Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What's for Dinner?

As a busy, working mother of two young children, dinner time can be a real challenge. I walk in the door after work, worn out from a day of work and want nothing more than to take a few minutes for myself. I used to be able to do this, but with two young children, this is a thing of the past. They are both starving when I get home, so it is important that I get dinner going and on the table as soon as I can. Besides, there typically is only about 2 hours before we are upstairs for bath and bedtime routines.

Some meals are relatively easy to whip up in quick order, but honestly, you can get bored eating those same meals over and over. I have found that a little creativity in my meal planning and preparation can allow us to have better meals with more variety.

There are multiple approaches that I take to helping myself out.

I don't officially do OAMC (once a month cooking), but I do like the premise and apply it to certain meals. Last week when I made saucy cheesy noodles, I made two pans. One I made for dinner that night, the other I froze for a future meal. It saves me time in the overall preparation, it doesn't take 2x as long to make the 2 meals and allows me a meal that I can put in the oven one evening when I walk in and know that I can hang out with the kids and relax and still get dinner on the table at a decent hour.

Leftovers can be a real time saver. There are multiple ways that I use leftovers in my meal preparation. Sometimes, my leftovers are from dinner the night before served up in the same fashion. Other times, they are repurposed. As an example, I brown ground meat for use in tacos. The next night, I take the leftover ground meat and add the ingredients to make sloppy joes. Sometimes, I just am prepping twice as much of the main course with the intent of using it for a second meal. If I'm going to grill chicken for dinner tonight, why not put on a couple of extra pieces for use in tomorrows dinner. Again, it doesn't take longer to grill 4 pieces of chicken instead of 2. Another way that I use leftovers is from the freezer. If I make a meal that normally has leftovers, but know that our schedule won't give us a chance to eat the leftovers, I will freeze them. Then when we are ready, I can thaw them in the fridge and just reheat my leftovers for dinner.

Another tactic that I use to allow me to have more elaborate dinners in quick time is to prep ingredients the night before. After the kids go to bed, I can chop up the vegetables and do other ingredient prep. Then, everything is ready and waiting for me to simply assemble, cook and serve.

I do make some of those easy to whip together meals each week as well: a homemade pizza, pasta with sauce, breakfast for dinner - pancakes, eggs, omelets, french toast, cheeseburgers, tomato soup with grilled cheese, etc. But, because we are mixing in other meals, these options don't repeat as frequently, keeping them from getting boring.

When it comes to getting dinner on the table for my family, on a work night, that is what works for me. To learn more tips and tricks, check out Works For Me Wednesday over at We Are THAT Family.


Amanda said...

Dinner time is always a struggle. I have found something that has helped me.... it's on my blog today for WFMW.

Anonymous said...

Good ideas. We do something similar - simple, simple meals.

We love it, and the cooking doesn't take up too much time.

Thanks for sharing,


Rob said...

My sister in law is a teacher and she too wishes that she could have just 20 minutes of quiet before jumping in! We discussed making meals on the weekend and freezing them. So far it is working out great!


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Jolene said...

One of my biggest time savers is browned ground beef. I buy it 10 pounds at a time. When I get home, it is split between my two largest pots. I keep minced garlic in the fridge, so I add a couple tablespoons to each pot, some dehydrated onion flakes, salt and pepper. I cook it all at once. I add a little bit of water to each pot, too.

When it is all cooked, I drain the water and grease from the pan and set it aside to let it cool off for about half an hour.

Using quart size freezer bags and a kitchen scale, I fill each back with 12 ounces of cooked hamburger. (This is about what a pound of raw burger weighs after cooking.) The bags are sealed up, flattened out and stacked in a pile in the freezer.

When you want to use a bag, throw it on a plate in the microwave for 2 minutes and it is mostly defrosted and ready to mix into whatever recipe you are using that calls for cooked ground beef.

Works great for hamburger helper, casseroles or spaghetti. For taco night, we defrost 2 bags and then finish heating up on the stove and add in our taco seasonings.

No matter how you use it, you just saved the 20 minutes it would have taken you to good the beef.

BusyMom said...

Jolene -

I really like your idea. Also a money saver, since bulk ground meat is almost always cheaper. I might have to do that.