9 Dinnertime Shortcuts for Busy Families

9 Dinnertime Shortcuts for Busy Families

Need to get food on the table fast? Try these tips to streamline your next family meal.

By: Leah Maxwell

Some days it seems you barely have enough time to eat dinner, let alone cook it. But busy families need good, healthy food to fuel their busy lives, and unless anyone knows how we can purchase a few extra hours at the grocery store, the next best thing is finding ways to streamline the dinner-making process. Here are nine ways to get a meal on the table lickety-split.

1. Buy frozen food. There’s more to the freezer section than pizza and ice cream. Look beyond the premade, all-in-one meals for prepped frozen ingredients you’d normally buy fresh, like fruits, vegetables, and more. Save money by stocking up during sales, and then save time by shopping your freezer instead of the store.

2. Make freezer meals. If you’re on a tight budget, save the cost difference between frozen lasagna from the store and frozen lasagna made at home. Ask friends and family (or a search engine) for favorite freezer meals. Then devote some time each month to building your dinner inventory.

3. Pre-prepare your ingredients. Prepping ingredients the night before or on weekends can have a huge effect on real-time cooking. Make a meal plan for the week and then set aside time for all the slicing and dicing that can drag out the process on weeknights. Having precooked meat and chopped veggies ready to throw into a stir-fry, casserole, or omelet will make you feel like a breezy TV chef who effortlessly whips out tasty meals in the short segments between commercial breaks.

4. Serve breakfast for dinner. And speaking of omelets ... breakfast for dinner is a quick and easy crowd-pleaser. Cook bacon en masse on a baking sheet in the oven, and offer only one type of egg: scrambled. Set out butter and jam for English muffins and toast, and trade labor-intensive pancakes for quick-cooking crepes.

5. Get out the slow cooker. If you never have time to make dinner in the evening rush, start cooking first thing in the morning. Building a relationship with the slow cooker is the closest most of us will get to having a personal chef ready with a hot meal every night.

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6. Dress up prepared foods. You can save a lot of time by learning to love the middle ground between cooking from scratch and bringing home restaurant food. Whole roasted chickens from the store can be jazzed up with homemade sauces and sides or thrown into casseroles and soups. Pre-made pizza dough is a great base for all the odds and ends in your meat, cheese, and vegetable drawers. Adding extra veggies to your favorite canned soups or pasta sauces can make them healthier and make them look, feel, and taste homemade. Shortcuts are your friend, friend.


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7. Plan for leftovers. In many cases, cooking dinner for eight isn’t that much different than cooking dinner for four, so why not make a double batch of everything and save half for the next day? If your family balks at eating the same dish two nights in a row, try planning different ways to reuse ingredients, such as putting leftover steak in tacos or leftover chicken in noodle soup.

8. Think simple. Remember what you ate in college when you were short on time, money, and/or cooking skills: sandwiches, quesadillas, and all those delicacies you can buy in a box or a can (think pastas, soups, rice, beans...). You probably don’t want to eat like this every day (growing kids need whole foods and so do you), but when time is tight, it’s OK to fall back on old habits once in a while.

9. Splurge on takeout/delivery. Picking up food to go also isn’t recommended for anyone watching their diet and/or bank account, but used sparingly and mindfully, there’s no arguing with how much pressure it takes off of whomever’s in charge of cooking dinner and cleaning up afterward. The secret to keeping things in check is to treat to-go meals like a special indulgence and not a go-to.

What are your favorite ways to get dinner on the table fast?

Leah Maxwell is a book editor, freelance writer, cereal addict, wife, and mom to two young boys. She has been blogging at A Girl and a Boy since 2003.

Image ©iStock.com/Thomas_EyeDesign

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wonderful really enjoyed all the information.

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