There is something about getting dinner on the table that encapsulates all the stress of being a working mom. You want to feed your kids something nutritious that they will actually eat. You feel the time pressure of having to feed the kids before meltdowns begin. And, let's admit it, you just made it through a full work day and are exhausted.
I love cooking for my family and us all eating together every night, so have experimented over the past couple of years to develop these tips:
Create a running list of meals your family loves. This will help you shake things up more often with minimal work. Whenever I'm stuck or bored, I just revisit. Anytime my family says, "This is a great meal," it's added.
Stock your pantry. If you keep pantry basics on hand, you can cook any recipe if you have the main ingredients (like protein and veggies).
Invest 1 hour on Sunday to meal prep. For me this usually means, creating a salad that keeps (like massaged kale or cabbage), roasting a bunch of veggies, cooking some shredded meat, cooking starches (rice, mashed potatoes, or quinoa) and cutting up veggies for recipes for the week ahead. The best part is if I'm mainly reheating during the week, I have so much less clean up!
Create in-a-pinch dinners
Create a few freezer / pantry meals that you can create without having any fresh ingredients, so you always have something on hand (even without grocery shopping). For example, I have frozen salmon burgers, couscous and frozen broccoli that I can cook in under 10 minutes. Frozen vegetables actually can have more nutrients than fresh since they are flash frozen at the time of picking. Keep a selection.
Find a quick food option by the places you visit most-- home, your kids school and work. This way if you are completely short of time, you have a healthy option you can turn to. For example, the grocery near my house has rotisserie chickens and easy salad packs. Next to school there are pre-cooked veggies and lean proteins that you can buy by the pound.
Double every recipe and freeze half. I do this with everything - pasta, rice, chili, soup, steak, etc. This means on weekends when I can't do any prep or weekdays when I have no time, I always have something to eat.
Make it easy
Embrace the microwave. You can buy steamer bags to steam broccoli, asparagus or zucchini in 3 minutes. Other mircowave staples in my house: pre-packaged bags of frozen spinach and cauliflower rice and ears of corn (each cooks in 3 minutes!). Added bonus -- no clean up!
Get an Instapot (or slowcooker). Set this to cook slow cooked meals while your at work, so when you come home you have food that just needs to be plated. Some of my favorites are drumsticks, chili, and pulled pork.
Repackage protein. I will make shredded protein (pork or chicken) over the weekend and use throughout the week as tacos, with BBQ sauce as a slider or on top of a baked potato, pasta or salad. Just changing up the vehicle and sauce makes it an entirely different dish.
Make a kid snack box. Fill a large cube ice cube tray (like this one from Oxo) with fresh veggies, fruit and cheese. Give it to your kids while they are waiting for dinner. They will be hungry, and you'll be shocked at how many veggies they eat!
Involve the kids. Kids are more likely to eat what they've made themselves. I have them chip in -- pour pasta into water, chop up cheese or mushrooms, or stir.
What are your best tips for de-stressing getting dinner on the table?