It’s never easy getting dinner on the table, but it’s not impossible.
There’s nothing quite as stressful as getting dinner on the table for your family. You get home from work and one kid is running around asking where his soccer cleats are, another is pulling at your pant leg crying they’re hungry, and you’re just plain tired. The struggle is real, but we’re here to help.
Before you gather the family and hit the drive-thru yet again, consider these ideas to make dinnertime run a little more smoothly. We rounded up nine of our most effective tips for making weeknight dinner disasters a thing of the past to help you get a meal on the table faster than ever before.
Prep Meal Elements Ahead
You don’t need to spend your entire weekend making dinners for the week, but even a little prep time can really make things easier down the line. For example, take 30-45 minutes to cut up a variety of fruits and vegetables to use throughout the week. If you know you’ll serve a side of green beans this week, trim and wash them ahead of time. If roasted carrots are on the menu, peel and slice beforehand. Now, the biggest job left to do is cook a protein Wednesday night before all hell breaks loose.
If time allows, you can also cook some of your veggies and proteins ahead of time. It’s easy to mix and match throughout the week for ready-to-go, kid-friendly meals. But, there’s absolutely no shame in serving raw fruits and veggies as a side dish. It’s a simple way to get a well-rounded meal on the table. And If you’re entirely new to the meal prepping life, take a look at The Do’s and Don'ts of Meal Prep for Stress-Free Cooking.
Buy Supermarket Shortcuts
If you find that time-saving solutions are generally worth spending a little extra, then you can go ahead and embrace supermarket shortcuts and pantry staples as your new best friend. On your next grocery run, snag a few containers of precut produce (anything from already sliced apples to pre-diced onions can be a real lifesaver during the dinner hustle), packages of frozen veggies, and microwavable bags of rice for exponentially faster meals. Then, stock up your pantry with cans of beans and pasta for easy ways to round out virtually any dinner.
Use Nap Time Wisely
It’s rarely fun or possible to keep your kids entertained while trying to put dinner on the table. If you have younger children, consider cooking dinner during nap time or get in a day-ahead routine by cooking after your kids go to bed. Simply store the prepared meal and reheat for their dinner next day. This way, you can actually take your time and focus on the process of sauteeing veggies; you’ll be surprised how relaxing cooking in a quiet house can be.
Keep it Simple
You’re busy, so there’s no need to cook an elaborate dinner every night. Kids like anything that feels a little out of the ordinary, so try mixing up your classic dinner with simple swaps. Breakfast for dinner (think eggs, toast, fruit, yogurt, or pancakes) is typically a faster solution to a major dinner recipe. Also, snack dinner is an awesome addition to your usual rotation. Just take all those fruits and veggies you cut up over the weekend, toss them on a tray along with any other snackies you have hanging around, and dinner is served.
Let Slow Cookers Save The Day
The Instant Pot might be the hottest kitchen gadget on the market, but when you have screaming, hungry kids running around you want dinner now—not in 20 minutes. That’s where the OG slow cooker comes in, allowing you to get your meal cooking whenever is most convenient for you (the night before or first thing in the morning) so that when dinner time rolls around, the most you’ll have to do is potentially reheat. It’s the perfect hands-off hack for any time of the year. So, find your favorite slow cooker recipe and ready yourself to feel like Super Mom (because you already are).
Add a Theme to Dinner
If every week has a Meatless Monday and Taco Tuesday, you can wave goodbye to the notorious “what’s for dinner?” question. One Monday, try swapping in a vegetarian main, which are often even faster to cook than a meat-based meal. On Tuesday, try one of these taco recipes, which eliminates the need for a fancy side dish. Just make the filling, let your kids have fun assembling their tacos, and bam dinner is done in no time.
Have Backups on Hand
You already know there’s more to weeknights than just getting dinner on the table. You have to convince your (sometimes very picky) kids to actually sit down and eat. That’s why it’s essential to always have a good backup “meal” on hand. Stock up on yogurt, cheese, nut butter, or whatever your children are guaranteed to eat. It’s not a solution for every night, but occasionally, allow yourself not to worry about whether or not they’ll actually eat what you’re making.
Treat Leftovers Like Tomorrow’s Dinner
Save that last spoonful of corn, handful of green beans, and half cup of roasted chicken for a throw together meal tomorrow night. Simply mix leftover ingredients into a bowl of pasta and top with cheese or stir-fry them in with rice and an egg for an easy fried rice. If you need some inspiration, you can learn more about How to Make a Delicious Pasta Dinner and Clean Out Your Fridge at the Same Time.
Take The Time to Meal Plan
Having a plan in mind is key to a week of low-stress evenings. Put a menu board up in your kitchen every week, and carve out slots for specific meals. Pull recipes for quick dishes like 20-Minute Pork Recipes, One-Dish Weeknight Dinners, and Easy Dinner Recipes for Busy Weeknights. Once you know what you plan to make, it’s far easier to shop and prepare the food in advance. You’ll spend less time heading to the store every other night, and more time enjoying a home cooked meal with your family. And isn’t that the point?