After I had my second child I returned to my full-time job in an office and left my husband home all day with two kids under 2. He did a great job caring for them and changing diapers, but he didn’t do dinner. Cooking dinner was still one family responsibility that was mine.
I have continued some habits as a work-at-home mom that I started back then as a work outside the home mom, because they make mealtime easier.
Cook meals ahead of time. I’m not the type of person that takes an entire Saturday and cooks meals for the month. I don’t have the planning skills or stamina for that. I do, however, frequently make double batches of whatever I am cooking – meatloaf, soup, chicken a la king, quiche, from-scratch pancakes or whatever I’m making – and put half the food away into the freezer for another day.
Freeze leftovers. At my house we can eat leftovers exactly twice before everyone just picks at the food and walks away hungry. There aren’t usually many leftovers left over at that point, but enough for an individual lunch-sized portion. I’ll freeze the last piece of lasagna, serving of pot roast or scoop of taco meat in a labeled Ziploc bag. It’s nice to have a hearty, quick lunch sometimes or to have a “restaurant style” dinner where we each get something different (since I insist that my family all eat the same thing) based on what I’ve socked away into the freezer.
Prep meal ingredients in advance. When I come home from the grocery store with ground turkey, I brown it right away with onions and a few seasonings, then freeze the already-cooked meat in 1.25 pound portions. I usually have a pound or two of already-cooked and cubed chicken in my freezer. When mushrooms, celery, green and red peppers and onions are on sale I buy, chop and freeze them as quick mix-ins for whatever I’m cooking.
Make side dishes in advance. Besides making double batches of our main dish, I often double whatever I’m making for a side dish and freeze it. For instance, we eat a lot of brown rice. I’ll cook 3 cups worth and freeze half of it for another night. I routinely freeze mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, homemade refried beans and homemade black beans.
Find relevant recipes. When I need to cook something for dinner, but am out of ideas I turn to All Recipes.com’s ingredient search. I input the items I have in pantry or fridge and indicate what I don’t have and it spits out a bunch of recipe ideas. I’ve found a number of my family’s favorites at AllRecipes.
Meal planning. I can’t recommend meal planning from experience, as I’m not much of a planner, but many women I know rave about the value of eMeals.com. For a few bucks each month they get a set of meal plans that correspond with the weekly sales at your local grocery store. They offer gluten-free, vegetarian and other specialty-type menus as well.
What do you do to make dinnertime less hectic at your house?