Whether your short on time, money, space, or all of the above and then some, we have solutions for you.
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
How to Overcome the Most Common Roadblocks to Getting Dinner on the Table Image
Credit: JackF/Getty Images

With every resolution to spend more time in the kitchen and less time scouring take-out menus comes a slew of obstacles that makes daily meal prep a lot more arduous. While we’re all for making meals at home, we also get that life can throw some curveballs that make preparing even the simplest of dishes anything but easy.

Whether your goal for the new year involves eating better, cooking more, spending more time around the dinner table with your family, or mastering some kitchen techniques and recipes you’ve been eyeing for years, there’s no doubt you’ll run into a few roadblocks on your path to kitchen domination.

For those battling any—or all—of the following, get ready to ease your mind and turn your culinary dreams into reality. Make 2018 the year of reclaiming your kitchen territory, showing those everyday obstacles who’s the boss.

Short on Time

For those juggling time at work, time spent with family and friends, and time taking care of themselves, the biggest obstacle to tackling daily dinners is the extra minutes it takes to prep for their recipes. Here’s where relying on some simple store-bought shortcuts comes into play.

If you know you won’t have the spare time to chop up piles of veggies for the recipe you’d love to try this week, pick up a few packages of pre-chopped and trimmed vegetables from the grocery store. Rather than creating your own cauliflower rice in the food processor, grab a bag of the frozen blend. Instead of hunching over the spiralizer to churn out a mound of zoodles, head to the produce aisle for some pre-cut veggie noodles instead. Rather than scrubbing and chopping away at a bunch of raw kale, stick to the pre-washed and cut blend. There’s absolutely no shame in relying on store-bought conveniences to save on time if it means making your life easier and improving your chances of getting into the kitchen at the end of the day.

Another huge time saver will be preparing larger batches of homemade dressings, sauces, and dips to use over the course of few weeks, rather than making each from scratch every time. Don’t shy away from creating bigger batches of your go-to salad dressing or favorite spicy homemade salsa blend. Depending on the ingredients, many of these will keep in an airtight container for a couple of weeks, significantly reducing the time commitment required for daily meal prep.

Related: For delicious meal planning made easy, join the Cooking Light Diet today. More information available here.

Short on Kitchen Space

As someone who routinely cooks in a tiny apartment kitchen, I know the struggle of navigating a larger-than-life recipe in a teensy-tiny space. While there’s nothing wrong with attempting more ambitious, space consuming recipes on occasion, when it comes to those everyday kitchen undertakings, chances are you’re better off sticking with something that won’t require every limited inch of your countertop—or hours spent scrubbing away at pans and kitchen tools in your microscopic sink afterwards.

For the daily meals, become a master of the one-dish dinner, which won’t only look and taste impressive, but will also leave behind minimal mess and require just one pot, pan, skillet, or dish. From Pan Roasted Pork Tenderloin and Peppers, to Chicken Enchilada Casserole, to Thai Basil Chicken Stir-Fry, these recipes are sure to become instant classics in your not-so-spacious cooking digs.

Short on Money

Despite the misconception that cooking daily is a big financial burden to take on, for aspiring cooks on stricter budgets there are a number of easy ways to make the most out of your limited grocery funds.

When money is tight pasta dishes and rice recipes will be your best friends, as both are extremely affordable and can be bought in bulk. However, just because you’re preparing a notoriously budget-friendly food doesn’t mean it can’t feel like a fabulous culinary event.

Buy a bulk portion of spaghetti and try your hand at recipes like a classic Spaghetti and Meatballs, Spaghetti Alfredo with Roasted Asparagus, or Pasta Soup with Greens and Parmesan. Or, stock up on a few simple essentials to make your own fresh pasta dough or pizza dough at home.

On the flipside, keeping a large bag of rice to keep at the ready in your pantry will be the base of countless recipes from Arroz con Pollo, to Louisiana-Style Chicken Soup, to a cheesy Chicken, Broccoli, and Brown Rice Casserole.

Keeping Energy-Filled Kids Out of Your Hair

For parents attempting to set the dinner table while simultaneously juggling all of the bodies that will be sitting around it, keeping energetic kids out of the way for an hour can make the meal preparation process infinitely easier.

Luckily, there are a number of simple and cost-effective activities that will keep the kids occupied, freeing you to have full, uninterrupted reign over the kitchen. For toddlers who love unwrapping things, try wrapping toys in foil to give them a prolonged unwrapping experience. Or use leftover Parmesan containers to make makeshift color sorting games with small snippets of straws. If you don’t mind a little extra noise, fashion a DIY drum set out of some recycled containers and boxes, or provide your kid with a stack of plastic Solo cups and challenge them to make the grandest cup tower possible.

Not only are these DIY games simple and effective, but will also help to improve kids’ motor skills while keeping them out of your hair.

Getting Some Hands-Free Assistance

One of the most frustrating aspects of cooking solo is the messy task of reviewing a recipe on a smartphone screen, attempting to look up a cooking tip or technique, or even switching up the kitchen playlist—all while your hands are coated in oil, flour, and everything in between. This year, rely on handy electronic assistants to do your bidding.

Products like the Amazon Echo and Google Home are not only capable of setting kitchen timers, looking up measurement conversions, and answering simple kitchen queries completely hands-free, they are also useful in assisting in making grocery and to-do lists when the items are at top of mind, and will even sort through your cooking jams and hit next on the playlist on your behalf.

Though these products can be a bit of a splurge—ranging from $50-230—they just might be worth it to never have to look up those pressing kitchen questions with flour-crusted fingers again.

Dull Knives

Unfortunately, there comes a time in every knife’s life where the blade’s dullness makes cutting through even the most forgiving of ingredients a challenge. For those whose knives are no longer cutting it (literally), try your hand at re-sharpening the blade with the help of sharpening steel.

If your cutlery is a bit of a lost cause and you’re desperately in need of new, quality knives, restocking a knife block is cheaper than ever with the help of high-quality and low-cost knife brands like Misen, which are producing chef’s knives that won’t totally break the bank.

In the meantime, use these tips to keep your knives sharper longer, so that this easily preventable kitchen roadblock won’t get in your way.