Life with kids is busy. Life as a working mom is busy. Each year I find myself shuttling my kids around from activity to activity in the hours from school until bedtime. As my work hours increased, I looked for a way to get a homemade dinner on the table more often with less fuss, less drama, and ending in more empty plates.
While I’ve always struggled with cooking dinner for my family (it’s NOT one of my strengths), I hit a wall and almost gave up planning dinners. More days than not, my husband was jumping in after his even longer day to take control of the kitchen plan.
Something had to give. We couldn’t keep going on with that level of stress. After talking with some of my friends, I put together a list of tips to help me get dinner on the table during busy mom life.
The Keys to Getting Dinner on the Table in the Midst of Busy Mom Life.
1. Meal Plan
Number one on the list must be prepare a meal plan. Nothing is more stressful and chaotic than standing in front of the fridge or pantry after a long workday trying to decide what to fix for dinner. I’ve begun making a list once a week of all the meals I could make with what I have in fridge/freezer/pantry or what I purchased at the grocery store. I don’t always have a set day for each item, but I’m aware of my options for the week ahead.
2. Get Family Buy-In
Ask their suggestions to help meal plan. Ask them their favorite meals or what you haven’t eaten in a long while that they miss. This can be surprising and helps get you off the hook when you think they want something new and different when they really want your awesome baked chicken crusted with crushed Goldfish crackers. True Story!! Plus, my kids really enjoy dinner more when they think the meal was their idea! (Bonus mom points if they help in the kitchen.)
3. Keep a List of Family Favorites
And keep those staples in your pantry. When you’re in a pinch, it is low stress to know you can go back to a tried-and-true recipe you know the family will eat. And you don’t have to make an extra run to the grocery store on your way home. For us that includes various pastas, taco fix-ins, and quiche.
4. Prep Ahead
Brown meat, meal prep (chop those veggies), and assemble the casserole in advance. I’ve even started batch cooking ground meat/sausage and shredded chicken to keep in dinner portion size in the freezer to help in my meal prep. Learning how to cook chicken in my Instant Pot Pressure Cooker to shred was a game changer. Now I have storage bags of shredded chicken in my freezer ready to use to speed up my evening dinner plan.
5. Plan Meals Others Can Finish
Assemble a casserole or other such item the night before or in the morning so it just needs to be popped in the oven by whomever is home before you. Quiche, meatloaf, pasta bake, enchiladas – really anything you can make in advance and finishes in the oven. Since I have teenagers, I can ask them to turn on the oven for me and stick whatever I have ready in the refrigerator in the oven when I’m on my way home.
6. Set it and Forget it!
Take advantage of the many kitchen gadgets available, especially if you are working at home. Slow cooking in my crock-pot used to be my favorite, but now I’ve discovered the Sous Vide precision cooker! I love my sous vide – I can put my meat in and it is always cooked to perfection when I take it out an hour or two later. It will NOT overcook if I get distracted. (Within reason of course. Ha.)
7. Be Realistic About Your Time
…And go easy on yourself. I’m the queen of wanting to make a new, complicated recipe when I have a ton of other things going on. Great intentions to wow the family, but not always timely execution. No one’s happy eating something new hours later than usual, and I usually end up too stressed out to eat when it’s done. Save the big new recipe for the weekend or a day with a more flexible schedule.
8. Don’t Over-Look Breakfast for Dinner
Scrambled eggs, pancakes, biscuits, even cereal! For my kids, these seem to not only be comfort foods, but it’s a treat to have Breakfast food at dinner time. It’s like you’re doing something mixed up & crazy. Ha ha. Always a top favorite in my house!Kitchen Gadgets to Help Get Dinner on the Table