The Jewish Life Piece of Time Management

time for change

A few weeks ago, I received the following email from a regular KOAB reader:

I feel pretty good about my time management skills but the frustration I have is that as observant Jews- we have so much more to do!

I love my Jewish life but I have to be honest that (especially during Pesach recovery) I sometimes resent having to cook so much! I meal plan weekdays and shabbat but I am always thinking about shabbat and chag and it can be a burden.

I hate staying up till midnight cooking for shabbat on Thursday nights after I just cleaned up from regular Thurs night dinner (which is always simple stuff, like veggie burgers or omelets but still….) I work on Fridays and even in the past when I didn’t, I resented that the whole day became about cooking! I also find that I have lots of guests on Shabbat, which I love but is sometimes a lot of work.

For me, and I’m sure for other women like me, the question of finding time to exercise for example, is complicated by the responsibilities associated with living a shomer shabbat life.

What advice do you have?

There’s no doubt that the Jewish “rhythm” adds a complicating factor to anyone trying to streamline and simplify their schedules. As I recently said to a non-Jewish friend of mine, cooking for Shabbat is likely making Thanksgiving dinner x2, 52 times a year.

Only on Thanksgiving, you can use electricity.

One way we have simplified our lives is by keeping Friday nights almost exclusively for our family. We rarely have guests Friday night — especially since we tend to bring Shabbat in early so that our kids can get to bed at a relatively decent time.

I also make very simple meals for our family Fridays, like chicken fajitas, chicken or burgers on the grill, or spaghetti and meatballs. And I serve fresh fruit for dessert, rather than baking something elaborate.

I know this won’t work for every family, but if you can get your spouse and kids on board, it will significantly reduce your Shabbat burden.

My friend Jessica, who is a full-time physician, married to a full-time architect, with three boys five and under, has come up with an ingenuous system that works great for her family. Each evening, she makes one thing – main course, side dish, dessert, challah. She triples or quadruples the recipe, so her freezer is always stocked with the full components of a Shabbat meal.

If you have the evening hours with which to do this, I think it’s a great option.

But more than new systems, frankly, I think as women, as families and as communities we need to get better about giving ourselves a little bit of breathing room.

Lechem mishneh is a requirement. Four course meals, with six salads and two main course options is not.

No one can do it all, all the time.

Ask yourselves: What must I do, halachically? What do I want to do, personally? What’s important to my husband? My children? Me?

And – most importantly – What can I let go of?

I’d love to hear how you all balance the responsibilities of “life” with the requirements of “Jewish life”. Do you feel like you have a good balance – or are you careening toward burnout?


  1. I have found that I had to stop having as many guests, and cook less elaborate meals when we have guests. The guests are about company not about 6 course meals. Instead of suffering and cooking a lot and having tons of leftovers, cook less and enjoy the company. I also bought a huge freezer and started to quadruple my kugals, challah, soups etc. This past shabbos, I made chicken and everything else was from the freezer!

  2. CarolineEr says

    Potluck, my friends, potluck. It makes everyone’s lives easier!

  3. Esther Schnaidman says

    One thing I can say is that it gets easier when the kids are older. It was much tougher when the kids are young. At one time, I was going to work full time, going to graduate school at night, had 3 little kids under the age of 10 and no cleaning help. Luckily, my husband was very supportive and very tuned into the situation. Although he doesn’t cook or clean , he does a lot of the grocery shopping and the majority of homework help. I learned in those days to spend a few nights and Sundays cooking and freezing. Meats, chickens, kugels, soups, baked goods. To this day, this is my approach. I almost always have a full freezer which really is my saving grace. I still work full time and have no cleaning help, but keeping that freezer stocked is a godsend. Also, I do a little bit of cleaning each day when I get home from work, so it makes it doable. I have trained all of my kids, including the boys, the art of cleaning a bathroom , dusting vacuuming, take out the garbage, etc. without having to be nagged. If everyone helps, the load is much lighter and there is no resentment.

    • Kol Hakavod!
      “without having to be nagged” and “resentment” hits home
      I come from not religious and not so organized small family, so Jewish rhythm in general and Shabbosim in particular with four children under 10 are my HUGE challenge. I give myself too much slack 🙁 How do I truly master it ….

  4. I find that this frustration ebbs and flows as our family and schedule changes. A new baby, a lot of extra work, illness in the family, and a whole lot of other things can make getting the basics done a challenge. And sometimes I’ll have the time and presence of mind to enjoy cooking xtras and sides and making up recipes.

