SummaryToo busy for dinner? Gina Berrios shares five shortcuts and tricks for menu planning to help you serve healthy dinners to your family (almost) every night.
Eating a healthy, home-cooked dinner as a family every night is a priority in our house.
The reality of a busy life with six kids doing homeschooling and pursuing all sorts of activities can make it really difficult. However, my husband and I have incorporated some shortcuts and tricks into our menu planning that help us successfully to get dinner on the table (almost) every night.
We have adapted our approach to accommodate what is going on in our life, and the demands of each day. Here are some of our tricks:
1. Menu Planning
I use a family calendar app so that everyone is synched in and knows what is going on. This app also lists what is for dinner and a grocery list. My husband and I look over our calendar at the start of the weekend, before going grocery shopping. We determine dinners based on what we have going on.
We will usually grill something on the weekends when my husband is home. We plan seafood for days when one of us can stop at the grocery store and buy it fresh.
I stock up on meats based on weekly sales. With my planning ahead method, I can pull what I need from the freezer a day before it is needed.
If it will be a really crazy night, I will either plan a meal that the kids can cook themselves, or throw something in the crock pot. Which leads me to our next trick…
2. The Crock Pot
I think this is probably the most used appliance in my kitchen. If we have a busy night where practices and activities mean the whole family is coming and going and eating in shifts, I will make dinner in the crock pot.
I throw all the ingredients in it in the morning so I do not have to worry about dinner prep during a busy evening. Using the crock pot also means dinner is warm and ready for whenever it needs to be eaten.
Sometimes I will do something as easy as throwing chicken breasts and a bottle of pasta sauce in the crock pot. Then I will boil pasta in the evening to serve with it. It is too easy! Other times I will cut up peppers, onions and chicken, flavor it with taco seasoning, and we have easy fajitas for dinner.
Did you know that you can even throw frozen meat into the crock pot? This brings me to our third trick…
3. Freeze ahead
If we know life is going to be really busy and dinner prep will be a challenge, we spend a few hours on a Saturday prepping meals for the freezer. We will brown several pounds of ground beef and measure it into gallon freezer bags to have ready for dinners like tacos, pasta and meat sauce, or shepherd’s pie.
We also cut chicken breasts into strips and chop up different vegetables, sorting them into dinner size portions. We can pull a bag from the freezer the night before to thaw, or dump it straight into the crock pot frozen in the morning, adding spices or other seasonings. This time of prepping ahead leads to our next trick…
4. Cook once for two meals
I try to cook one evening, and use my leftovers for the next day’s dinner. If I make a chicken dinner, I will double the amount of chicken and make a pot pie the next night. Sometimes I will make two pot pies and put one in the freezer (for dinner during an especially busy week, or if I need to send a meal to a friend in need).
If I am making pasta and meatballs, I will double the number of meatballs I make. These can be used the following day for meatball subs. When making pork tenderloin, I will cook two and use the second one in fried rice the next day. There are all sorts of ways to get creative with menu planning to save time! This leads into my final time saving trick…
5. Make it a family event
My husband and I enjoy cooking together, and the kids love helping us. We have taught them all sorts of basic culinary skills, which enables them to help us with the different tasks involved in getting dinner on the table. The little ones help with washing and peeling vegetables. The older kids can brown meat, help their dad grill, or bake dessert.
Many hands make light work and having multiple chefs in the kitchen gets dinner on the table even quicker. We also find that the kids will usually eat what they made more readily than something that they were not involved in preparing.
With a little planning and some preparation ahead of time, we can get a good, healthy meal on the table every night.
What are some of your tricks for dinner planning?