TV screen, they didn’t have a chance.”

“The juxtaposition of a reliably classic family-friendly children’s cartoon special like the Great Pumpkin — a huge family draw every year for decades — with such a graphic bedroom scene is unjustifiable,” Winter continued.

So for the kids who got their first glimpse of the Olivia Pope on Halloween: Welcome to Shondaland.

MONEY First-Time Dad

Why You’re Better Off With a Hard-Working Child than a Smart One

Luke Tepper
Luke's drive is more important than his intellect. And look at him drive!

I wanted my son to be born a genius. Turns out I should have been hoping for something else.

My son took his first steps the other day.

Not yet nine months old, Luke stumbled forward two paces as Mrs. Tepper prepared his evening bath. The next day, like a revved up toy racecar, the tyke zoomed five strides after I relocated him from the Jumperoo to the floor.

This achievement is a great source of pride in the Tepper household.

According to Babycenter.com, babies usually begin walking between 9 and 12 months. Luke was only 8 1/2 months—so he’s obviously smarter than the average bear and destined for riches and glory.

Ever since, my wife and I have indulged in a series of daydreams featuring Luke passing milestones well before other tiny mortals. Reading by age 2, dunking a basketball by 10 and garnering a Nobel Prize before he’s legally allowed to consume alcohol.

Of course we know we’re being ridiculous, but that’s part of the fun of parenting an infant—widely projecting all the things that he might accomplish that you never will. In so doing, we imagine a super-smart older version of Luke wowing the world with his intellect.

It turns out, though, we have it all wrong. Intelligence is valuable, obviously, but the more powerful skill parents should be instilling in their children doesn’t have anything to do with brainpower.

If we want him to maximize his earnings—and we do—studies show that we’re much better off emphasizing hard work and gumption.

What the Research Says

The Brookings Institute recently came out with a report that summarizes the research into the debate of character versus intelligence. Therein lay a panoply of statistics that illuminate importance of grit and drive.

For instance, high school grade point average is a better predictor of whether a student will complete college in six years than SAT/ACT scores. Grade point averages are all about grit: You have to come to class every day, turn in your homework, and perform well on tests and papers in order to earn a high grade. A standardized exam, like the SAT, mostly measures your cognitive abilities.

Another study Brookings referenced followed 1,000 children starting at ages 3 to 11 in New Zealand and found that later in life those who possessed more self control “were healthier, richer, less likely to be single parents, and less likely to be convicted of a crime as adults, controlling for childhood social class and IQ.”

Accurate, real-time salaries for thousands of careers.

I asked Jessica Lahey, a teacher who writes a biweekly parenting column for the New York Times, for her perspective.

She said the research jibes with her experience. “Kids who are raised by parents with good impulse control—the ability to plan for long-term goals and stick to those goals—are more successful than kids raised by parents who model impulsive, disorganized, chaotic thinking and actions,” she says.

And what about smarts?

“A kid who has no ability to delay gratification, has no patience with momentary confusion or frustration, or simply never develops the frontal lobe function he needs in order to organize and plan his behavior is never going to be as successful as one who can,” she says. “I don’t care how brilliant or talented he is.”

Why That Terrifies Me

For a parent, this is a little bit scary.

The idea that my son would be born with a particular IQ took the pressure off of me. However he comes out was how he was meant to come out; I couldn’t really mess him up.

But now, I need to instill a work ethic and character in him that I’m sure I don’t always live up to. My wife and I are only 28 years old and we’ve only just begun our careers; how are we supposed to have the authority to mold Luke into driven student and worker?

These are the things that keep me up at night.

But then I remember how far we’ve come since we found out Mrs. Tepper was pregnant.

We comparison shopped hospitals and doctors, and coordinated with health insurers and human resource departments. We’re following a kind of food progression chart so that he takes in as many different kinds of tastes as possible. We nurse him when he’s sick and hold him when he cries, and we do it every day no matter how little sleep we had the night before.

The act of raising a child (and we’re only in year one) absolutely filled us with fear before we had one. But like a frog in a slowly warming pot of water, we’ve adapted. We’ve found a way to weave Luke into our life.

