We’re in the thick of it now, Mama. School has started, vacations are over, and extra-curricular activities are in full swing. You’ve got laundry, carpooling, work, and homework, and let’s not forget all that paperwork from school. On top of all that, you need to figure out what’s for supper too! It’s just so darn tempting to dial in for delivery, isn’t it?
I hear you ladies. I’m in the same wobbly boat. There are many, MANY days that the last thing I want to do is cook a meal. Thankfully, when those days strike, I have a strategy in place to save my sanity. I’m going to share some of my best tips with you and maybe, just maybe, it'll save yours too.
Perhaps the single most important thing you can do to fight the “What’s for Dinner?” syndrome is meal plan. There are terrific printable meal-planning templates all over the web, but I personally look for one that has spots for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
By planning my meals in advance, I am able to account for leftovers and save money at the grocery store by buying exactly what I need.
If you really want to be a meal-planning ninja, plan your meals around what's on sale at the grocery store. When ground beef is on sale it's a great time for Sloppy Macaroni and Cheese (see the recipe below!). Serve a meal like this for dinner on Monday night, and heat the leftovers up and place in a Thermos for Wednesday’s lunch. See? A little planning can take you a long way.
Need more inspiration? The leftovers from your Sunday chicken can be used in fajitas on Tuesday night. Leftovers from Wednesday's Spaghetti and Meatballs can be used for Meatball Subs on Friday night. Never, ever, let leftovers hit the garbage. They are your best friend.
When asked for my best kitchen advice, I often answer this: cook once, eat twice. Put simply, since you’re in the kitchen anyway, don’t expend all that energy making only one meal! Cook for an army, even if you’re only feeding a platoon. This little tidbit has saved me countless hours in the kitchen and hundreds of dollars on bad take-out.
Look for recipes that you can easily double and even triple to make your meal-planning fool-proof.
Once or twice a month, from September to May, it’s all hands on deck in my kitchen. We pull the recipes we’re making in the morning, one person picks up all the groceries, while the rest of the family makes sure freezer containers are ready to go. After that, it’s kitchen-palooza.
Assign duties in the kitchen like prep, clean up, and cooking. This is also, believe it or not, a great way to get some quality family-time in during your busy week. For obvious reasons, we schedule this day on a Sunday. We try to make at least 12 meals for the freezer and two trays of baked goods for school lunches.
Some perennial favourites include chili, spaghetti sauce and meatballs, lasagna, bean burritos and since we’re making breakfast anyway, we often make up a quadruple batch of pancakes for quick breakfasts during the week. My children, now 9 and 11, can make pancakes, waffles, and French toast from start to finish without any assistance from us. Our kitchen day has the added benefit of teaching our children to cook too.
Although it sounds like a lot of work, when we're done we have 12 meals in the freezer. That's 12 times I didn't order take-out and 12 times I didn't stress about what was for dinner. Pretty smart, huh?
Look, there’s nothing I love more than a beautifully cooked Beef Wellington, but that kind of meal simply isn’t in the cards Monday to Friday. Years ago, I tried to tackle intricate meals during the week, only to have them ruined because I had to rush to finish them so someone could make an activity on time. Oh, the folly.
I am older and wiser now and I’ve learned that delicious meals can be had during the week but the trick is to keep it simple.
Sloppy Macaroni and Cheese
1 lb (500 g) lean ground beef
1 package (37 g) Club House 25% Less Salt & Gluten-Free Sloppy Joes Seasoning Mix
2 tbsp (30 mL) olive oil
1 cup (250 mL) each diced mushrooms and fresh tomatoes
1/2 cup (125 mL) each milk and whipping (35%) cream
2 tbsp (30 mL) diced pickled jalapenos
4 cups (1 L) cooked gluten-free elbow macaroni, cooled
1 cup (250 mL) grated Swiss and Cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Brown ground beef over medium- high heat in large saucepan. Drain fat. Add seasoning mix. Remove beef from pan and reserve.
Add oil and mushrooms to saucepan on medium-high heat; cook 5 minutes.
Return beef to pan. Add tomatoes, milk, cream and jalapenos. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat, add macaroni and 2/3 of cheese. Mix well and pour into 9- in (23 cm) casserole dish.
Top with remaining cheese and bake 20 minutes or until cheese is bubbling.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes
So that's how I keep my sanity intact from September to June when it comes to family meals. How do you manage meal time when the family schedule gets hectic? Share your tips below! And for more helpful tips to make dinnertime stress-free, watch my webisode: