Elizabeth Chambers has a tight schedule, but the founder and CEO of BIRD Bakery refuses to let her husband (actor Armie Hammer) make her kids’ lunches. “That’s my time to shine,” she laughs.
On her Instagram Stories, she constantly shares overhead shots of bento boxes stashed with a colorful variety of food even the pickiest kid would love alongside shots of her travels, family life, the occasional stop at an award show, and all the dinners, smoothies, and baked goods that come in between. Planning, she explains, helps her to keep mealtime exciting, easy, and something the whole family can agree on.
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Combining her passion for the kitchen with her masterful time-management skills, Chambers has developed plenty of tips that can help even the most unseasoned cook to separately prepare dinner, pack a lunch with poise, and, in general, make food prep feel fun. Follow her advice below.
Find Your Go-Tos
Always keep one or two recipes in your back pocket to pull out when you’re stumped on what to make for dinner. Chambers abides by two classics: a roast chicken made with rosemary and thyme and a Crock-Pot pot roast. “I do a layer of vegetables–carrots, parsnips, and potatoes—and then I put some beef shoulder with beef consomme,” she explains. “It roasts overnight, and you let it cook for 12 to 18 hours. My husband is obsessed with the smell in the morning.”
Make School Lunch Fun
“I was super ill with the stomach flu the other day, and Armie was like, ‘I’ll pack these lunches.’ I was like, ‘You will not,’” Chambers jokes. “It’s so therapeutic packing my kids’ lunches—the little squares in the bento boxes challenge you to take it to the next level.”
Adults and children eat with their eyes first, Chambers explains, so a bit of presentation can go a long way in a lunchbox. “I love to incorporate fruit on little bamboo spears that you can get on Amazon or World Market. It adds an element of fun for the kids—are you going to eat fruit if it’s in a pile or if it’s on a fun skewer?” she says. “Cookie cutters are also best—if you use cookie cutters to cut out their cheese or to cut their sandwiches, kids get so excited.”
Leftovers can easily be assembled into a school lunch on busy nights, but it’s important to note that not all leftovers are made equally. Some pastas may get congealed by lunchtime or may not taste as great cold. Chambers suggests opting for gnocchi (which tastes good hot or cold, thanks to its potato base) as well as classic sandwiches.
The right container can make a big difference too. For her daughter, Chambers uses a PlanetBox—a stainless steel bento box that comes equipped with different sections—but for her two-year-old son, a colorful bento encourages healthy eating habits. “Yellow and red and blue are the most appetizing colors, which is why all fast-food restaurants have those colors in their logos,” she acknowledges. As an extra-sweet bonus, she also orders themed napkins online (currently, mermaids for her daughter and animals for her son) to make packed lunches feel more personal.
Plan Your Grocery Lists
Grocery shopping for the week can be a laborious process, so Chambers opts to order her staples ahead of time through Instacart. “I have my two Instacart lists that include things like milk for [my son] Ford and broccoli, brussels sprouts, and squash for dinner,” she says. “When you’re doing meal prep, it makes it much easier to know what you have, and then we go to the farmers market to fill in the gaps.”
Proper organization helps Chambers have fun with her food prep, taking time to switch things up every once in a while, all the while using her kitchen favorites: Great Jones cookware, a Silpat for mess-free baking, and glass containers for leftovers.
“I feel like it’s the same as fashion. You have tried-and-true pieces that you love, and then when you feel inspired, it’s fun to try something new. You can always mix and match,” she says. “Sometimes, if you don’t have an ingredient you need, you can mix it up and you might discover a good flavor combination. You just have to know your starting point, and then you can experiment with other options.”
When it comes down to it, a little bit of meal prep can make cooking fun and inspiring, especially when you give yourself room to try new things. “On Sundays, I like to go to the farmers market, which I find super inspiring,” Chambers says. “If you plan, it’s always easier, and it’s such a delight to know you have beautiful, organic food that’s ready to serve.”
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