Rushing home from an exhausting day, the last thing on your mind is cooking a healthy dinner for your family. The kids are hungry, the baby is crying, it’s already 5:30 p.m. and you have nothing planned for dinner. Desperate for a quick solution, you use the drive-thru for a less than delicious and not so nutritious meal. Sound familiar?
Many parents find themselves so busy with work, school, homework, sports, activities and errands that cooking weeknight meals may seem impossible. In reality, eating at home can be faster, easier and more affordable, even on those hectic school nights with these five steps.
Step 1 – Create a “Go To List”
Start by making a list of meals your family already loves. Be realistic and keep it simple by adding quick and easy recipes that can be put together on a busy evening. Once you have your list, place it where you can refer to it again in the future. This list is your secret weapon to mastering mealtime.
Step 2 – Plan the Week
With your “Go To List” of meals in hand, consult the family calendar. For the busiest and most stressful days, plan a Crock-Pot meal. On days when everyone is coming and going at different times, try sub sandwiches with fruit. Pull ideas from your “Go To List” of meals to fill in the rest of the week. Meal planning will reduce the stress of the evening rush and solve the daily dilemma of “What’s for dinner?”
Step 3 – Go Shopping
Look over your meal plan and make a grocery list. Don’t forget to check the freezer and pantry for items you may already have on hand. When you have your list, head to your favorite store and pick up your items.
Step 4 – Prep Ahead
Prepare as much food as possible in advance. Wash and chop vegetables and fruit, brown meat and put into one-pound batches, put together casseroles and thaw any items you will need in the next few days. Chicken breasts can be cooked in large batches in the Crock-Pot for later use in salads, casseroles, soups or skillet meals. The more you prepare now, the less you will need to do on those busy nights after work.
Step 5 – Stick To It
The hard work is done, and it’s time to stick to your plan. Since everything is prepped and ready, you just have to finish your meals and enjoy. Unexpected challenges may come up, but with an organized plan, you will be able to handle most surprises with ease and avoid getting stuck in the fast food rut once again.
With these five easy steps, you can throw together a fast, healthy and budget-friendly meal, while reducing stress and gaining quality family time.
Quick Tips To Master Mealtime
- Make Two – If you are making one casserole, why not make two? One can be eaten now while the other can be frozen and saved for dinner another night.
- Stock the Freezer – Fill your freezer with both pre-made and homemade items to have on hand for an eventful week.
- Use the Slow Cooker – Toss some things together in the morning and come home to a hot meal after a long day.
- Buy Pre-Made Ingredients – Precut vegetables, cooked rotisserie chicken and ready-to-grill marinated meat are perfect for the active family.
- Have “Buffet” Nights – Designate one night a week to eat leftovers from the fridge to save time and money.
- Stock the Pantry – Have meals on hand you can turn to in a bind, such as spaghetti, bean burritos or quesadillas.
- Plan Theme Nights – Monday – Pasta, Tuesday – Tacos, Wednesday – Stir Fry…. To make it even easier, repeat the theme every week with slight variations in the menu. You will streamline your grocery list, steady your grocery budget and simplify meal planning.
- Do Double Duty – Use extra ingredients to make two meals. For example, leftover taco meat could become enchiladas, nachos or chili. Grilled chicken breast could be used for a salad, soup or casserole.
- Take a Night Off – Add a “Night Out” to your meal plan once in a while to treat yourself and your family. Even better, look for “Kids Eat Free” nights at your favorite restaurants.
- Make It Fun – Get the kids involved in meal planning and food prep. Most importantly, enjoy mealtime together.
Sarah Lyons is a stay-at-home wife and mother of six children, including 18-month-old triplets. Her goal is to make time for family dinners on a regular basis because it helps develop feelings of connection.