Teaching him stick-to-itiveness, then, will just be another challenge we’ll (hopefully) slowly overcome with our infinite small decisions.

Taylor Tepper is a reporter at Money. His column on being a new dad, a millennial, and (pretty) broke appears weekly. More First-Time Dad:

Read next: Injuries. Stress. Divided Attention. Are Coaches Damaging Our Kids?

TIME

Survey: Americans Would Pay $2,700 For An Extra Hour a Day

How much would you shell out to have more time?

Ideally, you would have been reading this article three hours ago.

But it couldn’t even be written before now. There was a deadline. And another. And the dog wouldn’t stop coughing so there was a vet appointment to be squeezed in. There were Halloween treats to be rushed out the door. And a phone call with an editor. And an urgent text from a friend locked in a dressing room in desperate need of first-date fashion advice. Dinner should be started at some point. There’s a Halloween costume to mend (or, more realistically, duct tape on the inside so no one can tell) before tomorrow and another list of deadlines starts lighting up the iCal. Perhaps most indicative of the current state of affairs—a promising email titled “Need More Hours in the Day? These Calendar Apps Will Find Them” has been unopened in my inbox for three days. An article titled “How to Achieve Work-Life Balance in 5 Steps” seems both inspirational and aspirational, based solely on the title, anyway as there has been no time to read the rest of it.

There’s too much to do in just 24 hours and it’s hard not to fantasize about adding hours to do the day. How much would you pay for an extra hour to work or sleep or read a book or, hey, finish the last season of Orange is the New Black (no spoilers!)? A new survey commissioned by Zico Coconut Water, says that more than half (58%) of Americans who were willing to pay cold hard cash in exchange for one more hour in their day, said they would be willing to fork over $2,725 to have that extra hour in their over-crowded day.

That’s no small change you could find in the couch (if you had time to vacuum the couch, which is on the priority list right below brushing the dog’s teeth and above washing the curtains).

The fact that people are willing to shell out that kind of cash is, well, sad, but also indicative of a larger problem that is unfortunately hard to buy your way out of: An out-of-whack work-life balance. For most of us, the work-life balance is unbalanced as the sad kid at the playground who can’t find anyone to sit on the other side of the seesaw—you’re just sitting on the ground wondering when the fun starts. It’s like a unicorn who lives in the pages of Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP or those mystical beings living Oprah’s Best Life.

According to the Zico survey, out of the 1,000 nationally representative U.S. adults ages 18+ surveyed, 74 % of them say they don’t feel “completely balanced” and actively seek ways to counteract their busy schedules, hence with the whole take-my-child’s-college-savings-for-a-measly-extra- hour thing. Only 27% of those surveyed said they are “completely balanced.”

As a person who is solidly in the other 73%, one can only imagine these 27-percenters who tell a pollster that they are “completely balanced” must send their last work email precisely at 5:30pm, arise from their ergonomic chair to walk the eight flights down to their spotless car with nary a fast-food wrapper in site. They arrive home in time to cook a well-balanced meal of superfoods for their children who are eager to finish their homework before diving into a delicious plate that is up to the FDA’s latest nutritional standards. The kids brush their teeth in tiny circles for two minutes, floss and then head to their organic-sheeted beds to read their bedtime books in Japanese, their third language. They fall asleep immediately giving their parents plenty of time to watch the final episode of Orange is the New Black and get a full eight hours of sleep without once checking their work email.

Being “completely balanced” sounds like you’re living in a catalog, which is great but some of us don’t have time to peruse a catalog. Some of us are too busy meeting deadlines, mending costumes and searching the couch for change in hopes of buying an extra hour in the day.

Besides, haven’t you heard? There’s no such thing as a work-life balance, so do the best you can and save your money for vacation. Or, you know, vet bills.

TIME Parenting

This Twitter Feed of a Fake Overprotective Daycare Will Make Your Day

Especially if you're a parent

Are you surrounded by touchy-feely, super-appropriate parents? Do you dread questions about soy milk in the daycare pickup line? Then the fake Twitter feed of Los Feliz Day Care is for you.

