Does getting dinner on the table sometimes feel like an Olympic sport?
I remember when my first child was born and I literally never thought I’d be able to cook a normal dinner again. I really struggled to find a rhythm and method that made making dinner manageable. I was constantly scrambling to get things together, often buying the wrong items and ending up with food waste for half of the things I didn’t have time to cook. The idea of making dinner every night felt like running a never-ending marathon.
Luckily, I figured out a few simple tips and tricks to make dinner a little more manageable. And yes, sometimes dinner is still the most hectic part of my day while I’m trying to get food on the table for hangry babies. However, it doesn’t overwhelm or consume me like it used to. I also have a really good method for buying what I need so I don’t end up with food waste.
The main lesson I learned when it came to tackling the dinnertime rush was that you can’t wait for dinnertime to do it. The ultimate goal with my method is to have the least amount of tasks and choices when dinnertime rolls around. Because when it’s dinner, I’m personally exhausted. I’ve been up since 5AM, my last two brain cells are just doing their best to get me by, and I don’t want to have to expend any extra thought or effort.
I’ve found the real solution to managing dinner time is all about the prep.
STEP ONE: Meal plan
Hands down the best way to combat the dinnertime rush is to have a plan. Ever hear the saying “a failure to plan is a plan to fail?” There are few things this applies more to than dinnertime for me. I make a meal plan for the entire week on Sundays. I write down ALL the meals we’ll eat that week, and generate a grocery list from that. Personally, I use online ordering for groceries because it allows me to double-check, make sure I’m not missing anything, and saves me time (and money).
Once you’ve written out your meals you’re also going to be assigning each one to a day of the week. THIS IS NOW YOUR BIBLE. Okay, maybe not your bible, but it is as far as what you’ll be eating that week. If you wrote ‘Cobb Salad on Wednesday’, when Wednesday rolls around GOSH DARNIT you’re going to have a Cobb Salad.
The reason this is so important is it gives you a game plan. It allows you to know what meals are coming on what day, so you can properly prepare, which as I mentioned earlier, is the real solution to our dinnertime rush.
If Wednesday rolls around and you don’t want a Cobb Salad. Too bad. Suck it up, eat the Cobb Salad so you don’t waste the ingredients or waste money on takeout, and don’t write down Cobb Salad again for next week’s meals.
This step takes some discipline. It takes discipline to make sure you’re making your meal plan each week. This is why I always do it Sunday, so it’s just become a Sunday habit. It also helps that my husband knows Sunday is meal planning day, so if he has anything he wants that week he can request it. AND it takes discipline to stick to it. Trust me, we have plenty of nights when both my husband and I are like “eh, we don’t really want this.” But we’ve learned that sticking it out is the best scenario. Like I said, no food or money wasted. Plus, skipping just one night can throw off the rest of the meals that week.
STEP TWO: Prep ahead of time
If you have a full week of meals planned, it allows you the freedom to prepare ahead of time. Remember the goal is to have the LEAST amount of choices or tasks when dinnertime comes. Ideally, prep as much as you can prior to dinner. Whether this is the night before, in the morning, during your lunch break, Sunday afternoons. Prep anything you can. Chop veggies, make sauces, marinate meats, measure out spices, fill the crock pot, whatever you can prepare ahead of time, do it. I personally aim to have less than 10 minutes of actual work to do when the time comes to make dinner, 15 minutes tops.
STEP THREE: Keep a tidy kitchen
Another thing I find extremely helpful, and goes right along with being prepared, is to keep your kitchen tidy during the day. The reason is, it’s 50x harder to cook in a messy kitchen and 100x easier and less stressful to prep in a space that’s not cluttered up with a sink full of dishes.
Every morning I make time to empty the dishwasher and put breakfast plates in the dishwasher before I leave to drop my kids off. This is because I know I don’t want the added task when I bring them home later and I definitely don’t want that added task at dinnertime.
If I’m having lunch from home, I tidy the kitchen fully after I eat so that at dinnertime I can be greeted with a prepared space. I always talk about how I work on doing something now that future me will thank me for. Well, this is a perfect example. I know that dinner time can be one of the most stressful, busy times. So by taking 10 minutes at breakfast and lunch, I can greatly decrease that stress.
Those are the 3 main things I do to make dinnertime easy. Again, it really comes down to having the least amount of choices and tasks when dinnertime comes. Meal planning every Sunday, prepping ahead of time whenever I can throughout the day, and keeping my space clean and tidy BEFORE I start making dinner. Remind yourself how thankful you will be later on to motivate yourself to keep on track.