Odds are that the past several months have been pretty stressful, for a number of reasons, including the fact that everyone in your family is home… all the time. This can make prepping food and cooking dinner, night after night, without reprise in the form of a night out, exhausting. But there are a few things you can do to make it a bit easier and perhaps brings some joy back to the nightly family dinner. We’ve compiled some handy tips to make meal prep easy -all simple but surprisingly effective. Even if you have read some of these before, they are worth repeating. We especially like our tips for making dinner feel a bit special, so be sure to check out those tips at the bottom of the post!
Prepping food in advance (even just a little bit) makes all the difference
- Dinner may be at 6 pm, but there is no reason to avoid getting a head start. Slow cooker recipes are an obvious choice for this but if you can just find a free 15 to 20 mins in the am (or afternoon if you are working from home) to start prepping food, it can make a huge difference. Chop an onion in advance, make up your marinade and put in the fridge, or assemble a simple side salad. All of these tasks on their own do not take too much time, but having them done before the dinner hour can make dinner prep much easier.
- If you have a bit more time, consider making dinner first thing in the am. There are so many easy recipes that you can assemble in advance (when your energy is level is higher) and then have it ready to pop in the oven at dinner time. Reheating a meal will be a welcome change at the end of the day. Tip: if anything needs a crispy texture, re-heat under the broiler function.
- To really get organized for the week ahead, wash, dice and chop your fresh produce up to three days in advance. Store them in containers lined with a damp paper towel. Your prepped veggies will be ready the moment you start cooking (vs pulling out the cutting board at the end of the day). As a bonus, if the kids need a snack, then fresh fruit and vegetables are at the ready. Sunday afternoons can be the perfect time for this task.
- Precook rice, beans, potatoes, quinoa and pasta and store in sealed containers or resealable bags. These are all things that hold well for at least 3 days in your refrigerator. With your meal components ready to go, getting dinner on the table will take far less time.
- You can never go wrong with freezer meals. Cook a double batch of dinner and freeze half for another night.
- If you’re looking for meal prep ideas, our database has plenty of recipes that can be made ahead of time. Use the search box in your menu with the key words “make ahead.”
Get the kids to help
There are lots of ways kids can be involved that don’t require a lot of supervision or management on your part. Here are some of our favorites:
- Write out a list of small tasks they can handle (age dependent) and post them on the fridge so they can participate without needing your constant direction. Easy tasks could include rinsing produce, making a simple salad, putting the salad dressing on the table, or finding the serving spoons. All these tasks individually are simple and quick but when you are doing it all yourself they add up. Enlist help when appropriate and not only will it lighten your load, it might just create some fun memories with your kids!
- If your kids are old enough, then have them set the table. In the spring or summer, you can make it feel extra special by having them pick some flowers from the yard for an easy and beautiful table centerpiece that will make them proud.
- If you are fortunate enough to have a garden, in season have them select a few fruits, vegetables or herbs to add to a simple salad. It’s a great way to get your kids involved in prepping food and feeling some pride over the family meal.
- Have the kids create a playlist for dinner. This is especially easy if you have a digital assistant like Alexa or Google Nest.
- Let them make “fancy” ice water- add some strawberries or raspberries or chopped apples or lemons slices (age dependent). All are simple and easy additions.
- Have the kids feed the pets – after all, they are part of the family too.
Make your every day special and celebrate the ordinary
No doubt some nights are going to be hectic and dinner might feel like something to just “get through” – it is so easy to get caught up in the hustle of just getting it all done and not slowing down.
However, how about making an event out of the ordinary? Maybe not every night, maybe just one night a week, but taking the time to make dinner feel special can be a welcome change, especially now. It also may help your kids look forward to dinner time. Our guess is these ordinary days with the family around the table are the times your kids (and you) will remember the most. Here are a few of our favorite, yet incredibly simple, tips:
- Take the opportunity to use the nice plates, glasses and silverware. No time like the present to celebrate the every day.
- Spread out a tablecloth. It only takes a couple minutes and don’t worry if there are wrinkles. No one will care or remember.
- Turn off the tv and play music while prepping food for dinner, and during the meal itself. Use the kids’ playlist (per above) or play the soundtrack from a favorite family movie (ours is The Man from Snowy River). Or, play some classic “dinner music” to bring an upscale vibe to the table!
- Make a toast. If there is a small success to celebrate (a good grade, a clean room, a good day at work), celebrate it!
- Have everyone around the table say one thing from their day that made them smile. Or, encourage them to share one thing they could use help with. You will be amazed at what your kids (and spouse) share when simply asked.
- Light some candles. A little sparkle on the dinner table can go a long way in lifting spirits for such minimal effort. If you are worried about little ones and safety, make use of flameless candles-the effect will be the same.
You don’t have to do all these things, but being a little bit fussy can lead to dinner being something the whole family looks forward to every night. Even just a tiny gesture can go a long way for you and your family’s morale.
What are your favorite tips for getting dinner on the table? We would love to hear them in the comments below.
Need more help with meal planning? Check out these other resources below: