Don't you just love making dinner? Tying on that apron, spending hours shopping, prepping and simmering and then serving your masterpiece — a meal that's as nutritious as it is delicious?
Oh wait? You don't? I confess: neither do I.
Really, I'd love to serve from-scratch dinners every night, knowing for a fact that my kid's meals were healthy, tasty and made with a heaping dose of love. But that's just not going to happen. I have three kids. And every evening at 5:12, something happens: they become these hungry, demanding little monsters that are entirely incapable of entertaining themselves for even 30 seconds. And, naturally, 5:12 happens to be the time that I start making dinner. I'm sure you can relate.
So, more often than not, I find myself throwing whatever I can find on a plate and calling it dinner. Mac & cheese from the box again? Why not! We've only had it five nights in a row. Fruit snacks? They totally count as fruit, right? That box of Cocoa Puffs that Daddy bought at the store six months ago when he forgot about our no-sugar-cereal-ever-ever-ever rule? Well, we're going to have to use it up someday.
Anyway, a few months back I decided I needed to be better about cooking healthy meals. So I read some books, talked to some friends and gleaned some tips from my registered-dietitian sister Alisa. And, while I’m definitely not a pot roast diva circa 1953, my family's meals have gotten a lot better. Here are five simple ideas that really helped me:
- Slice, Dice and Chop Ahead. Get a jump-start on adding fruits and veggies to your meals by prepping your produce ahead of time — say, on the weekends when your husband is home to watch the kids. Rinse, deseed and thinly slice bell peppers that you can throw into stir-fry or quesadillas. Slice cucumbers, carrots and celery to throw into lunches or to use as a side dish with ranch dip. Keep chopped cilantro, basil, garlic and onions in Ziplock bags in your fridge for an easy and delicious add-on to pasta sauces.
- Try a Freezer Swap. I can't take credit for this idea — I read about it in Kathi Lipp's book The “What's for Dinner” Solution (which, by the way, is full of more great dinner-making tips). But, the idea is to basically make a double or triple portion of your favorite freezer foods — casseroles, marinated meats, etc. — and then swap them with friends. I tried this with three of the girls at my MOPS table. I swapped extra portions of meals that I made for my family with my friends and ended up with a freezer full of meals that I could grab, defrost and serve for the whole month.
- Get Some Help in the Kitchen. Even young kids can help you make dinner – and the double bonus is that if they're helping you to prep dinner, they're less likely to, say, overflow the bathroom sink while trying to make a swimming pool for their stuffed animals. There are lots of ways your kids can help in the kitchen – doing everything from chopping veggies (using a plastic cake knife) to rinsing dishes.
- Make a DIY Dinner. You don't have to limit DIY dinners to the quintessential make-your-own pizza night or build-your-own-taco bar. Try a stack-your-own-enchilada night. Or what about a fill-your-own omelet night where kids have the choice to add thinly sliced ham, mushrooms, cheese, green onions, tomatoes and bell peppers to their egg creations?
- Creatively Use Your Leftovers. Start thinking about how leftovers can save you time and energy on busy weeknights. For example, when I make grilled chicken, I always throw two or three extra pieces on and then slice those up to use for chicken Caesar salads or quesadillas the next night. Or if I make a roast in the crock-pot, I make a little extra and save a hunk of meat to throw into a pot of soup the next day.
Question for you: What creative solutions do you have for making dinner prep easier?
Erin MacPherson has been in MOPS for seven years, and the first thing she said when she got unexpectedly pregnant with her third was "At least I bought myself five more years in MOPS." She is an author, ghostwriter, web writer and blogger who blogs at christianmamasguide.com.