After a long day of work, navigating distance learning with your kiddos, and everything in between, the last thing parents want to do is figure out what to make for dinner. Chopping vegetables, mixing sauces and figuring out how to pick something everyone will eat can be incredibly stressful. But making family dinners doesn’t need to be this hard. Family dinner should be about unwinding as a family to enjoy some delicious food and conversation. If this sounds impossible, consider these quick tips to make family dinners easier.
1. Slow Cooker
Slow cooker recipes are a huge time saver. They also allow you to make enough food for leftovers, or to freeze extra portions for another day. Slow cooker recipes are a hands-off way to make a delicious meal and have it ready to eat right when you get home at the end of a long day – whether you are working from an office or at home. Slow cooker meals can include anything from chili, soup or pot roast, allowing you to pick a recipe that the whole family will love.
2. Improvise Ingredients
There’s nothing worse than planning on making a specific meal, only to find that you are missing a key ingredient. Running to the grocery store for a single ingredient is especially inconvenient when all you want to do is get home and put on some sweatpants. Thankfully, there are easy ingredient substitutions you can make, allowing you to still make that recipe you planned on without missing a beat.
3. Prep Early
If your schedule allows it, try prepping different parts of the meal at different times of day. For example, if you are eating leftovers for dinner one night, considering chopping up vegetables for tomorrow night’s dinner before going to bed, so that everything will be ready to go the next day. You may also want to thaw meat in the morning by putting it in the fridge before you leave for work. Even just putting all of the ingredients together on the table can make it a bit easier to get things going when your brain is tired after a long day.
4. One-Pot Meals
There is a time and a place for elaborate, multi-dish meals, but family dinner is not one of them. One-pot meals are extremely versatile and save you from spending a bunch of time cleaning up and doing dishes after dinner. If you have a cast iron or a large pan, you can make chicken with potatoes or pork chops and vegetables all in one pot.
5. Batch Cook
Batch cooking means that you make a few ingredients in large quantities so that you can use them in various recipes throughout the week. For example, cooking a big pot of rice allows you to make chicken and rice one night, a vegetable soup the next and maybe a stir-fry after that. Batch cooking also ensures that you use ingredients effectively, and is a great way to use the food you have the most quantity of, such as an overwhelming amount of fresh tomatoes in the summertime.
6. Freeze Meals
Sometimes dinner just isn’t going to happen, or something comes up to throw off your daily routine. Having some food in the freezer is a great back-up for such occasions. Late night soccer games, board meetings and other events can throw off your family’s schedule, but frozen meals ensure that everyone still gets a healthy and hearty meal. Consider freezing leftover soup or casserole. You may also freeze homemade pizza. Even just having some extra pizza dough ready to go can make an easy meal in no time.
7. Triple Recipes
Have you ever made a recipe only to find that it wasn’t enough to feed your family for more than one night? The best way to cut down on your time spent in the kitchen is to double or even triple recipes. This ensures that everyone will have leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day.
8. Kids Cook
If it is age-appropriate, see if you can get your kids interested in helping cook dinner. Cooking dinner together can be a great way to spend time together, while also teaching necessary life skills. Involve kids by allowing them to pick a dinner recipe, and use this time to help them learn how to mix ingredients, add vegetables or make sure the mac n cheese isn’t burning.
9. Establish a Routine
It’s a crazy time right now. Regardless of if you and your kids are home all day together working and learning or if you follow a hybrid schedule and bounce between home, the office, and school, you can undoubtedly make things easier for yourself and your family by establishing a routine around dinner. Make sure each family member is involved, and divide chores evenly so that everyone knows how they can help. For example, one person might set the table. Another person may clear the table and get the dishwasher started. If you find that each member of your family is on a different routine due to extracurriculars or late work meetings, make a plan so that everyone can help out in even the smallest way to make your evenings a bit easier.
10. Meal Plan
If you have regular anxiety over what is going to be for dinner, save yourself a headache by making a serious meal plan. Planning what you are going to make every week or month not only saves time worrying about what you are going to cook, but also helps to use your groceries more effectively, saving you money and cutting down on food waste. Having a set meal plan can be helpful for picky eaters too. For example, if Thursdays are always pasta days, kids know exactly what to expect, and maybe less reluctant to avoid certain foods.
Enjoying Food and Conversation
Family dinners are a wonderful way to enjoy delicious food and conversation with the people you love. But busy schedules often get in the way of making these dinners enjoyable. If you find yourself stressed about what to make for dinner, consider these quick tips to make family dinners easier.
Jennifer Landis is the founder of Mindfulness Mama, a blog where she talks all things #momlife, marriage, mindfulness, and everything in between. A thirty-something mom of two, Jennifer spends her limited free time practicing yoga and pilates, sipping tea, and reading with her littles. You can find more from Jennifer on Twitter, @JenniferELandis.