L.A. comedian Jason Shapiro gathered parenting inspiration from his girlfriend (who is getting a PhD in education) and from eavesdropping around Los Feliz. And while he originally started this genius account as a way to prank his co-workers, the results are still pretty incredible:

Shapiro doesn’t have kids, but says he would probably be a pretty hip dad. “I think that I would 100% fall into the category of dressing my kids of up in hip clothes and Beastie Boys T-shirts,” he says. “I think I would still try to make fun of it and make light of it, but this parody is really coming from a place of understanding.”

What’s the most ridiculous parenting trope he’s lampooning? The anti-vaxxers, he says. Los Feliz’s twitter bio specifies that “**we do not accept immunized children**” and Shapiro says he thinks the trend against vaccination is ridiculous. “It has the potential to be dangerous for other kids,” he says.

Shapiros says he wants his fake Twitter to be funny, but he also has an ulterior motive: to meet “comedy legend” Jon Cryer, but Barack Obama would also be cool.

“If he thinks this is funny and wants to invite me to the White House, that would be awesome”

TIME Parenting

Unplug! Your Children’s Future Depends On It

Boy next to adults with smart phones
Getty Images

Jennifer Moses is a writer and painter.

Our First World reliance on devices means kids aren't experiencing the day-to-day challenge of merely being conscious

My 21-year-old daughter was just home for the weekend, which was wonderful for all the obvious reasons. But her visit reminded me–as if I needed reminding–that I am so out-of-touch with the zeitgeist that I may as well be a preserved relic from Victorian times. By nature I’m so deeply Victorian that not only is my favorite architectural style all turrets and wraparound porches, but my distaste for what most people call “progress” could rival conservative British politician Benjamin Disraeili’s. And though I work on a computer–I’m not, after all, a masochist–and rely on both email and Google, the rest of it leaves me, at best, bored, and at worst, positively alarmed.

I couldn’t care less about and, in fact, don’t actually know what the following terms refer to: apps, Snapchat, Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram. And I have to admit that I had to Google most of these (see above). I don’t text, and I certainly don’t sext. Sexting for me is standing naked in front of my husband and saying, “Do you think it’s time for a tummy tuck?” I read the kind of books that you have to lug around with you and stack on your nightstand. I never got rid of my records (music recorded on vinyl), and I don’t own an iPod because when I’m walking the dogs or working in the garden, I prefer to listen to the sound of the falling leaves than Lorde singing “Royals” or Usher singing “She Came to Give It To You,” or God forbid anything, ever, by the talent-free Lady Gaga (had to Google this stuff, too, under “most popular singers 2014″). I don’t know the difference between a latte and a cappuccino and a Frappuccino and a frappé. I know what you’re saying: “Oh, Jennifer, you think you’re just so superior, don’t you? You think you’re just so retro-pure-intellectual dog-walking all-natural undyed-gray-haired awesome?”

Yes. Or at least a little bit. Because I’m in my fifties and have read a lot of books, I know without having to do a scientific study that all this reliance on our techno-toys is bad news–for grownups, for children, even for dogs, who would rather canoodle with their human-friend than be stuck on the sidelines. As for small children, don’t even get me started, because if I see one more mommy/daddy pushing her/his child in the stroller while being plugged into her/his iPod or cell phone, I’m going to puke. That doesn’t compare to the armies of small children who spend vast amounts of their free time pushing various buttons on their various electronic devices. And I know, boy do I know, children, when bored, are unpleasant to be around. They whine. They make you wish you’d never had them. I myself had whiny children, and was once one myself. I was such a whiny whiner that I turned whining into high art. And in part because I tended to depression and anxiety, I loved nothing more than TV, which took me away from myself, at least for as long as the tube was still on. I could sit in front of the TV for hours, numbing out on all the greats: The Flintstones, The Beverly Hillbillies, I Dream of Jeannie, The Munsters, My Favorite Martian. But my mother, having been raised at a time when parents said no often and without guilt, wouldn’t let me do that, except when I was sick. Instead, when I whined or complained of boredom, she said that I had two choices: I could go outside and play or I could read. End of story, full stop.

