Dinner is the last meal of the day and the one I find most stressful.
It’s when parents are getting off from work or just coming home from work.
It’s after the afternoon chaos of homework and extra curricular activities.
Most importantly, it’s a time when families can get together and discuss their day; but it has to be fit in between after school activities and before bedtime routine.
If you are a busy parent (is there any such thing as a parent who isn’t busy?) here are some menu planning tips to help make dinner meals easy and even fun.
Menu Planning Tips for Busy Parents
1. Schedule your meals a week in advance. Shoot, if you want to be an overachiever, plan your meals a month in advance.
No matter how far in advance you menu plan, menu planning is one of the most important planning tips for meals.
Knowing what you are going to eat throughout the week means less chance that you will stop off at the closest fast food joint for a convenient, but unhealthy meal.
Decide on the last day of the previous week (let’s say Saturday for the sake of argument) what the menu will be for the following week and include the entire family in the planning (I hate making the menu all on my own! So frustrating!)
2. Create your shopping list pre-shopping trip! Create your shopping list from the list of ingredients to avoid buying what you don’t need at the grocery store. Additionally, you will have everything on hand that you need for the week so you will only need to restock on things like milk, bread, etc.
Bonus? You will save money because you aren’t going to the store hungry!
3. Look for bargains. Aside from the typical coupon clipping; compare advertising circulars for the best deals.
I used to work in a residential setting where I was in charge of grocery shopping for 3 people breakfast and lunch, 5 people dinner, 7 days a week on less than $100 (in reality is was less than $80 because they were given $100 for food and gas for an entire week.)
I made it work every week by comparing prices. Granted, we traveled to 5 different stores in a small radius, but I was able to feed every person for every meal and have night time snacks.
4. Search online. Pinterest is your new best friend. You can get into a menu rut sometimes. Use the Internet (or Pinterest) to search for new and exciting recipes. Learn to put a twist on old recipes for a new taste.
5. Have a leftover night. After preparing meals for five or six days, there is bound to be some food left over. Designate one night to be leftover night and let everyone mix and match for dinner. It saves from cooking a meal and you don’t waste food.
6. Cook your meals in advance. After deciding on a menu plan for the week, go ahead and fix as many meals as you can.
Ever hear of freezer friendly meals? Choose a day when the entire family can help like Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon. Each person can take one meal and fix it for the following week. Once everything has cooled, store it in sealed containers or casserole dishes pop it in the freezer and all you have to do is pull it out and pop it in the oven on the day you plan on eating it.
Slow cooker meals are just as nice too. They can cook all day on low so dinner is ready when you walk in the door!
7. Do prep work in advance. One thing I have found super helpful is prepping what I can in advance. If a meal has a lot of veggies, I can chop up the veggies ahead of time and put them in a ziploc bag until it’s time to make the meal. Chop vegetables, dice cooked meat and mix together dry ingredients. The night of the meal, all that is needed is to add the wet ingredients and bake.
8. Short cuts are okay! We recently learned about Dorot in the freezer section of our local Trader Joe’s (or Whole Foods.)
Dorot is a line of pre-portioned fresh garlic and herbs. They are pre-portioned, already cut, and frozen so you don’t have to clean, measure, and chop them yourselves. (Talk about a time saver!)
Dorot carries Crushed Garlic, Chopped Parsley, Chopped Basil, Glazed Onions, Chopped Dill, Chopped Cilantro, Chopped Chili, and Crushed Ginger. (Be sure to snag your coupon for $1 off!)
9. Enlist your kids to help. Meal time doesn’t have to be all on mom or dad. The entire family can help with dinner so it is a relaxing meal for everyone. Not to mention, cooking is a great math learning tool for the kids!
What tips do you have for menu planning?