All crazy, busy moms, please raise your hands! How many of you have ever said that you don’t have time to cook healthy, homemade meals at dinnertime? I’m about to set you straight.
I have a full time job teaching middle school (which definitely carries over into home), a part time job teaching fitness classes, blog posts to write for Organize Yourself Skinny, my own blog to run (which is more involved than anyone could possibly imagine), two young children, a husband, a home to care for, kids’ activities, laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning, and all the other crazy stuff that we have to do in this hectic life. I’m not trying to one-up anybody here. I’m trying to show you that if I can cook healthy, homemade meals, you can too.
Making homemade meals for your family at dinnertime is important on so many levels. Obviously, it is going to be healthier. You control the ingredients and can make lightened up versions of family favorites. It’s a chance to give your family whole grains, vegetables, and lean protein. This type of food will make them feel good and be healthy on the inside.
It’s also important because it creates a family atmosphere. Sitting down at the table at dinnertime with real food, talking about your day helps create and maintain solid family relationships.
Finally, it can teach children how to cook, and how to eat healthfully. These are skills you most likely want your child to have as a grownup. The younger you start, the more they will learn and take it all in. See this post for more about teaching kids nutrition.
So you’re probably sitting there thinking this all sounds wonderful. But how do you make it happen? How do you serve your family healthy homemade meals on weeknights without it being super stressful? Let’s walk through it together.
You had to expect the word “plan” to come in here somewhere. Yep, this is not going to work without a plan. I do my meal planning on Fridays, but you can do it any day that makes sense for your life.
The first thing I do is go through my recipes and pick out what I want to make for dinner the following week. I usually make 3 meals each week. Two of the days are leftover nights, one is homemade pizza night, and one night we go out for dinner. I have a recipe binder where I keep all of our favorites organized by category (pasta, fish, chicken, vegetarian, etc.). I rotate them back to front to make sure we have variety.
Next I take stock of staples. I check the kitchen cabinets, refrigerator, and freezer to see what regular items we are getting low on. This would include things like onions, olive oil, seasonings, bread crumbs, etc. Then I start my grocery list (I use my store’s app to keep it easy).
Next I go through the recipes I picked to add anything to my list that I need especially for each recipe. Now I know that I have everything set up and on my list so I will have everything I need for the week. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time to go to the grocery store multiple times a week. So I have to get it right in one trip. The next day I go grocery shopping and get everything I need.
My meal prep takes place on Sundays, but again, you have to pick the day that works for you. You also don’t have to spend your whole day meal prepping. You decide the level of prepping you want to tackle, and carve out an hour or two to get it done. Sometimes things only need to be done monthly. It all depends on how much you want to accomplish and how new you are to meal prepping. The more you do it, the easier it becomes, and the faster you can get through it.
So what I do is look at my recipes again to see what I can do to prepare ahead of time. And then I do it. Maybe I’ll be making a pasta dish that calls for shredded chicken. So I will bake up a batch of chicken breasts, and I mean a large batch. This is one of those things I do every 2-3 weeks. I keep the cooked chicken in a freezer bag in the freezer to add to anything I need it for (salads, soups, dinners, etc.). This is a huge time saver when it actually comes to dinnertime, and so easy.
Another thing I may do is prepare grains. If I’m going to need cooked quinoa or farro for a dinner later in the week, I will make a big batch up as well. I can use any extra for lunch salads, or I can freeze it for later.
I also like to prep vegetables. This includes washing them and doing any chopping, dicing, or slicing that needs to be done. I keep the prepped veggies in containers or plastic bags in the fridge.
On meal prep day, I also do prepping of breakfast, lunch, and snack items, but we are focusing on just dinner here, so I’ll save that for another time.
Last Minute Prep
On weeknights, I look at what I’m making for dinner the next day. If there is anything I need to pull out of the freezer, I make sure that’s done. If there’s anything else I can do to prep, I do it. For example, if I’m making a crock pot recipe, I will get all of the ingredients in the crock pot and put it in the fridge, so in the morning all I have to do is pull it out and turn it on.
When it’s dinnertime, I always enlist my 5 year old daughter’s help. Some days she wants to help cook. I give her tasks like measuring and pouring things, adding seasonings, or making side salads. Other days, if she’s not so interested, I ask her to set the table with place mats, napkins, and silverware. Even that little chore saves me time. With all of this prep, dinner usually takes me 30 minutes or less to cook on weeknights. And then the best part? My husband cleans up and does the dishes! If you have a willing partner or older child, ask them for help. It doesn’t hurt to throw in the fact that you “slaved” in the kitchen over a home-cooked meal for them.
If you would like more personalized help with meal planning or meal prepping for dinnertime, you can sign up for a nutrition and wellness consultation here.