My family eats a cooked meal every single night of the week. We are not a “drop by and pick up a bucket of chicken” family. Every evening, it’s up to me to figure out something to fill our bellies.
I really feel for families who have to have 2 working-out-of-the-house parents. I know for a fact that dinner would be a stressful, get something (anything!) on the table ordeal most nights if I were out of the house all day long. However, even though I am home all day, my days are still very full.
I homeschool my 4 kids. I shuttle them to all of their activities and appointments. I work on the farm, keep the house clean, and write part time for a little extra cash. Some weeks, evening comes and I don’t know what I can quickly whip up to feed every one.
I’ve found that with a little planning, I can have a decent meal ready that is tasty and nutritious. The trick is to plan the menu while looking at the calendar. Days that I know will be rushed get a crock pot meal, or I make something ahead of time so that we can cook, eat, and clean-up quickly.
On the weekends, I often cook in larger batches. This may mean that I poach several pounds of chicken breasts or brown a few pounds of ground beef. Or it may mean that I toss extra pork chops on the grill on a Saturday while I am already cooking.
If I plan it well, I can have meat prepared for 2-3 meals in an hour on a Saturday. Since I am already in the kitchen cooking our dinner on Saturday evening, it takes little work to prepare a bit of extra. If I’m grilling in the summer, I can vary the flavors by using different marinades or seasonings. Then, all I need to do on busy nights is to add sides, like a salad or vegetables.
I stash the meat in large Ziploc baggies in the fridge. The hardest part is making sure that one of the kids or my husband doesn’t eat the pre-made meat for lunch!
With winter here, crock pot soups are an easy way to get supper taken care of first thing in the morning. Then I’m not staring in the pantry with my children moaning, “I’m starrrrviinnngggg!” while I’m trying to figure out something good to eat at 5 pm.
Here are a few tips to help you plan ahead for a healthy dinner.
- Taco meat, spaghetti sauce, and other forms of ground beef can be created in double or triple batches. The extras can be put in Zip-top bags in the freezer.
- Ball canning jars are perfect storage containers for both freezer and fridge. Cap them loosely at first, tightening them later, and allow space at the top for expansion as the contents freeze.
- Freezing extra food sometimes helps keep the kids out of it better than simply refrigerating it. Hide it under a bag of frozen broccoli florets.
- Keep salad fixings in the fridge. Throw it together, add a (leftover) grilled meat, and a batch of biscuits to have a decent meal on the table quickly.
- Use the time bake feature on your oven! Wash and poke a bunch of baking potatoes and put them in the oven on time-bake to serve with a crock pot roast. Microwave some frozen veggies to complete your meal.
- There are many books and blogs out there that feature once-a-month cooking ideas. You may find these helpful. My family members are not huge casserole eaters (and these books tend to use lots of casseroles) so I have more luck planning a meat, veggie, carb, and bread for dinner. Or a soup or stew. I also prefer to plan one week at a time. This allows me to take advantage of store sales.