The thing that’s just so awful and sad and terrible and stupid-making about our entire First World reliance on and love of our devices isn’t just that kids with totally straightforward neurology become, by default, unable to concentrate or take in information or synthesize or analyze or so much as string a few coherent sentences together, but that their very souls, and ours, get sucked straight out of our bodies and dispersed among the pixels and bottom-lines of the smart people who are making money by providing us with the addictive technology that we can’t get enough of. (As good a definition of addiction of any is: enough is never enough—just ask an alcoholic.) And why do we reach for our devices? For our Facebook feeds and mobile apps and appallingly loud and vulgar music and endless varieties of crappy TV shows? Because it’s easier to numb out than to face our fears, anxieties, hopes and dreams, impulses, devils, demons, defeats, pasts, futures, and, most of all, present, our here-and-now when things might not completely conform to the Hollywood version of what our lives are supposed to be.

Yes, folks, being human is difficult, at worst awful, at best wonderful, and most of the time, mixed. Remember, for example, the Bible? Whether you believe in its sanctity or not, the Bible is a remarkable document not for its account of wonders and miracles but rather its telling of the day-to-day challenge of merely being conscious, merely being human in a vast and unknowable universe where a fellow still has to get up every morning and bring home the curds-and-whey, water the camels and raise quarrelsome children.

Speaking of Jacob and Essau, do you want to raise grounded, reasonable, civilized children without getting a PhD? Here’s how: turn off the TV. Don’t let your children have their own devices of any kind whatsoever until high school. Make them go to bed at a reasonable hour. Don’t help them with their homework. Never hit or shame them, but go ahead and punish them when their behavior is bad. Don’t for one moment try to be their friend. And when they’re little, don’t even think about “the family bed,” unless you want to both kill your marriage and raise terrifying little monsters who will never manage to mature past adolescence. Finally, when they’re bored, give them a choice between playing outside and reading a book. In between, throw them a couple of peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and an apple or two.

Yes, that’s it.

Ever since our second date, my husband has accused me of being a flat-worlder, a Luddite, an all-around fuddy-duddy. But I’m not. Not even a little. I just know, from my own lifelong experience of living inside my own messy head, that the more I use my machines to escape myself, the more my true self shrivels up and dies a slow and unremarkable death.

Jennifer Moses is a writer and painter.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY First-Time Dad

How to Cook a Real Dinner for Your Family…and Finish Before 9 p.m.

Luke Tepper

First-time dad Taylor Tepper asks parents and cooking experts for advice on feeding a family while maintaining your sanity. What he learns: Focus on formats.

Last week, I stood in the first aisle of my local grocery store for a few minutes blinking at a bin of scallions.

I had a cart in one hand, a shopping list in the other, and a podcast playing in my ear. I needed to grab a bunch of groceries, get home and make dinner.

But at some point in the produce section, I fell victim to a momentary lapse of cognitive function, as if I was a computer that had overheated. For a moment, I wished I had simply ordered in Chinese.

A parent’s day is long. Ours starts at 5:30 a.m. with a groggy baby and two sleep-deprived parents, and I don’t return home with dinner’s ingredients in tow until 7 p.m.

To be clear, I genuinely relish the responsibility of providing my family with sustenance. Plus I know there are real benefits to eating real food prepared at home: We can eat more healthfully and save a few bucks in the process.

But my problem is that I’m terrible at planning. I’ll look up a recipe before I head home from work, buy everything on the ingredient list (often forgetting that I have a quarter of the stuff at home), walk home and make the meal. On that day last week when I paused in front of the scallions, for instance, I ended up preparing a baked chicken dish with Kalamata olives, dates, tomatoes with an herb jus and mashed potatoes.

Delicious. Only, my wife and I finished eating close to 9 p.m.—at which point I devolved into a coma.

I know I’m wasting time and money. I need help. I need a plan.

So I turned to a few experts: KJ Dell’Antonia, who as the lead writer at the New York Times Motherlode blog has written on her successes and failures of cooking for a family, my friend Cara Eisenpress whose cookbook and blog BigGirlsSmallKitchen.com document dinner prep in a diminutive Brooklyn apartment, and Phyllis Grant, a former pastry chef whose blog DashandBella.com chronicles meals made with her kids.

