Stop Stressing About Dinner With These Real Mom Tested Ideas
It is probably the most dreaded question parents face every single day-”What’s for dinner?” In the past, when most women stayed at home, making a homemade meal every night and sitting down to eat it with the entire family was part of her job as a domestic goddess.
Children were expected to eat what was served and if you did not, you went to bed hungry. Complaints were minimal and children were expected to be grateful for the meal set before them.
By Seattle Municipal Archives (Flickr: Woman in kitchen, 1939) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
When women returned to workforce, there was no one at home to put a meal on the table for them. Despite having a full-time job, dinner preparation is still mainly the domain of women. Walking in the door at five or six o’clock with hungry kids and a hungry spouse, everyone just wants to eat, but who wants to cook?
The solution for many has been take-out, eating out or frozen dinners. All of these options are fine once in a while, but on a regular basis, they are expensive to the wallet and expansive to the waistline. They are also dangerous to your health in the long run, as you are not in control of the fats and sodium flavoring the food.
What is a busy mom with a hungry family to do? As a woman who once worked full-time and now works part-time hours that coincide with dinner, here is how I have faced this challenge head on.
Freezer Meals for Families
My favorite thing to do!
My favorite and best tip dinner time saver tip is to make meals ahead of time and freeze them. When my Nana was alive, she would leave her home in Florida and spend four to six weeks up north with us. She stayed with my mom and my aunt, and for one fantastic week, I got to have her all to myself!
Besides shopping, grabbing a pizza, and playing Rummy Cubes together, Nana would spend her time in my kitchen, making all of my Jewish grandmother favorites. She made gallons her vegetable soup, kasha varnishkis, stuffed cabbage, stuffed derma, and meatballs for my husband-and filled my freezer. Knowing I had ready-made go to dinners created with love made my more hectic nights easier.
She cooked for me until she was 95 years old! I have pictures of her sitting at my kitchen table with my twins, the three of them peeling vegetables for her soup.
Nana’s food was only a portion of what I put in my freezer. Three times a year when I was off from school-August, December and April-I would do a huge quantity of freezer cooking. My own meatballs, tacos, meatloaf, chili and more were put into meal sized containers ready to defrost, heat and eat.
If making huge quantities of food is not your thing, then try doubling a recipe and freezing the leftovers for another time. For instance, when I make lasagna or stuffed shells, I make enough for three or four meals to put in the freezer. These dinners are perfect for when I have worked in the preschool all day and am teaching Hebrew School in the late afternoon. All my husband has to do is heat it up.
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Invest in a Crock Pot
A Slow Cooker is the Way to Go for Make Ahead Meals
One of my favorite kitchen tools is the crock pot. I use mine at least once a week, usually twice. Prepping my meals the night before and then tossing it into the crock means that dinner is cooking while I am doing other things that I want to or have to do.
When I worked full-time, Monday was always my crock pot night, as I had Sunday to prep the meal. It was a fine way to start the week, knowing that dinner was done when I walked in the door!
Crock pots today are programmable, come in a variety of shapes and sizes and designs. Once you come home to a ready made crock pot meal, you will be hooked!
Crock pots can also make summer time with the kids more relaxing and fun. Who wants to heat up the house and be chained to the stove? Kids can also learn how to prepare easy meals and you are not only creating memories, but teaching life skills as well.
Make Breakfast for Dinner
My husband grew up with meat and potatoes and every night; he had no concept of what a “dairy dinner” was. When I was growing up, Saturday night was date night for my parents, so dinner for my brother and me was breakfast-milkshakes, eggs, toast pancakes. French toast, bagels…any combination was possible. It worked for all of us.
That idea did not fly with my husband. So dairy dinner, i.e., breakfast for dinner, was saved for nights when he was not coming home to share the evening meal with us. For many years, that was often. Even though he comes home for dinner almost every night now, on the occasion when he has a meeting, my kids ask for pancakes and French toast for dinner. I happily oblige.
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Best Tip for Last-Lower Your Expectations
I am a huge fan of the Food Network and Pinterest. But these two media sensations have caused moms everywhere to wonder if their cooking expectations are set to low. How is it possible to make a jazzy dinner every night when you are juggling so many other real world things (and there is no professional maintenance crew to clean up the mess when you are done).
My favorite tip that works for me is to lower my dinner expectations. Life can get crazy busy-I am called in to work unexpectedly, or my older daughter tells me at the last minute she got a babysitting job and is leaving in 45 minutes.
What am I to do?
There are healthy alternatives to quick and easy meals. For example, my kids love boxed mac and cheese, so I buy the organic version. I am lucky enough to live near a Trader Joe’s and a Whole Foods, so I have some quick and easy healthy frozen meals ready to heat up. Organic chicken nuggets and mozzarella sticks, prepared vegetable medleys, and ravioli are all ready to be cooked at the last minute.
There are also many fully prepared frozen meals for families that do not have chemicals and dyes in them. With careful shopping, you can get these on sale and with coupons and have them on hand for those nights when you just do not feel like making dinner.
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Busy moms (and dads, too) can use these time saving tips to make family meal time much more pleasant for everyone.