One of my most dreaded questions is: “What’s for dinner?” It’s a daily struggle for ALL parents. Just because I stay at home doesn’t mean that I have time to actually cook. If I could reasonably put baby gates on my kitchen, I absolutely would do it to keep tiny tyrants off my feet while I chop, braise, stir and fill the dishwasher. Alas, I have to navigate the kitchen WITH my tiny helpers. Here are some dinner hacks that now govern my life.
Meal Plans: Weekly or monthly meal plans are key to my success. This streamlines my grocery shopping as well. Who has the time to keep going to the store during the week? Not this lady. Knowing what is coming helps keep me sane. Also, there are certain days of the week that MUST be a crockpot meal due to after-school activities that have us walking in the door late and hangry.
Crockpot: I am shockingly in love with my crockpot. I never wanted one until my first kid started to eat real food and I realized that I probably shouldn’t start his palate on take out food. My crockpot is utilized at least 4 nights a week, even in the summer, she’s my best kitchen friend. She can do anything – fajitas, chicken cacciatore, a whole chicken, sloppy joes, spaghetti sauce, pot roast, meatballs, frittata…..my mouth is watering thinking about this list…
Make your freezer work for you: That beautiful appliance is just begging for you to fill her up and test her limits. Anything that you can double (or triple) and freeze for later, DO IT! I have been known to triple a soup or meatball recipe within dangerous limits of overflowing my lovely crockpot. Also, If I am going to spend the time slaving over something like a bolognese sauce on the stove, you can bet your button that it is tripled and frozen for future meals. Just cook a fresh spaghetti squash or noodles, defrost your sauce and dinner is served any day of the week. BOOM! Look at you filling up that freezer and having more time on a weeknight.
Think in doubles: Depending on what your family loves to eat, find ways to reuse your leftovers the next day to get two meals out of your effort. About once a week, I cook a whole chicken in the crockpot; we will eat some that day and the rest of it will be saved for a casserole to eat the following day. Have you ever noticed that quiche crusts come two to a pack? If you are making one quiche (because breakfast is often dinner in my house) double that recipe, make two and freeze one for later! Ever find yourself ricing a cauliflower? It’s a given that if I am hauling out the food processor to rice one cauliflower, I am going to rice at least three heads and freeze it in 2-cup portions. Regular rice is perfectly freezable as well, triple the serving and throw your extra in the freezer. Whatever you are making for your family, find ways to double it and save it for another meal.
Grill Grill Grill: Personally, I can’t grill. Never mind that I am terrified of our charcoal grill and chimney process, my 1 year old has a death wish regarding the grill, and we would have a serious emergency if I tried to grill alone with all three kids. So on the weekends, I have my husband grill tons of extra food for me – veggies, steaks, brats, burgers, and chicken breast can all be grilled on Sunday and kept in the fridge for any meal during the week. Don’t get me started on how happy grilled steak makes me mid-week, even if it is reheated. Tonight we had steak stir fry with chopped fresh veggies mixed with steak that was grilled two days ago. Tomorrow for breakfast I am throwing some leftover grilled veggies in with my scrambled eggs…my stomach is now growling.
When in doubt, have some fresh family staples always on hand: Personally, at any given time, I can whip up some delicious guacamole or a smoothie for dinner. Add something extra like leftover grilled meat or freezer chicken nuggets and I’m feeling good about what I have just provided.
What are some staples that your family always love?