The Game Plan

“Obviously I’m a big fan of planning,” says Dell’Antonia. “There’s nothing like realizing that it’s 4 pm and you’ll have to make dinner again tonight—but not only do you know what it is already, but you’ve got all the ingredients and maybe some prep work done. Saves my life every time.”

But what type of plan is best for a busy working parent like me?

Cara told me to forget about specific recipes and think more broadly.

“When planning, think in terms of formats,” she says. “Pasta, hearty soups, stir fries, roasted cut-up chicken, and eggs are all classes of weeknight dinner that are so simple to vary.”

In other words, rather than shopping for a pasta dish on Monday (like Lemon Fettuccine with Bacon and Chives) and then returning to the store on Tuesday in search of ingredients for for another (say Orecchiette Carbonara with Scallions and Sun-dried Tomatoes), plan on whipping up two pasta dishes and a chicken entrée over the next few days and then map out recipes from there. That way you’ll buy overlapping ingredients.

At the same time, though, be mindful of planning too far ahead, says Cara.

“Don’t shop for the seven nights’ worth of formats—you’ll waste food and money if something comes up,” she advised. “Better to plan out fewer and then grab a few miscellaneous staples that could turn into dinner as needed, like extra onions (caramelized onion grilled cheese), a box of spinach (lentil soup with spinach), or some bacon (breakfast for dinner).”

Grant even suggests preparing more than one night’s worth of a neutral protein like chicken, which she notes “can be a life saver, You won’t get sick of it because you can dress it up with some many different flavors and techniques.”

Most importantly, Cara said, make sure you have a stocked pantry—including olive oil, vinegar, mustard, salt, rice, pasta and cheddar, among others—to augment whatever recipes you’ve chosen.

The Defense Formation

After you’ve figured out the formats and recipes you’re interested in for the next couple of days, it’s time to actually buy the food.

But the grocery store is like a casino: The thing is designed to have you spend more time shuffling along the aisles so that you look at more food. They even mess with the music (see #19 here).

If you’re not careful, you’ll arrive home with a beautiful jar of jam that will sit in your fridge for the next six months. (Guilty!)

That’s why Dell’Antonia recommends shopping with a list, “and not buying anything that’s not on it,” says. “Ridiculously, I save money by sending my babysitter to the grocery store when I can. Her time costs me less than I’d spend in ‘Oh, look! Halloween Oreos!'”

Also, look for items that will make your cooking life easier, says Cara. “Don’t shy away from shortcut ingredients. Find brands of tomato sauce, salsa, stock, pre-washed spinach, ravioli, etc. that you like: each of those gets you a third of the way to dinner. There are some vegetables I think of as shortcuts too because they require so little prep: a potato you can rinse and then bake, and my go-to, fennel, where you just remove the outer skin, quarter what’s left, and roast to get a super simple serving of vegetables.”

Kickoff!

Time to practice my new strategy.

I replenished up my pantry—I was a little low on olive oil and pepper—and decided to prepare Chicken with Figs and Grapes from Grant’s blog. I even bought a little extra chicken and stock for some soup later in the week (guess I was in a chicken format mood.)

Her recipe calls for about a dozen different ingredients, but since my pantry is already full, I only need to pick up the chicken, anchovies, figs and grapes.

I’m in and out of my local grocery store in five minutes (without jam!) and before long my kitchen is humming right along.

The dish is relatively easy to prepare and after a little less than 30 minutes in the oven, my wife and I have a meal for tonight and tomorrow. I arrived home by 7:15pm and we finished eating around an hour later, about 45 minutes quicker than normal and nearly a Tepper weekday record.

Our stomachs were full, the kitchen relatively clean and my brain didn’t wither like a raisin during the process.

A sense of peace had been restored in my life.

Adulthood can be difficult—after a long day of work, it often just feels easier to order a delicious Korean BBQ kimchi burrito than expending the time and effort to put together a meal. So sometimes the Teppers do just that.

