Family Dinners and Small Kids

BlogHer Original Post

3. Make ahead meals: Sunday was my chance to get ahead of the curve. I would make a large roast, so I could have leftovers for a meal during the week. Sometimes it was just reheated pork roast with mashed potatoes. Other times I would pull the roast chicken from the bones and serve it with tortillas for taco night.
Also, when I had time, I would make big batches of white rice, my kids' favorite food. I would always have a 2-quart container or rice in the fridge, waiting to be reheated in the microwave for a quick side dish.

*Leftovers have a bad reputation. "Let's clean out the refrigerator night", where everyone grabs their favorite two quart container of leftovers, is a standby for us.

4. No Cook Meals: My final trick was to skip cooking altogether. If you don't have to turn on the stove, a meal is much faster to assemble. I started "Dad's Super Sub Sandwich" night, with a loaf of french bread sliced down the middle and filled to order with lunch meat, cheese, and bagged salad.

Big dinner salads were another mainstay. Toss bagged lettuce with a good homemade vinaigrette; add a couple different pre-cut or shredded vegetables, some good crumbled cheese, and maybe dried cranberries or pickled peppers. Top with leftover roast chicken, and we were ready to eat.

Compromises:

I had to give up on a lot of my gourmet pretensions. Yes, I know, Mr. "make your own chicken stock" had to scale it back.

Vegetables came out of bags, either pre-cut (think bagged salads and bagged carrots), or frozen (microwaveable bags of frozen corn and peas make quick and easy side dishes), or fruit substituted for the vegetable. Apples, grapes and pineapple are all favorites.

Starches were either part of the pressure cooker meal (potatoes or beans in the stew), made ahead of time (see the rice idea above), or no-cook (Bread, pitas, tortillas). Quick cooking couscous is about the only pasta I could manage, and that was with an electric kettle to boil the water.

My gourmet cooking and farmers market shopping would wait for the weekends, when I could give them the necessary time.

Meal Planning:

Planning is critical. I couldn't come home and think "hmmm…what do we want for dinner?" There wasn't time. I had to know exactly what to do the moment I walked through the door. Every Saturday I sat down with my grocery store flier and did my meal plan for the week. That plan would go on the whiteboard on my refrigerator, so I could check it every night to make sure I knew what was next.

I'm Not Perfect:

Finally, and most importantly: Perfection is the enemy of good enough. More home cooked food is always better than less. I did what I could, and cut myself some slack when I just couldn't get it done. Sure, bagged and frozen vegetables aren't as good as fresh from the farmers market. But they're better than stopping for fast food on the way home. This was a chance to get creative. What's wrong with breakfast for dinner? Eggs and toast are really quick. Or PB&J and an apple?

*And, I wasn't perfect. If I got knocked down, and gave in to the lure of a delivery pizza, I would get back up the next night and try again.

The good news is: as the kids get older, time will open up. Cooking won't always have to be in a rush. Someday, there will be time to spend a whole 45 minutes on dinner before the kids start complaining about how hungry they are.

*Except on soccer night, and then you'll have all these techniques to fall back on!

What do you think? What are your experiences with home cooked meals with very little time? Any other tips or tricks I didn't mention? Share them in the comments section below.

Check out the orignal post on Casual Kitchen that inspired this blog:

Casual Kitchen - Ask CK: Finding Time to Cook…With Small Children

There are a lot of great suggestions in the comments, including one from me that turned into this post.

This post is part of BlogHer's The Smart Mom's Guide to Being Busy editorial series, made possible by Rice Krispies.

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