This kid dices onions and wields a kitchen torch

bruléeing a creme brulée
© Dylan W. – Six-year-old Austin concentrates on bruléeing a crême brulée for Christmas dinner

Week 6 of our meal-prepping series will introduce you to a dad who's serious about teaching his kids how to cook.

Welcome to the latest instalment of TreeHugger's new series, "How to feed a family." Every week we talk to a different person about how they approach the never-ending challenge of feeding themselves and other household members. We get the inside scoop on how they grocery shop, meal plan, and food prep to make it go more smoothly.

Parents work so hard to feed their children and themselves, to put healthy meals on the table, to avoid spending a fortune at the grocery store, and to fit it all around busy work and school schedules. It's a feat worthy of more praise than it commonly gets, which is why we want to highlight it – and hopefully learn from it in the process. This week's interview features a father, Dylan, who does most of the cooking, shopping, and bread-baking (!) in his house. (Responses edited for clarity.)

Name: Dylan (33), wife Kristen, kids Austin (6) and Verity (4)

Location: Ontario, Canada

Employment status: Both parents work full-time. Kristen works 12-hour shifts. Dylan works straight days.

Weekly food budget: Approx. $250 CAD

What are 3 favorite or commonly prepared meals in your household? We eat cold rolls (rice paper, tofu, mango, peppers, cucumber, peanut butter) almost every week. The other ones change seasonally. In the summer it's usually just grilled meat and vegetables. In the winter we eat a lot of cream of vegetable soups made from scratch, homemade pizza, and noodle stir-fries.

Austin stirring© Dylan W. – Austin helps his dad to prepare turkey stuffing and cranberry sauce for Christmas dinner.

1. How would you describe your diet?

We are omnivores who try to eat as seasonally and locally as is reasonable.

2. How often do you shop for groceries?

Usually twice a week

3. What does your grocery shopping routine look like?

I try and do a big shop on Sunday to get ready for the week and then usually have to supplement it by Wednesday or Thursday, depending on how far my leftovers stretched. I buy my meat at the local butcher shop or from Eat Local (a food co-op that delivers locally-raised products to people's homes). In the summer I get a CSA (community supported agriculture) share and garden a little, and in the winter most of my veggies come from the grocery store. We try not to each much processed food, so I mostly shop in the produce, dairy, and freezer sections of the store.

4. Do you meal plan? If so, how often and how strictly do you stick to it?

I usually plan for 3 meals and then expect to get another 2 out of leftovers or the pantry.

5. How much time do you spend cooking each day?

I’d say I average an hour daily, but on Sundays I usually spend a couple hours. There are usually 2 nights during the week where I’m lucky to have 20 minutes to cook. (This doesn’t count the time I spend baking bread, which I do every week but is pretty passive…maybe an hour of active time over 3 days.)

Austin at the stove© Dylan W. – Austin stirs at the stove.

6. How do you handle leftovers?

The grownups take leftovers for lunch usually and we often have one night a week where dinner is just cleaning out the fridge. Verity calls it "snacks for dinner," a combo of leftovers, veggies and dip, and often some cheese and crackers.

7. How many dinners per week do you cook at home vs. eat out or take out?

We don’t usually eat out more than 3 times a month…some times we "half" eat out, like splitting a couple orders of fish and chips with a homemade salad.

8. What are the biggest challenges in feeding yourself and/or your family?

We try to find a balance between healthy, sustainable, economical, timely, and delicious, but getting the right balance is tough. The last one is non-negotiable and we are usually happy to get 3 out of the other four. The toughest part is probably keeping enough good food on hand without throwing too much out. Since we don’t eat too much processed food and try to eat mostly veggies the fridge feels really full when we get home from the grocery store and either empty or mostly empty with sad wilted things left by mid-week.

9. Any other information you’d like to add?

I think the key to getting a good dinner on the table with working parents is getting everyone involved. I am the primary cook but most nights everyone in our house contributes a little – grating cheese, tasting sauce, chopping veggies. Austin dices an onion better than I do and both kids love to help out cooking.

For more stories in this series, see How to feed a family

This kid dices onions and wields a kitchen torch
Week 6 of our meal-prepping series will introduce you to a dad who's serious about teaching his kids how to cook.

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