Dinner. The time of day that all hell can break loose if you’re not careful. Did you plan? Do you have hungry kids begging for snacks just as you start cooking? Did you work really hard to get a meal on the table that has some semblance of nutrition, only to be met with “I don’t like that” or “can I just have a sandwich instead”? Woof. No thanks. I’ve got 5 ways to make dinner time easier, somewhat healthy (they can’t all be winners, can they?) and cheaper! Win for the gut. Win for the budget.
I get super frustrated sometimes with trying to please everyone at the dinner table and to be honest, I’ve just quit trying. Not the meal part. The pleasing everyone part. My kitchen isn’t a counter with a menu that everyone gets to choose from. Maybe I’m the “mean mom”, but it’s easier on me and everyone gets fed.
Now, this might not work if you’re feeding tiny people who can’t chew yet. Mine are 10 and 7. It does get easier moms. I promise.
5 Ways to Make Dinner Time Easier (and Cheaper!)
ONE – Meal Plan
Meal plans make the world go around in my house. If we skip a week, we blow the budget, we eat out too much, and I’m scrambling at the last minute wondering what to do for dinner. And you don’t have to get all fancy. Get a sheet of paper and ask for ideas. Let each person pick a meal. List the days, the meals, and then add the shopping list on the same paper.
Think about activities for the night so you aren’t trying to prep a six-course meal when there’s a soccer game at 6:30 pm. There are tons of ideas out there for meal planning, but one of the best things I’ve found is to sit down and just write out a list of all the dinners you make. Get the list out and start picking. But just make a plan. And then stick to it.
TWO – Online Shopping
For the past year or so, the local stores in my area have offered the online shopping list that you order from and then pick up at the store. You park in a designated area, it costs around $5 each time to do it, and they bring the groceries to the car. I’ve done this for months now. Just for kicks, I did a “normal” grocery shopping trip recently and guess what? I completely and totally blew my budget.
I’ll admit we’ve gotten some duds from the online shopping – oranges that were terrible, cantaloupes past their prime, or an incorrect flavor of something. But. It consistently saves me over $50-75 a week on my shopping. $200+ dollars is worth it for me to have to swap something out. When the farmers’ markets are in full swing, I’ll likely get most of my produce from there, but still, use the online shopping for the rest.
THREE – Eat it or Don’t
My kids are 10 and 8. They eat a balanced diet for the most part. However. I’m over the “I don’t like this” or similar complaints at dinner. If you don’t like what we are eating, there are NO other options. Unless I’ve made something super spicy which I don’t expect them to eat, dinner is what’s on the table. I will not get up and make a sandwich for one, a bowl of cereal for another, or anything like that. It sounds meaner than it is. They know this and they know that they have to eat or be hungry until the next meal.
FOUR – Let the Kids Make the List
Again, if you’ve got little tiny people at home, this one doesn’t apply. But recently, we had one of those complaining nights when I had tried to make a decent meal I thought everyone would like. Well, they didn’t. And one kid was super polite about it, but pretty much ate nothing, and the other was not so subtle.
I quietly ate my food (which wasn’t spectacular, but definitely edible), and then got up from the table, got a sheet of paper, and handed it to the kids. Directions were to make a list. And not just write down a bunch of crap you’d like to eat for dinner. Actual meals that included healthy things too. Not only that, but they had to look at the calendar we keep on the fridge and make sure there was time for certain meals before activities or after.
And I handed them a recipe book if they needed it. My punishment didn’t end up being an actual punishment because they enjoyed it! They made an entire list and loved it. We did online shopping based on their list and stuck to the meal plan. No complaints that week! Seriously, if your kids are old enough, give this one a try. I was pleasantly surprised at how balanced they made the meals. Veggies were included and not because I added them after the fact!
FIVE – MEAL PREP
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the best at this one, but when I do it, my life is easier and dinners are smoother. When people are hungry (including the cook), it’s frustrating to have to chop up all the veggies, make sure meats are thawed, and get it all together to make it to the table. Use your weekly meal plan and find an hour or two to prep. Example – fajitas are on the menu tomorrow: marinate the chicken, cut the peppers, grate the cheese the night before. Do whatever you can to make it go faster the next night.
Some things definitely can’t be made ahead of time, but there are plenty of things that you can do to make it quicker. If you’re having a salad as a side, get all the lettuce washed and cut, tomatoes, cukes, peppers, or other ingredients chopped and ready to be made into a salad. The huge time-saving factor here is dishes. Do it once. Make a giant mess once and you’ll have so much less clean up for the actual dinner. And it’s ready to eat. Less waste because it’s already done!
And ps. I can 100% guarantee you I don’t look like these beautiful people in this pic when meal prepping. #mealprepgoals
My life is easier as a busy mom when I follow these five rules. That doesn’t mean I do it all the time. There will be weeks when it’s just not possible. But 2 amazing things happen when I do all of these:
- I spend less money each week on food – $50-75 a week adds up quickly. That’s over $200 a month I’m saving. And trust me, I’ve tested it. I’ve grocery shopped with no plan and spent way too much and shopped or online shopped with a plan and saved cash.
- We all eat healthier – I don’t know about you, but my willpower just sucks when I’m at a restaurant. I want the fried stuff, the chips and salsa, and all the other stuff that tastes good for a bit, but then I don’t love it later. I’m not saying to never indulge. I love food and life is far too short to not enjoy a delicious burger or a piece of cake for dessert. But when I eat at home, I make better choices.
Give it a try for a month and see how it helps to make dinner time easier for you!
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