    But I usually make a whole lot of something – like 8 pans of spinach or broccoli kugel or prep four whole chickens, and then use one for that week and freeze the rest.

    Then next week (or in two weeks), I can pull out one of those to use and focus on making 8 pans of butternut squash kugel or a triple batch of cookies. (And I then freeze those extras and next week…it’s a rolling cycle!)

    And sometimes, you can have a purchased hummus, challah, and sesame noodle lunch and cut yourself some slack. 😉

  5. It takes time to fall into a rhythm that works for you, and then just when you find it, something happens to shake it up and you have to go searching again. I think that’s just what life is like — in any area, and for any person, though I definitely hear what the questioner is saying about the work that a frum life entails.

    We have guests according to what we can handle. That means, first of all, no more than one couple with 2-3 kids at a time (small living space!). It also means that if I’m in the middle of a big work assignment or just plain tired, no guests at all. When it’s just us, I do make less food but Friday does tend to be about cooking anyway. I leave everything for Friday so that Thursday doesn’t also become about cooking!

    Potlucks are terrific, as CarolineEr says. We’ve done that a couple of times and should definitely do more of it.

  6. What I did when my kids were little was this: Thursdays were for cooking therefore Thursday’s supper was always pizza. Always-for at least 15 years. No exceptions-I’m only human.
    The other thing i did was make the same thing for Shabbos. Soup, chicken, buy the potato kugel, serve a frozen vegetable, coleslaw. Yes, it sounds awful now but at the time I had three little kids, no time and no money. it worked and no one complained.
    Now i have time to make my own potato kugel (infinitely better), etc. but then, i did what I had to do.

  7. Although I do think that part of the enjoyment and “spirit” of Shabbos is serving foods that are different and more special from what we eat during the week, I also feel that it NEGATES that enjoyment and spirit for women (families) to exhaust themselves physically and financially cooking unduly elaborate, expensive, often wasteful, and exceedingly unhealthy meals. As a teacher of mine once put it, with regard to the question of whether all that effort is truly l’kavod Shabbos, or merely to impress the guests, “Think about how differently people cook when it’s just the family at home”.
    Another point to consider against the notion of humongous, fancy meals is that while entertaining friends is a lovely thing to do, and (usually) promotes good feelings among fellow Jews, according to most authorities that does not qualify as fulfillment of the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim (welcoming guests). In order to properly perform that mitzvah, we need to be sure to invite people who are genuinely in need of our hospitality–those who do not have a place to sleep or eat if we do not provide it for them. I wish I could say that I was purely righteous in this aspect, but like most others I also prefer to have “quiet Shabbosim”, or to spend my time and resources on friends whose company we enjoy. However, I find that when we do open our home to people genuinely in need, they are exceptionally grateful, are satisfied with much less (no need for the “wow” factor), and we come out richer for the experience–as do our children.

  8. Lymor Wasserman says

    Not only do I cook for Shabbat Thursday night, but I cook meat for the week and separate into portions. I work full time + and am not home until the kids have eaten dinner most nights so the babysitter feeds them.

    During the winter, cholent is my best friend. I throw everything but meat into the pot and cover and put in the fridge, then add the meat in the morning and turn it on. I agree that all you need is a main, pasta or noodles and 2 quick salads. Healthy-conscious also means not so many kugels and kishkes…..fresh broiled veggies are quick and easy.

    I always ask people to bring things, especially paper goods, grape juice, wine and challah (I’m not a baker). Those can get expensive and for people who aren’t cooks is an easy thing to pick up and drop off at my house.

    Last week, after I realized that Shabbat was less than 24 hours after chag had ended, my husband “took care of dinner,” meaning, he bought everything. Made for an easy evening, though certainly not economical.

  9. Suri Fineberg says

    It only took me 38 years but i finally made the decision to only do what works for me. That means that sometimes Friday night is a simple meatballs and spaghetti, and if I feel like it (mostly only if I have off on Thursday or Friday), I make something more elaborate. I make challah on Sunday and freeze. I never feel resentful because I only do what I can. We have guests if I feel like it. Sometimes I just call friends on Thursday night and we combine all of our food at either of our houses. I serve buffet style.

  10. Rivka H. says

    A few years ago, I figured out what was the right amount of effort to put into shabbos meals that my family would appreciate (e.g. totally worth it to make homemade challah each week but they couldn’t care less if we have fancy kugels or side dishes). We periodically discuss what foods really make shabbos special for us (hummus and avocado!). I do love to have the house pretty clean, at least at the beginning of shabbos. I think each family needs to know what their own priorities are and figure out how to achieve them.

  11. Great post, Mara.
    Since I work full-time, as does my husband (who is a cleaner-upper, but not a cook), we do struggle with getting everything ready by Friday. Sometimes we have pre-cooked from the freezer to pull out, but more often than not, we don’t. One thing we have been doing is alternating Friday night dinners with 2 other families. We have some traditional foods, more or less (one of us is a vegetarian), but with 5 children under the age of 4 it’s not about sitting down to a 6-course meal, it’s about friendship and some good eating when the kids are playing.

  12. Diane Gish says

    I used to do crazy cooking now if I’m having folks over I’ll roast whole chickens or pieces, roast potatoes. .make a big salad and maybe a soup i make big batches and keep in the freezer so I have to do is pull it out so that makes life so much easier and then every once in awhile get my ice cream maker out and make tons of sorbet with stock with the freezer easy simple dessert.

    For holidays I cook over a few days…otherwise it’s too overwhelming. I mostly make dishes that prep and cooking time is 30 min or less..with the exception of the meat dish

  13. While its true that cooking for Shabbat is like cooking for thanksgiving, I usually cook extra for Shabbat so that I can have leftovers all week. I very rarely have to cook anything else. I’m off on Fridays, so this works for us.

    However, if I can add to the rant….what’s up with the random Jewish celebrations? Shalom zachor’s, Simchat Bat’s, shabbos Kallah’s, Melavah Malka’s, Lchaims etc..these were so rare when I was growing up. Now every week it’s something else. It’s expensive, time consuming and bad for my budget and waistline. I think we’re making things harder for ourselves..

  14. My husband is always upfront about what he would like to see on the Shabbos table. Wine/Grape juice and challah. Maybe some chummus. Anything above and beyond that is bonus. I try to keep Shabbos dinner to chicken, a veggie or two and rice. If we are having guests for Shabbos lunch, I make different salads, and I’ll serve one meat dish (schnitzel, chulent or cold-cuts). Salads can be prepped before Shabbos, but you can throw them together right before you serve them.

  15. We used to also stay up late Thursday night preparing for Shabbos, but now with 3 kids, cooking is not what I want to be doing at night. We make sure to have a stocked freezer, because even the shopping can be a time-killer. I stick to super easy dishes, like chicken with sauce, 5-minute couscous, and roasted veggies. I really wish I could get back into making homemade challah, but we just aren’t there yet and I’m ok with it 🙂

  16. I have a lot of thoughts on this topic.

    One of the most useful things I’ve learned is, instead of saying, “I don’t have time for [blank],” say, “[Blank] isn’t a priority for me.” Calling a spade a spade that way makes you consider what your priorities really are.

    For example, here are some of my priorities: reading for pleasure daily, even just for a few minutes; walking at least 4 times a week; baking challah; reading bedtime stories to my sons; spending one-on-one time with my daughters.

    Here are some things that are NOT priorities for me: washing the floor, folding laundry, ironing.

    Now, what does that mean, in practical terms? It means that if I haven’t gone for a walk in two days, I am not even going to THINK about folding the laundry until AFTER I go for a walk. And THAT means that I will either delegate the laundry (to my husband or my daughters), or it won’t get folded. Neither of those things embarrasses me. Neither of them is a problem for me, because folding the laundry is NOT a priority for me. If I have to take my laundry unfolded from a basket and wear it, so be it. Folded laundry is a MAJOR priority for my husband, so you can guess who folds a lot of the laundry in our house. Also, we don’t even own an iron.

    Today, my priorities included: take my kids to the pool, get some work done, visit with a friend, and do some laundry (not in that order). In order to fit in my priorities, I decided that, as much as I like to be green and save on electricity, it was NOT a priority to HANG my laundry. Instead, I tossed it in the dryer. NO ONE DIED.

    My husband travels a ridiculous amount for work. Last year, he was literally two weeks in Singapore, one week in Israel, for almost the whole year. So sometimes, I decided that my sanity was a priority, and that meant that sometimes I sent the laundry out to be washed, folded, and returned, for 7 shekels a kilo. That freed up a LOT of my time to work, recharge my batteries, and be a better a mom to my kids.

    If washing your floor is not a priority for you, OWN THAT. Let the people around you know that it is on the BOTTOM of your list. If it matters a lot to your husband, show him the mop. If you choose to make the floor a priority for your husband, that’s fine – but OWN THAT CHOICE. My floor gets washed once a week when the cleaning guy comes. That’s it.

    The bottom line is that we all have priorities. Make sure you know what yours are.

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