Getting Dinner Done

Dinner Table set for dinnerGetting dinner made and served can be a challenge.  Every evening we face obstacles such as children’s activities, work crises, and traffic. Take-out can be a quick answer, but it is expensive, can be unhealthy, and still requires a trip in the car.

Short of adding an extra hour between 5pm and 6pm (still working on that one!), the best solution is to get this daily function as organized as possible. There are many blogs full of ideas on what to make, but here are a few tips on how to establish an efficient system.

PLANNING

Set a dinnertime
While family schedules vary day to day, it is still helpful if there is an expected dinner hour. Yes, you may need to adjust it for a late practice/rehearsal/meeting, or perhaps feed one family member at a different time, but predictability makes meal preparation easier, and encourages family members to arrange their schedules around you.

Plan meals for the week
Once a week you need to plan for meals. You may not prepare everything you plan, but you can always carry over to the next week. When planning meals…

  • Look at the calendar and assess the needs for the week (i.e. which nights will we be eating at home?)
  • Make a list of meals you would like to serve during the week. Invite family members to help by sharing their ideas.
  • Plan for differing family configurations (such as “kids only” or “Dad’s away”.) Put a notation next to each meal on your list so you can remember.
  • Make a shopping list. Although this step is tedious, you can’t prepare meals if you lack the ingredients.  If you buy groceries in different stores (e.g. a regular grocery store and a wholesale/big box store,) keep multiples lists. You can do this on paper, or keep running lists on your phone.

Shop regularly

  • Plan to visit your regular grocery store at least once a week. For wholesale groceries, you may be able to visit less frequently and stock up.
  • Consider an online delivery service, such as PeaPod by Stop and Shop. This can be a great alternative for the basics you need every week (e.g. drinks, soaps, cereal) and you can select a delivery window that is convenient for you. Having the large/heavy/common needs delivered will minimize the time you need to be in the store for specific menu needs.

EXECUTION

The crunch of dinner preparation is largely time-based… we just get very busy at this time of day. Therefore, it helps to do as much as you can before the evening rush.

Set the table when YOU have time.
The table can be set for dinnertime at 10am if this works for you, especially if you have the luxury of having a dining surface that doesn’t need to double as a work surface. If you need to work on the kitchen table, assemble a tray that has all you need (placements, plates, silverware, napkins, vitamins, glasses, salt and pepper, etc.) so the task will be quick and easy.

Prepare as much as possible in advance

  • Most meals require at least some chopping, measuring, etc. Do this during naptime, lunchtime, or whenever you have time. Think how quickly meals come together on TV when the chef has everything pre-measured!
  • Prepare items that will be served cold (e.g. salad), cover and put in the fridge. When dinnertime arrives, dress the salad and go.
  • Consider pre-cooking some items on the weekend (e.g. a favorite sauce or chicken breasts.) There are many websites with ideas on cooking ahead. Having part of the meal already made can make assembly much quicker.
  • Invest in a slow –cooker for those nights when you will be walking in the door at dinnertime, or when family members will be eating separately over a multiple-hour timeframe.
  • Enlist help from any willing family members. Younger children can set the table and carry items to the table. Older children can help measure/wrap/chop (teach safe knife skills!)

If you have a full life, there will always be nights when it feels like making & serving dinner is a challenge. So plan and prepare as much as you can, but don’t be too hard on yourself.

What do you do to ease meal preparation?

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28 thoughts on “Getting Dinner Done”

  1. I think I get overwhelmed by the details, and that leans to inaction. The truth is, you laid it all out here so well. It does require a bit of planning and work, maybe even a lot, but then it will become a rhythm that my family so desperately needs.

    1. I like the idea of a rhythm, Tamara! It helps to have at least a general idea of where the evening will go, and then even the children start to internalize the flow:)

  2. I need to get back to using Peapod. We planned ahead this week and had 3 dinners essentially done. But now I have nothing for tomorrow, Thursday or Friday! I do need to plan more.

  3. This is a great post! It IS possible for busy people to eat healthy homemade dinners, it just takes some planning and work ahead of time! My weekly “Cooking School”
    Post this Thursday is all about slow cookers and what a godsend they can be for busy families.

  4. The time between 3:00 and just after dinner time is definitely the most chaotic in our home. I strive for normal, I strive for routine but it’s definitely a challenge. These are great tips!

    1. I so agree, Angela. Afternoons just go crazy! That’s why I got in the habit of making as much of dinner as possible in the morning… sheer survival. Thanks for reading and for your comment!

  5. These are excellent tips!! Many people could actually do this…however, the problem becomes executing it! Lol! You’re so right, it can be tedious, but oh so worth it!! Like you…I must have organization to function, lol! So glad you found my blog!! Thanks so much for linking up over at “DYWW”! Have a wonderful Wednesday! 😀

  6. I do pretty good with planning our meals every week (I like to grocery shop first and then plan my meals around what I bought according to the sales) but I do fall short when it comes to getting dinner on the table without chaos a lot more nights than I would care to admit. I really need to do more of the food prep in advance that you suggest!

    1. It really is about bringing multiple tasks together, isn’t it? Prepping food earlier in the day has helped me a lot — hope it does for you as well. Thanks for your comment!

  7. I really like the tip about setting the table when you can. Even if it seems like an odd time. It’s not something that I’ve done but I totally get it.

    We’ve always had a set dinner time and everyone knows we are going to eat at 6:30 pm. The kids are grown but they still know that they can be here at 6:30 pm and get dinner.

  8. Great tips! I also make double the recipe and freeze in single serving containers. I can use for lunches, meals when only one person in the family is home, or pull out all the servings and use for dinner for the family at a later time. Same amount of prep time, same amount of clean up!

    Lisa

    1. Cooking extra ahead is a great idea, Lisa! It isn’t much more work, and provides a terrific payoff on busy nights. This works so well around the holidays as well, when a whole “part time job” gets added to our regular routine!

  9. I love how you organized the post into ‘planning’ and ‘execution’ tips. For me, the biggest difference is planning ahead by shopping in advance, prepping my food for the week, and planning meals. Thank you for some new ideas! Definitely going to share this post!

    1. Once I got in the rhythm, it saved me time and made the whole process more pleasant. Glad to hear it works for other:) Thanks for reading!

  10. Great article Seana, I don’t know how I would get dinner ready every night without a meal plan. I also leave new, or more labour intensive meals for the weekends. Great list.

    1. That’s a great point, Jill… I also tend to try and make the fancier meals on the nights with more times. Love that idea! Thanks for the comment:)

  11. all great tips babe…truly planning is the hardest part. I know I hate to do that…but when I stick with it I have enough foods for the time I allotted as opposed to thinking and cooking on the fly.

    1. Isn’t that the way it always is with planning? Always pays huge rewards! And I just read on your blog that you’ve resumed grocery delivery:) Happy fall!

  12. Pingback: 7 ways to sleep better tonight | Amazing and Unique Lists

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