In the summer many of us let our day-to-day routines slip. As we transition back to reality in the fall and face the return of homework, after-school activities, PTA meetings, and more it can be hard to get back into the swing of things. In particular, finding ways to get dinner on the table can be a real challenge. But it doesn’t have to be! With a little planning and preparatory acts, getting back into the routine of cooking every night can be pretty simple. So to help you to get back into it I wanted to share my tricks for how to make daily cooking easy.
Preparing a new meal every single night can feel like a grind, especially when there are late afternoon or early evening commitments. In our family, for example, with the start of the school year we now have commitments that take up dinner prep time on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and yet we still have a family dinner every night (even if we aren’t all there each time). Here’s how I make that happen.
Make a Plan
Every Saturday morning I sit down and make our meal plan for the week and a shopping list to use on Sunday morning when I go shopping first thing before the crowds descend.
As I make the plan, I think through how much time I will have to work with each day—some days it is 10 minutes some days an hour. I also think about who will be at the table and how hungry they are likely to be. For instance, my 11-year-old has soccer on Wednesdays and Fridays, which means he will come home ravenous. Whereas for three Mondays a month, I am out at meetings which means we are only feeding three instead of four.
This meal planning can be done in mere minutes when you use a meal planning system.
Once you’ve got a plan and know what days different recipes are going to happen, a lot of prep work can be done pretty easily. Chopping vegetables, combining spices, grating cheese, even preparing full dishes and refrigerating them until it is time to cook are all great options.
To make this even easier for you, all Scramble recipes have what we call “Do Ahead and Delegate” directions in which we highlight what steps can be done ahead of time either by you or by a partner, babysitter, or even your kids.
Make Too Much
One of my favorite ways to make daily cooking easy is to cook too much food on Sunday (or any night when I have more time to spend in the kitchen). Sometimes I just make too much of the recipe that we are eating so that we can have leftovers another night, but most of the time I cook too much of certain components of the meal that will be repurposed later.
Cooked vegetables, for instance, are great to add into grilled cheese sandwiches, burritos, pastas, frittatas, or to use in build-your-own-bowl nights.
Leftover meat is fantastic for sauces, sandwiches, or salads. Extra sauce might end up on a pizza/flatbread or pasta.
Extra grains can be turned into fried-rice style dishes or pilafs.
Leftover pasta can become a minestrone or can be incorporated into a frittata as well. In short, the possibilities are pretty endless.
I’ve shared this tip before, but it resonated so much that I am going to share it again: not every meal has to be a three-course meal. The most important thing to remember in order to make daily cooking easy is that there is no rule that says you need to slave over a hot stove for 30+ minutes in order for it to be a “real” dinner.
Sandwiches, salads, and breakfast for dinner are all meals we eat regularly in our house, and often using leftovers from whatever I made on Sunday night make them even easier!
There’s No Shame in Convenience
I often get asked if I disapprove of convenience items like pre-cut vegetables or jarred sauces. The answer is an emphatic no. It is more important to me that you get to eat together as a family than that you cook from scratch. Always.
Do I hope that you will use the healthiest version of those pre-packaged items, sure, but if they are going to make it possible for you to get dinner on the table, do it. And, truth be told, there are some that I use myself when I don’t have the time to prepare them from scratch including pesto sauce, enchilada sauce, dumplings, and pre-shredded cheese (almost every week).
Teach Your Kids to Cook
This is probably my favorite trick to make daily cooking easy because it is also teaching an essential life skill. The sooner your kids know how to cook, the sooner you will not have to do it all yourself.
If you are not sure how to get started on getting them into the kitchen, check out this post or try out my favorite online cooking school for kids (and partners who don’t know how to cook): Kids Cook Real Food (affiliate).
Ask for Help
I don’t know about you, but a lot of times I get in sort of a work-work-work mentality and forget that I can ask for help. Don’t be like me. Ask your partner, ask your kids, ask your babysitter. You can set them up with the Do Ahead and Delegate steps described above or you can just put them to work along side you. More hands make a lighter load.
Out of the Box Idea: Create a Meal Swap
Do you have a couple of friends who are also struggling with getting dinner on the table every night? Why not start a meal swap?
There are different ways to organize them, but the basic idea is that everyone makes a meal in bulk to share with the other members of the group. Then there is a swap and everyone takes home a bunch of dishes that they didn’t have to cook to be used throughout the week!
Now that you have a number of ideas for how to make daily cooking easier, which one are you going to try first? And if you have other tricks, please share them in the comments!
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