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What are we going to make for dinner? Your stomach may be rumbling, you hear this question in your head, and then maybe from your husband or child. You have worked hard all day long and DINNER is the last thing you want to think about. You are not alone in this thinking and we have been there! Instead of worrying about your weekly meals, use the following suggestions and take the stress out of planning dinner throughout the week!
1. Shop for Meals on Days off
Many working moms and dads have weekends off or hopefully at least have days off during the week. We know that grocery shopping is probably the last thing on your mind, but this is the perfect time to go and get this chore accomplished. Go as a family and make it a routine activity for you and your kids! You can even make it a Saturday or Sunday morning so that you grab breakfast beforehand so that everyone has full bellies or an afternoon before you head off on a weekend activity with them. Try not to have it be a chore in their eyes, but as a way to spend more time together. Another way of tackling this is to have your significant other watch the kids and take a morning to do the grocery shopping for the week. You could even grab a coffee beforehand to have a little “me” time! Always organize yourself before stepping foot into the store. Cut coupons for products, research your recipes, take a survey of what you have in the refrigerator and pantry, and make a list of what you need.
2. Prep ahead of time
Again, probably the best day to do this would be Sunday (or whatever your day off is during the week). Take time during your children’s nap or when someone else can watch the kids and prepare meals that can be frozen or refrigerated and re-heated. Below are 7 meal ideas that can be made ahead.
Make Ahead Meals
- Italian Casseroles (Lasagna/Baked Ziti)
- Egg/Tuna/Chicken salad
- Quiche/Egg Casserole
- Soups, Stews and Chili
- Macaroni and Cheese (you can jazz this up with chicken/ground meat and vegetables as well)
- Shepard’s Pie/Chicken Pot Pie
You can also chop vegetables and meats in order to have them ready to cook for a dinner in the beginning of the week. Cut these and seal them in plastic freezer bags in the refrigerator. You can even use a marinade in order to give them some seasoning. This can be great for stir fry, fajitas or tacos!
3. Freeze long term dinners
A couple days in the refrigerator is fine, but more than that and you may be getting close to your food spoiling. Look at what you are making for the week and see what can freeze easily. Many times the Italian dishes (eg. lasagna, baked ziti) will freeze well and crock pot meals are perfect for this since you are going to be cooking them all day.
4. Experiment with Slow Cooker Meals
Slow cooker meals are always a great way to take the stress out of cooking after you get home. You can add everything to the slow cooker in the morning and let it cook all day. Once you get home just serve and eat! Some recipes may call to put something in at the end of the cooking (like rice or quinoa), so you can add these items to the meal when you walk in the door.
5. Buy in bulk to save
If you can, buy in bulk in regards to meats and fish. You can always portion them out for meals and put them in the freezer for later use. Then, you will have exactly the right amount for future meals. Just stick them in the refrigerator the night before to thaw and add them to the dinner. If you want to do an extra step before freezing, cut some chicken or beef into chunks for stir fry or casseroles. Then, this step is already complete before adding to the meal.
6. Slide in Sides
If you can prepare sides before the week – do it. Rice is one item that will stay good for several days. Since it can take 45 minutes to cook, it is something that can save you time during the week. You can prepare the main dish and other sides while you heat this for an additional side or just add right into a meal (fajitas, tacos, casseroles, jambalaya).
7. Use leftovers for a new meal
If you get to the end of the week and still have leftover ingredients, throw them together into a new meal! Sometimes you end up cutting more vegetables than you need – freeze them (if able) and throw them into the slow cooker with some rice and meat and make jambalaya! Do you have leftover broth/marinade that you haven’t used? Use it with a different meat or use some lentils and make a soup!
8. Cheat a little!
There will be nights when you don’t want to cook even if you have a plan. Or something comes up like a doctor’s visit or something out of your control. Give yourself and break and go out to dinner on occasion. This doesn’t need to be anything extravagant, but find a place that has healthy options for dinner. Things happen!
Also, do yourself a favor and have some “cheats” during the meal making process. If you are in a hurry, use frozen vegetables or fruits instead on occasion. Yes, they won’t taste as fresh, but your meal is still getting the balance that it needs. There are some that you can steam in a bag and use with your main dish and other sides.
Making dinner is definitely a chore and can even be a frustrating experience after a long day. Having some time before the week starts to get prepared for those long days can help the mood of you and your whole family. You also can have more time to devote to your children and significant other during those evenings. We hope you found some great tips that will help YOU throughout the week!