But as Cara says, “Cooking at home is one of the best parts of being a grown-up. You get to eat exactly what you want when you want it. So, if you like to eat, you like not spending all your money, and you like putting relatively healthful food in your body, you should probably learn to cook.”

And if you’re going to do it, plan ahead.

Taylor Tepper is a reporter at Money. His column on being a new dad, a millennial, and (pretty) broke appears weekly. More First-Time Dad:

TIME Parenting

The Parent Trap: Are Flexible Work Policies Hurting Moms And Dads?

Close up of scales
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Flexible work policies have been hailed as a way to promote work-life balance; the reality is that they may hamper career progress for both men and women. But there's a silver lining

The Daddy Bonus. The Mommy Penalty. We’ve seen a lot of news recently about how the pay gap between men and women is sometimes tied to parenthood. Research shows that mothers, in particular, are greeted with a new baby’s smiles along with a cut to their income, while new fathers can expect a bonus and pat on the back.

And yet a recent study has challenged this body of work, and complicated our understanding of parenthood’s effects on one’s career. The study found that an employee’s parental status—not gender or whether the worker is a mother versus a father—can trigger negative treatment from an employer. It’s an odd silver lining, to be sure. But this research wrinkle — along with other new findings — could help move our conversation about flexibility and family-friendly polices further from the realm of “women’s issues” and over to “everyone issues.” And when managers finally understand that workplace flexibility issues affect everyone, they may finally start to act on them.

Like a kid procrastinating on his homework, it’s not that managers don’t know they should probably be implementing better policies already. In fact, a new Working Mother survey sponsored by Ernst & Young shows that eight out of ten managers acknowledge that employees should have access to flexible work options, even though 39 percent admit to wishing they didn’t have to tackle such a tough management task.

But it may not be as tough as they think — because there are plenty of other models out there that they can mimic. And that, as I wrote recently, is often how change happens inside big companies, anyway — for example, SAS, The Gap, Deloitte, and Ernst & Young.

There’s also plenty of desire for these changes among both men and women. This is where the findings really get interesting. Men say, in the Working Mother survey, for example, that both parents should equally share child care (88 percent) and chores (83 percent), and they report allocating the time saved by working-from-home to caregiving and household responsibilities. About eight in ten of 1000 men surveyed have flexible work schedules and feel comfortable using flextime and telecommuting. Three-quarters believe “a parent should be home with children after school.” But that parent does not have to be the mom: 80 percent of the men are comfortable with mom as primary breadwinner; 39 percent would prefer to be stay-at-home dads.

What about the men who don’t have those flexible schedules? They’re less satisfied with their career prospects, skill development opportunities and compensation. They even feel like they get less support from a spouse or partner to accomplish work tasks.

But the flexibility pendulum can swing too far. The men in the study who reported being the most stressed — even more so than men not using flex-time or telecommuting — were the fathers who worked from home full-time. Most said they felt isolated and unable to escape work, while also sensing that because they worked from home, their job commitment was being questioned by others. That’s the same experience that women have been reporting for years.

Indeed, the stay-at-home workers may be wise to be wary. The academic study found that managers often interpret a person’s use of flex-work options as a signal of high or low job commitment. Specifically, the research found that if a boss attributes an employee’s need for flex to personal-life reasons like child care, as opposed to job performance enhancement reasons like acquiring new skills, the boss tends to assess the employee as less committed and less deserving of career rewards such as raises and promotions. In fact, the manager may even recommend what the authors call a career penalty: reduced responsibility or outright demotion or firing.

The irony: Flexible work policies likely designed to ease parents’ work-family tensions may, in practice, sometimes hamper career progress for parents. But now that mothers and fathers are in this together, perhaps they can teach their bosses that this parent trap is a risk to their bottom line.

Nanette Fondas, co-author of The Custom-Fit Workplace, writes about business, economics, and family. Her work has been published in The Atlantic, Harvard Business Review, Psychology Today, Slate, Ms., Quartz, as well as academic journals. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Television

Transparent Creator Jill Soloway on Making the World Safer for Trans People

Comedian and TV Writer Jill Soloway attends LGBTQ TV on October 11, 2014 in New York City.
Comedian and TV Writer Jill Soloway attends LGBTQ TV on October 11, 2014 in New York City. Anna Webber—Getty Images for The New Yorker

The 'Six Feet Under' and 'United States of Tara' vet explains how her Amazon instant hit was inspired by her family

This post originally appeared on Rolling Stone.

