Homework, sports, clubs, lessons, dinners, showers—weeknights during the school year can quickly become overwhelmingly busy, making it extremely difficult to find time to prepare a homemade dinner. Because of this, weeknight dinners are typically left to the mercy of freezers and fast food.
Since many of these activities and weeknight to-dos are not optional, how are busy parents supposed to still provide healthy kid-friendly meals day in and day out?
There are numerous quick and easy recipes available, but there comes a point in time when you run out of ideas and get bored with your favorites. To keep your household schedules moving without sacrificing meals, try modifying your cooking lifestyle with these five tips for weeknight dinners.
The first step to avoid being caught with no time for dinner is to plan ahead for the week. Pick one day, perhaps over the weekend, when you can dedicate around thirty minutes to meal planning for the upcoming week. Look at what’s on sale at your local grocery store, get input from the kids, and create a list of your meals by day and the food you will need in order to make them.
A good way to save money and preparation time is to plan meals using similar ingredients. For example, if you are having tacos on Tuesday, then plan for tortilla soup or a southwest salad on Wednesday.
If you keep track of your weekly meal plans in a spreadsheet or other saved document, you can easily refer to this for ideas during those weeks you may not have time for planning or have run out of ideas. Once you have your week planned, then go shopping to ensure you have all the necessary ingredients on-hand.
Whether it is cooking ahead of time over the weekend or using a slow-cooker to prepare foods during the day, having pre-cooked foods planned for dinner helps to make a fast kitchen-to-plate-to-tummy transition. If you’re cooking a batch of rice, make double so that it is ready for the next day. If you’re preparing chicken in the skillet, throw in a couple extra pieces to have ready to reheat for tomorrow’s dinner. Take advantage of starting your slow-cooker in the morning to have dinner pre-made to just put on your plate by the time you get home.
Preparing your typically time-consuming dishes in advance will serve to minimize the time spent over the stove during the most rushed hours of the day.
Not just because they are healthy, but having fresh fruits and vegetables well stocked in your kitchen is strategically smart. Slicing a peach or throwing baby carrots on a plate takes a minimal amount of time and already takes care of two sides. Think through what fresh foods your family will eat and incorporate them into your dinner plans. A Greek yogurt dipping sauce or peanut butter may help your little ones eat more fresh vegetables and fruits as well as give them a little additional protein at dinner. Creativity goes a long way in sneaking in these quick and easy healthy foods.
Don’t underestimate the ability of older kids to help with dinner. Setting the table, gathering or putting away ingredients, rinsing off fresh foods, opening packages—there are so many little tasks that add up to big time savers when you have an extra set of hands. In addition to helping dinner go more quickly, this will also create bonding and educational moments remembered long after the chaotic weeknights are over.
The younger helpers may end up making the dinner process even longer, though, so assign them to other duties that will help your evening go more smoothly. Have them pick out tomorrow’s outfit, empty their lunchbox so it’s ready to pack, put away homework and supplies—whatever they are capable of doing that takes a burden off of your nightly responsibilities.
While maintaining a clean kitchen is not always easy, a functional workspace does make the dinner process run more efficiently. If you only have 30 minutes to prepare a meal, you can’t afford to spend 15 of those minutes washing dishes or clearing the counter.
Make it a habit to clean dishes right after use, or at a minimum, before you go to bed at night. Instruct your children how to put dishes in the sink or in the dishwasher. Develop practical kitchen storage to make it easy to know where to find the dishes or the pots and pans you will need.
Chances are that if you walk into a messy kitchen, you will just want to turn right around and run straight to that drive-thru. Make it a priority to keep your kitchen a clean and open work area.
Weeknight dinners can be intimidating during those crazy busy school nights, but don’t let them scare you away! Find some favorite recipes, follow these five tips, and fight the temptation to grab the frozen pizzas or fast food.
If the idea of a calmer and more individualized school day and weeknight is appealing to you, consider the benefits of an online education for your family.