Being a working parent and still getting dinner on the table can be a feat in itself. While lots of food companies have answered the call with easy meals, we all know that they can be lacking in the health, flavor and variety categories.
By Meredith Gonsalves, WorkitMom.com Contributor
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Being a working parent and still getting dinner on the table can be a feat in itself. While lots of food companies have answered the call with easy meals (you know….those ones in the frozen section that you just toss in the oven or those all-in-one box meals?), we all know that they can be lacking in the health, flavor and variety categories.
Here are our suggestions for how to have a full-time job and still get dinner on the table with your family. Pair these quick tips with our database of recipes for some great menu ideas.
Keep it Simple –Sandwiches, spaghetti, and soups are all on the list of easy main courses. It’s OK to rely on these for a few dinners a week. Kids love the simpler foods, and these things are quick to make with things you can easily keep on hand. It wasn’t until years later that I understood that the baked potato dinner (one of my favorite meals) was my mom’s emergency meal.
Make Meals Ahead – If you don’t have time to make one meal, how would you have the time to make more than one? The answer is something I do myself. One day a week, I plan a meal that needs to bake for about 30 minutes. While the one meal is baking, I do all the prep work for the dinner the next day and pop it in the fridge. The next night, just pull it out and do the final prep work (usually just straight into the oven). Also, there are times I’ll prep three main dishes on a Saturday or Sunday and just label them with cooking temperature and time.
Set a Routine – In our house, it’s Thursday night tacos. No matter who gets home first, everyone knows to chop lettuce, tomatoes, onion and pepper. This helps keep things moving forward but keeps the actual mealtime flexible for when everyone is home.
Double What You Cook – This can work a few ways. First is just to double any recipe, and either freeze half or cook it all for great leftovers. You can also cook twice the amount of chicken or ground beef than you will use, and make that the basis of another meal. So as long as you are prepping and baking 4 chicken breasts, bake 8 and use half in the next night’s chicken salad or chicken fajitas.
Build-a-Meal – Plan a week of meals at a time so the leftovers from Monday become the side dish for Tuesday. And Tuesday’s leftover main dish becomes the base for a casserole on Wednesday. Serve and store things separately so they can be used in different ways – i.e., Monday’s spaghetti sauce is the marinade for Tuesday’s chicken, but Monday’s spaghetti noodles are for Wednesday’s pesto.
Designate Tasks – Have one kid assigned to making dinner rolls for every meal. Another can make the side salad. And a third can set the table. This gets everyone in the kitchen together for time to catch up, and it takes some of the tasks off your shoulders.
Use That Grill – Fire up the grill all year. Grilling is fast and saves on the cleanup. Plus, for all you women out there, it is a great excuse for your husbands to take part. Make them the king of the grill, and they will return the favor by managing the main course.
Team Up With Other Parents – Gather other people in the same situation to make it easier on everyone. Swap 5-ingredient recipes. Set up a “Dinners By Design” meal-making party where everyone brings the necessities for one entrée 5 times over; everyone makes every person’s entrée in an assembly line and goes home with 5 different entrees. Set up a night where your family eats at another family’s house once a week, and they come over once a week (giving each family a night off from meal prep).
Crock-pot It – We all got one for the wedding or the house warming, so you might as well use that crock-pot. Like any other of these tips, it will take some advanced planning to make this a useful option. But arriving home to a warm, delicious meal will make it all worth it. This is especially great for the winter months, when a hearty stew or roast warms you from the inside. See Work it Mom’s collection of crockpot tips right here.
Make Cooking a Reward – A family I know makes preparing a meal a reward. The child gets to pick the menu (within reason), go shopping with the parent for the ingredients, and then do as many of the steps on his or her own as safety allows. The kids love it, and mom or dad can sit in the kitchen to supervise while checking over homework or just relaxing.