One day three years ago, writer-director Jill Soloway got a phone call with some life-changing news: Her father was coming out as a transgender woman. “It was a total surprise,” she says. But as the elder Soloway, now a retired psychiatrist in her late 70s, explained the transition over the phone, “I reacted like a parent myself,” says Jill. “I tried to make sure that the person knows that they’re safe and unconditionally loved.” (To avoid confusion, Jill uses gender-neutral terms like “parent” and “they.”)

The experience became the basis for Transparent, an Amazon Instant series and one of the fall’s best new TV shows. It tells the story of the Pfeffermans, whose patriarch (Jeffrey Tambor) goes from Papa Mort to “Moppa” Maura. The cast also features Gaby Hoffman as Maura’s daughter Ali, Amy Landecker as daughter Sarah, Jay Duplass as son Josh and Judith Light as ex-wife Shelly. Portlandia’s Carrie Brownstein plays Ali’s friend, Syd, and The Office’s Melora Hardin is almost unrecognizable as Sarah’s lover, Tammy. Ultimately, it’s a family drama with a singular purpose: “I wanted to make something that would make the world safer for my parent,” says Soloway.

The prolific Soloway – who has producer credits on Grey’s Anatomy and United States of Tara and won a directing award at Sundance last year for her film Afternoon Delight – had wanted to make a “family show” since her two-year stint writing for Six Feet Under ended nine years ago. “Pretty shortly after they came out,” she says, referring to her parent, “I was thinking, ‘I’ve got a TV show now.’ It just immediately hit me as this is the show I’ve been waiting my whole life to write.”

The show’s first season premiered in its entirety on Soloway’s birthday and, even though critics were buzzing favorably about the show, she recalls being in a fugue state. As she tells Rolling Stone about all the ways making Transparent had been positive for her and her family, it seems as though the feeling of being stunned has transformed into happiness. “It’s exciting to know that it resonates so much with people,” she says. “But it’s definitely a new feeling.”

How long have you had the idea for the show?
Ever since I was working on Six Feet Under, I had an idea of doing a family show. And then the trans aspect made itself clear to me when my own parent came out as trans.

My sister worked on the show — she wrote the seventh episode [“The Symbolic Exemplar”]. She’s kind of, like, my other half. But when I imagined this show, there was always a brother. I actually think Ali and Josh are more like my sister and I are. In some ways my sister and I are like Sarah and Ali, and in some ways we’re like Josh and Ally. But in imagining the family, there were always three kids.

MORE: Jeffrey Tambor on His ‘Transparent’ Transformation

Who are you most like in the family?
I feel like I’m a lot like Josh. I really relate to the feeling of falling in love 10 times a day and wishing I could never stop falling in love. And then there are parts of me in Ali and parts of my sister in Ali. Faith is the person who would be living on her Price Is Right money for a few years, and I’m more of a Silver Lake mom, so in some ways I’m more like Sarah. And my sister Faith is gay, so in some ways she’s more like Sarah. So I think autobiographical stuff is all thrown in a blender and mixed around and evenly distributed amongst all three kids.

How much of the show is autobiographical?
I would say it’s almost 98 percent fictionalized. The Pfeffermans are just very real people. The reason I wanted to cast Jeffrey is because he’s always reminded me of my parent. They really have a very similar sense of humor and that was just immediate. Other than that, it’s not really autobiographical.

My mom had a husband who had frontal temporal dementia, who couldn’t speak, similar to the story of Shelly and Ed. He passed away a few years ago, the same summer that my parent was coming out. So I’d say that stuff is all informed by what was going on in my life at the time. A lot of things that I was experiencing and saying to myself, this feels like a TV show and thinking, “Good thing I have a TV show that I’m writing so that I can process all this stuff.”

Something to help you work through it.
I was really working through it. I felt kind of lucky actually.

