For the most part, my life tends to be pretty steady, not too busy, not too not-busy; but there are streaks when I need to be three places at once and wish I could just not have to be anywhere. The days that start with the cat harassing me with meowing and licks until I feed her at 4:30 a.m. leading to a blur of getting the kids off to school, work and the driving one kid here and another there and trying to make sure they both have something in their bellies with at least a smidgen of nutritional value. Those are the days I’m talking about, and they always come in multiples, so planning ahead is essential.
I have a few strategies I employ during these times to make sure dinner gets done and that its primary contents are comprised of real food:
1. Menu Planning –
This probably seems like a no-brainer, and some of you probably do this already, but the key is meal selection on busy days. Soup and sandwiches, pasta dishes with veggies, salad and whole grain bread are all easy, ‘real food’ meals. You can always take advantage of canned/store bought soups and sauces if you like, but you might just have something in the freezer or pantry, too. If you need some ideas in the menu planning realm and like to keep things on the healthy side, our favorite place to get ideas, and full menus is from. Since Amy and Natalie are both dieticians and moms, they know their stuff–the recipes are simple, healthy and delicious.
2. Freezer Meals –
This is one that I’m less good at, but when I am super organized, it’s an awesome option. There are lots of one-dish meals that are great for freezing. All you have to do is remember to take the dish out of the freezer in the morning and you’re ready to go! If you need some ideas for different kinds of freezer-friendly recipes, just google ‘Freezer Recipes’ or check out SavingDinner.com’s Freezer Menus–Leanne’s freezer menus go way beyond frozen casseroles-They’re assembled, frozen, thawed and cooked fresh.
3. Cook Once, Eat Twice –
Yes, this is kinda, sorta leftovers on the second meal, BUT, if you go into it with a plan, it’s leftovers that are not the same. So, say one night you roast a chicken for dinner–a chicken large enough that you know there will be leftovers–you serve it with a steamed veggie and a salad or potatoes. Then when you’re packing up the leftovers, pull all the chicken off the bone into a bowl with some seasoning of your choice (I like to go with cumin, lemon juice, garlic powder, onion powder and a touch of cayenne). Then you can reheat it on that busy day, throw it in some soft taco shells with a bit of Monterrey jack a diced tomato and a drizzle of sour cream and you’ve got super quick chicken tacos! If you need some ideas for Cook Once, Eat Twice meals, here’s an example of what we’re talking about at Health.com. You can also check out Robin Miller from FoodNetwork–in her show Quick Fix Meals, she does lots of this cooking once, eating multiple times stuff.
4. Use that Crock Pot –
Crock pots are great for lots of kind of meals, from soups to roasts. One my favorites to make in the slow cooker is pulled pork. It’s super easy to just throw everything in, then set it and forget it! Beef stew is another easy, tasty crock pot favorite at our house. If you want to try some new and different things in the crock pot, websites like Allrecipes.com are great for a variety. There are also ebooks out there, like SavingDinner.com’s Crock Cooker Ebook’s with lots of season specific dishes to try.
5. Have the Kids Cook Dinner –
Yep, why not just take the day off and let the kids whip up dinner. Of course, depending on the age of the kiddies, you might have to supervise, but having some help is always fun. We have bunches of kid-cooking-friendly recipes on our website; Or, if you check out The Kids Cooking Monday, they have lots of ideas and recipes for getting the kids cooking and having fun in the kitchen.
I’m not gonna lie, sometimes my ‘menu’ plan includes a trip to Subway or Dominoes, BUT, the goal is always as much real food made by us as possible. These 5 strategies help this busy, somewhat-organized mom meet that goal most of the time, so hopefully they’ll help you, too.