Get dinner on the table without the stress

I love that feeling when the day goes smoothly and the house remains clean. There’s 3 home cooked meals, laundry is all put away, and everyone is in a great mood. I know I love that feeling because I’ve experienced it once or twice in the last decade! Can you hear me chuckling? It rarely happens. But dinner time is sacred to me. Gathering together at the table after we’ve spent the day apart is something that my family and I do every evening, so I have tried to figure out ways to enjoy that family time without making it feel like work.

It has taken me years to find a schedule that works for me. I have asked friends and relatives for advice, scoured the internet and homemaking books for the magic potion, and tweak my routine a million times in order to have that feeling of being one step ahead, rather than one step behind. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no secret. Nobody consistently has days where everything goes as planned. So I have given up my dreams of perfection and come up (through lots of trial and error) with simple things I can do each day to make things run a little smoother. Part of that is having some quick and easy dinner ideas that I can turn to time and time again when the need arises. We live too far from town for takeout, and with food allergies, take out isn’t really an option anyway. Yes, we (my son and I) are home all day. But we still have off days where someone is sick, we had to chase the goats out of the garden, or we had to make the trip to town to run and errand or two. Things happen, but it’s important to not let busy days distract you from what’s important.

Here are my best tips for getting a nourishing meal on the table when you’ve had a long day but everyone still needs to eat. When your day hasn’t gone quite as you’ve hoped, the last thing you need is for your evening to be equally as stressful. There’s no reason that time spent in the kitchen needs to feel like drudgery.

  1. Don’t be opposed to buying “convenience” foods. Of course, the idea of convenience is different to everyone. For me, a bag of shredded cheese or precut frozen vegetables can be huge time savers that I normally wouldn’t splurge on. This might mean you buy some extra deli meat, precooked pulled pork, or whatever else you normally wouldn’t buy. The point is, try to make a conscience effort to make your life easier for a night or two until you can find your balance.
  2. Whatever you’re making, make double and freeze. I have employed this method for several years now and it has made those busy days so much more pleasant. A nourishing, home cooked meal is simply nonnegotiable for me. I spent the first few years of motherhood serving dinner really late into the evening because my days never went as planned and I failed to plan ahead for dinner. But cook I must, so it was usually much later by the time we ate and I constantly felt like I was one (or two) steps behind. Now, if I can, I always make double (sometimes triple) and freeze the extra for later. You can do as much as make an entire dinner and freeze (think enchiladas, chicken pot pie, lasagna, baked penne, breakfast burritos) or make and freeze individual components (ground beef, enchilada sauce, homemade pizza dough, pancakes or waffles). I won’t advise you how to do this since there are so many options available. But having a homemade dinner (or breakfast) in the freezer ready to go on a busy night has saved me many, many times. Not only does this save me a ton of time on a busy evening, but it is often those hectic days that we most need that home cooked meal. One added bonus of this is that when your meal is already cooked, there’s less dishes as well!
  3. Always have a pound or two of ground beef thawed and ready to be cooked. Or whatever meat your family eats most often. Basically something that is versatile, so that when the day catches up with you and it’s time to prepare dinner, you have multiple options and are comfortable with all of them. My go-to for this situation is spaghetti carbonara. I always have the ingredients on hand and it takes less than 10 minutes to whip up, yet always feels very intentional.
  4. Sign up for a meal delivery service. I’ve not personally used one of these, but we have sent them to relatives in the past who were going through busy seasons in their lives. Yes, they are more expensive than going to the grocery store and shopping for groceries yourself. However, when you’re feeling stressed or have more on your plate than you can handle, don’t feel guilty about employing this idea for a short time.
  5. Lower your expectations. This was hard for me. I had this idea in my head that dinner needed to be a meat, a vegetable, and a carb (thanks Mom!). And most nights for us, it is. But now I am also okay with taking out some salami, slicing some cheese, grabbing some crackers, olives, pickles, nuts, fruit, whatever I have that is simple and accessible. Everyone loves finger food and eating this way can actually be quite filling. Everyone feels satisfied, and I don’t feel overwhelmed.

I hope there’s something here that can help you through the busier seasons of life. Whether you’re recovering from an illness, adapting to schedule changes, or about to welcome a baby and you’re flat out exhausted. It is easy to get behind the wheel and run through the drive through- and I’m not saying that is never acceptable. But I’d encourage you to try one or two of these ideas first and see how much of an impact they have on those busy evenings.

Let me know your best tips for providing a home cooked meal when you’re in a busy season!

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  1. Lauren

    As a busy mama with three little ones, I love all these ideas- especially the idea of making more and freezing. It totally makes those busy nights less stressful when I have extra for leftovers or have something easy in the freezer just calling me to pull it out- and less dishes and mess! Thank you for changing my perception on what “Convenience” food can be! I have also found that it helps if I prep all of my fruits and veggies right when I bring it home so everything is in the fridge ready to go and I’m not constantly cutting up apples, or onions- always getting a cutting board dirty, and I have things chopped and washed and ready to go straight out of the fridge. Can you share the recipe for your spaghetti carbonara?

    1. Sarah

      Glad this was helpful! Great idea to prep fruits and veggies right away. What a time saver.
      Spaghetti carbonara recipe coming up soon! 🙂

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