What I like about Ali is she seems like a character you could do almost anything with. Is that why you chose Gaby Hoffman?
I saw her in an episode of Louie, and I just loved the way she was talking the whole time and he’s trying to get a word in edgewise and he lets her break up with him. I just loved the way words rolled off her tongue and nothing seemed written. I loved how free she was. I was just like who is this really cool, Jewish lady? And she’s not even Jewish.

MORE: The Best TV of 2014 So Far

You might say the opposite of Judith Light.
With her, I knew that even though America knew her as the Who’s the Boss blonde person and even as the character that I remembered her from on One Life to Live. She’s been playing these Jewish moms on Broadway and that she, herself, was Jewish. When I started to imagine her without blonde hair, I was able to see Shelly in her.

When I was casting her, [actor-filmmaker] Josh Radnor called me to say, “I just hope you realize she’s a magical being. She has spiritual power and can understand people’s emotional lives in an instant.” I was down for that. On one of the early days of the shoot, a bee stung on the top of my head when we were in the park – filming the push-up scene – and then later that afternoon I was shooting a scene with Judith, and she was doing Reiki healing on me and fixed the pain. That and the Vicodin fixed it.

How did you connect with Carrie Brownstein?
Originally, when we were trying to cast Tammy, her name came up. But I always felt Tammy was really tan and blonde, like Lady Diana or someone who spent some time in her childhood on a ranch. And Carrie just seemed too Jewy to play Tammy, but I really, really wanted to work with her, so in the writers’ room we created this character of Syd for her.

You’ve said you really wanted the show to be five people who were equally lovable as well as unlikable. Is that a hard balance to strike?
I’m always going for truth and honesty. I’m a fan of Louis C.K., I’m a fan of Lena Dunham. I love shows about people that other people would consider unlikable, or like the work of Woody Allen and Albert Brooks. I love a kind of shambling outsider protagonist who always feels like they’re “other.” And so the challenge was to make five of those people in the family instead of just one. I’ve written scripts before about a single odd outsider and someone who’s trying to make sense of the world. I like that idea that all five of these people would be connected over their common legacy of feeling different, feeling on the outside.

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What does your parent think of the show?
They love it. All four of us in our family – my sister, my mother and my, I guess you could use the word “moppa” – were all just kind of standing back and watching this thing that feels a bit like a tribute to our family but mostly like something else entirely, something so much bigger than us. We’re just all watching it together and checking in with each other every day. “How are you doing? And what do you think?”

There’s this zeitgeisty moment in the trans community, and this show happened to land in the right place, by accident really. It’s probably a show that couldn’t have been made five years ago, and five years from now [it] wouldn’t have that same feeling of “Holy shit, we’ve never seen this before.” It’s kind of fun actually to be all experiencing this together.

How much work did you need to do with Jeffrey to create Maura?
I keep saying this weird feeling that Maura Pfefferman existed out in the universe, this whole family did. She was waiting for me to notice her and waiting for me to go get Jeffrey so she could appear through him. Somebody said in an email I was sent that Maura felt spiritual to them. I was feeling that a lot when I was talking to our hair and wardrobe people about her costumes and her hair — that she should be a California hippie, kind of a Wiccan, two spirits, high priestess. It all felt so organic.

Early Maura was a little bit more awkward, who hadn’t felt her sense of style…that had one sort of feeling. And I think in the fourth episode when Davina helps her use her own hair on top and use her silver extensions underneath, she really transforms into somebody else. Even the hair and makeup people said that Jeffrey was a certain level of comfort.

I never felt like I was working with Jeffrey to “do” her, I just felt like I was trying to stand back and let her come through.

Do you have ideas for Season Two?
A little bit. I’m starting to see the beginnings of what the characters would do in a second season. But I love the writers’ room process so much. I think more of what I’m going to be doing is trying to stop coming up with too much of it so we can all do it together when we all get back together.

Your parent must be very proud of you.
Yeah, they are. They came to the set on Jeffrey’s 70th birthday actually. It was a really special day. We gave Jeffrey a big cake. And they came to the premiere as well. It was really cool.

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