As a working mom of three very active children, I am often asked how I manage to feed my family every single night after working all day and before heading out to dance, cheer, taekwondo, baseball, hockey, or whatever else we have on that night.
The answer is that it’s not easy and I am certainly not perfect but over the last almost eleven years of working motherhood, I have come up with a few tips and tricks to help me get family dinners on the table as fast as possible.
One of the top complaints I hear from moms about having to cook dinner (besides not knowing what to make) is trying to throw something together with the distraction of the kids reminding you how hungry they are. This is why meal planning or at least "meal thinking" is a must.
While our kids will always need us the most when we are the busiest, the best way to intercept is to put them to work.
Once they hit pre-school age, kids can be a help in the kitchen, so assign jobs to everyone. I keep plastic dishes and cups in the pantry that my kids can easily reach on their own. This means both my 5- and 6-year-olds can set their own place settings and get water from the dispenser on the fridge door while my ten-year-old gets the regular dishes and cutlery out. The favourite job by far = folding napkins.
They can also unpack their school bags, empty out their lunches, set the table, make a salad, and more!
This is a BIG one for me. Baked pasta dishes and casseroles often taste better the next day, so making them the night ahead is a bonus! While some nights it’s hard to motivate myself to cook something for the next day, there is nothing like walking in the front door after a long day knowing all you have to do is make some veggies or a salad and set the table while dinner is re-heating.
I know exactly what staples are in my pantry and in my freezer. I have 3 to 4 go-to meals that I can make based on the items I almost always have on hand.
Pasta and tomato sauce are always in my pantry and at least once a month I stock my freezer with meatballs. I also (almost) always have frozen chicken breasts in my freezer that can easily be thrown in the slow cooker (yes frozen!) with some spices and pantry staples to make chicken noodle soup or shredded chicken.
No matter what you like to stock your kitchen with, be sure to stock it with a few staples so you can easily whip up quick and easy dinners without giving it too much thought.
The slow cooker is my dinner-making best friend. I feel like a superhero mom when we walk out the door in the morning and I’ve already fed my kids breakfast, made their school lunches, AND threw dinner together in the slow cooker. The trick is to use a trusted source for recipes (like YummyMummyClub.ca and ClubHouse.ca) because weeknight dinner-making is not the time to experiment! If you’re new to slow cooking (and even if you’re not) you can try some of my tried-and-true family favourite recipes including the yummy Slow Cooker Tuscan Beef Stew Recipe below.
I would love to be able to tell you that my kids eat a very nutritious homemade dinner every single night but that would be a complete lie. The truth is, I usually have about 4 dinners in me a week and then I give myself permission to do something a little bit easier.
Sometimes it’s breakfast for dinner (yes eggs, toast, pancakes, oatmeal totally count as dinner), sometimes we have leftovers from the night before and sometimes we even hit the drive-thru. I’m unapologetic about using any of those methods to feed my kids dinner and all of us moms should try not being so hard on ourselves every once in a while.
Speaking of not hard — this Slow Cooker Tuscan Beef Stew recipe is a new family favourite in our house. In fact, the last time I made it I even had my parents over for dinner (on a weeknight!) and it was 100% company worthy. What makes it so good and weeknight easy is the helpful pack of spices and flavours Club House created just for slow cookers. Something you might not know is that slow cookers can often do a number on spices, leaving dishes bland or a bit overspiced. I like to use pre-mixed spices like the mixes Club House makes to always make sure I'm getting the right combination of flavours.
Now, I know what you’re thinking… my kids won’t eat STEW and in some cases you're definitely right. Only 1 out of my 3 kids will eat stew in a bowl, but the beef is so tender and the veggies so flavourful it’s super easy to deconstruct this stew into a kid-friendly meal (see below for what I did!).
2 lbs stewing beef, cut into 1-inch cubes (or make it really easy and buy the pre-cubed kind)
3 cups coarsely chopped vegetables (I use carrots, celery, onion, and potatoes)
28 fl oz diced tomatoes with juice (that’s one large can)
1 pouch (42 g) Club House Slow Cookers Beef Stew Seasoning Mix
1 cup (250 mL) dry red wine (or substitute with 1 cup beef broth)
Put beef, vegetables and tomatoes in slow cooker.
In a small bowl, mix seasoning and wine (or beef broth if using) until blended.
Pour over beef and vegetables; toss to coat well.
Cover and cook for 8 hours on low or 4 hours on high. Stir before serving.
Yes it’s THAT easy!
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 8 hours
Kid Tip: As I mentioned above, only 1 of my 3 kids will eat stew in a bowl (my eldest daughter and my husband LOVE it!) but because the beef is so tender and the veggies are super flavourful I simply shred a few pieces of the beef with a fork, put it on a slider bun with a bit of the stew liquid and voila — Mini Pulled Beef Sandwiches. Serve with a few potatoes and carrots cut up on the side and it’s the perfect deconstructed stew-turned-favourite kid meal!
For more helpful tips on how to get dinner on the table every night, watch my webisode!