Are your kids so busy with after school sports and activities that you don’t know how you are going to find time to cook dinner–or, for that matter, have time to sit and eat it?
It’s no secret that we live in a busy and often over-scheduled world. While summers may offer a break, once school starts up, life gets seriously busy again. Mornings are rushed, days are busy, and afternoons and evenings are suddenly jam-packed with soccer practices, guitar lessons, and theater. All this means that the already persistent, daily question of what’s for dinner becomes even more challenging.
I hear your stress and today I want to share some tips to help you find time for dinner.
- Clean your kitchen. And do your best to keep it that way. An organized pantry and clutter-free counters can do wonders for your cooking motivation and will streamline the cooking process.
- Plan your meals. I know, I know, this one has been suggested a gazillion times, but it really does help! By looking at your upcoming week’s schedule on the weekend you can plan ahead for busy days. To really get a handle on this, use my complete meal planning template. If you don’t need to delve so deep and just want to sketch out dinners, use my simplified meal planning template.
- Plan a night off from cooking. Yes! Give yourself a planned break–whether it’s humpday, Friday, or Saturday–whatever works for you. I usually plan on Saturday as my night off, but when things are really hectic I may plan a takeout Thursday or Friday as well.
- Short-cuts are ok. Pre-cut veggies, frozen cooked rice or quinoa, frozen healthy fries (such as Alexia), frozen cooked shrimp, store-marinated meat, bagged lettuce, and canned beans can all help you get a healthy meal on the table fast. Healthy store-bought soup is also a timesaver. In the winter I often buy Mom’s Chicken Soup from Whole Foods that I gussy up with noodles for the kids and extra veggies for me.
- Batch cook. If you can carve out a 2-3 hour block of time on the weekend, you can prepare 1-2 entrees, 2-3 sides, and prep some veggies for the week ahead. Just double the amount you need for one dinner and freeze or refrigerate the rest. Lasagne, chili, enchiladas, stews, roasted chicken, roasted pork tenderloin, rice, quinoa, and roasted veggies all make great leftovers.
- Use a slow cooker. Over the past few years, I have been learning how to use my slow cooker more. It’s still not my forte, but I have a few slow cooker recipes that I make regularly, and many of my friends swear by it.
- Cook one meal. Yes, that means even those of you with picky eaters. (I have been there!) The key is that everyone at the table sees at least one food they like. For example, rather than making macaroni and cheese for one family member who doesn’t like the main entree being served, serve it as a side dish and let everyone have some. On another day the only food they like at the table may be bread and carrot sticks and on another day it may be meatballs–it’s all ok.
- Get the kids involved. Kids may surprise you in that they actually want to help you set the table or prep veggies. Besides, it gives them something to do other than look in the pantry for something to eat while you are trying to cook dinner! If they need a little nudging work it into their weekly chore expectations. You could also try letting each child plan one dinner a week. (Just set some ground rules so you don’t end up with make-your-own pizza or taco night every night!)
- Speaking of make-your-own nights, plan more of them. The kids clearly love them, they are great for picky eaters, it gets the kids involved, and you have to do less work. In addition to buying pizza dough or taco ingredients, another fun idea is to make buddha or salad bowls. Simply put out an array of ingredients, such as brown rice, farro, quinoa, roasted veggies, raw veggies, chopped lettuce, grilled chicken, and dressing. And then everyone can assemble their own bowl with the ingredients they like. (This is a great way to use leftovers!)
- Sit down together when you can. Yes, in an ideal world we would all have time for a sit-down family dinner every night. But the reality is that this is difficult for most of us on most nights. Don’t stress. Maybe you can designate 3 nights per week to all sit together? Or maybe you make breakfast the main family meal? And even if 3 out of 4 family members are sitting down together, it’s better than zero.
I hope you found these tips helpful. My one final tip is to just keep trying. Like anything, the more you do something the easier it gets. So the more you cook, the more you plan your meals, the more you try to have pleasant dinners, the easier it gets. Honestly, most of my meals are not amazing (I am a much better baker than cook–hence all the muffin recipes on this site, haha!), but I know how to throw together a balanced meal that is usually pretty good. And my overall cooking skills and speed have definitely improved with practice.