Five Family Dinner Strategies Better than Delivery

working-moms-dinnersFamily dinners can be a constant headache for busy parents. Before we had kids, my husband and I either ate out, ordered, or made fairly intricate recipes that were fun for both of us to make together — lots of chopping and prepwork. After we had Jack (our firstborn), a lot of things changed. While it’s always easy to just order dinner from Seamless, we’ve tried a number of different ways to actually cook food for the family — so I thought I’d round up five strategies for family dinners that are better than ordering food for delivery…

  • Cook for the freezer. When Jack was about two months old, we spent one weekend prepping and cooking a TON of different meals, all intended for the freezer. (Note that this is probably a lot easier for people who have a second freezer in their basement or garage — we only had the one attached to our (medium sized) fridge. Sigh!) We had two crockpots going, and something in the stove or on the oven, for almost the entire weekend. We wound up with 24 meals for the freezer (all laid flat). I had picked a lot of recipes — some new — that were healthy and I thought would freeze well, but I also made sure they shared common ingredients so that we could batch-process some of the prep work. My husband wound up chopping PILES and PILES of onions (I haaaate chopping onions). The pros: It was great to be able to grab something and defrost it. The cons: This was an INTENSIVE WEEKEND — I honestly don’t remember how we managed it with a two-month old. We also didn’t end up liking a lot of the new recipes. We still wound up ordering a ton over the long winter that followed. If we were to do it again I’d probably try a service like Once a Month Meals (see below), or following someone else’s recipe plans than making my own recipes. (There’s a TON on this if you’re interested, but here are a few noteworthy articles I’ve bookmarked, from Hellobee, Buzzfeed, Money Saving Mom, Hello Natural, the Crockin’ Girls, and The Realistic Organizer.)
  • Cook simple. I’ve shared some of my lazy dinners before on Corporette (and readers, if I remember correctly, kind of hated them), but the honest truth is that we just do not have the time or energy to cook more intricate meals these days! On a related note:
  • Cook on rotation. My husband and I share dinner duties — most of the time I have the oven preheated, water boiling, or food in the oven or crockpot by the time he gets home. I also try to have whatever frozen or pantry ingredients we need out on the counter for him. Last winter we had about 3 weeks’ worth of dinners on constant rotation — I know the recipes off the top of my head for ease with purchasing food and preparing dinner (or at least getting it started). Admittedly, our “dinners” included lots of frozen foods, such as Dr. Praeger fish sticks and Alexa fries. The meal pictured above was from one of the rare times I deviated from our schedule and tried to just “whip up” some salads with chicken.
  • Use a meal planning service like The Fresh 20. We’re currently trying The Fresh 20, a service where they plan a week’s worth of meals at a time for you (20 meals a month), based on 20 fresh ingredients you buy at the start of the week and prep in under an hour (allegedly). They have Paleo, Gluten-free, Vegetarian, Meals for One… we’re just doing the Classic. So far I really like that I only have one shopping list, am discovering new recipes, and that the waste is a lot less because everything we buy is intended to be eaten that week (often used in 2-4 of the week’s recipes). We’re only on week 2, though, so it’s still early days. The recipes are all really tasty (my 4-year-old has shocked me nightly by loving them), and I like that we’re mixing things up beyond the meals we had on rotation last winter. My one complaint with the first was that there was a TON of prep work, well beyond an hour, but that may just be because I’m not used to dicing things like carrots, celery, and onions for soup. Either way, this week we’re “cheating” in that I’ve bought, say, frozen sweet potato fries and jarred salsa verde rather than making my own fresh from the ingredients, and totally plan to just buy pre-diced stuff (or pre-diced frozen stuff if it’s for soup!) whenever I can. Changing it like this means like I have to spend more time looking at the shopping list, however. I’ll also note that if you skip a day, like we did on Monday for my husband’s birthday, you have to make sure you don’t buy ingredients for the recipes you’re not making.) I’ve found a bunch of similar options online — I think Weelicious, Once a Month Meals, $5 Dollar Dinners (specializing in Costco shopping!) and more all do them. Do you guys have any favorites you love? I’ll try to give a fuller review of Fresh20 after I’ve tried it for a while, and maybe after I’ve tried some of the other services as well. (I have no affiliation with the company, for what it’s worth.)
  • Get a recipe delivered through a service like Blue Apron. Another option that I haven’t yet really explored: getting a full recipe delivered via a service like Blue Apron. These services do all the prep work for you and then send you the fresh ingredients, so all you have to do is actually make the meal. These services are growing also — Plated and HelloFresh are two of the big competitors I’ve heard of.

Ladies, what are your best tips for cooking for the family as a working mom — which are your best efficiency hacks and more? What are your biggest struggles with dinner?

5 Family Dinner Strategies Better than Delivery | CorporetteMoms

 

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Comments

  1. Meg Murry says:

    I looked into the Fresh 20 because I liked the descriptions of some of their menus. But I then I got their cookbook out of the library and realized that I was really not enthused about 3/4 of the menus. Because of the way it is structured (buy only 20 ingredients and use those all week!) it means that if the week’s menu is focused around something I hate, like mushrooms or green peppers, I wouldn’t use the service at all that week. However, I’m pretty sure with some of the subscription options, you have access to previous weeks’ menus, so I guess I could go find a different week’s menu and shopping list to sub in instead. My sister and I talked about buying a subscription, downloading all the menus and then canceling, but never got around to actually doing it. I think the cookbook is definitely worth looking into though if you are cheap like me and aren’t a super picky eater like me

    I also intended to cheat it, because honestly, I really don’t care that my food is 100% fresh. For the week calling me to juice oranges for every single meal, I 100% planned to sub canned orange juice, for instance. Same with making .

    Did the Once a Month Meals thing back when it was Once a Month Moms and free. It was a ton of chopping and prep and messing with Google docs, but it did get me some good freezer meals when I kept up with it.

    My latest go-to is that my kids will eat almost anything if we roll it in a tortilla and call it a burrito (Scrambled eggs? Breakfast burrito. Chicken chili? Chicken and bean burrito. Indian food rolled in naan? Indian burrito. etc) so I have a bunch of go-to fillings I can make in large batches and then freeze in 8 or 16 oz tupperware to reheat and turn into burritos. Chicken, black beans and enchilada sauce in the crock pot is my go-to for filling the freezer.

    • Meg Murry says:

      Oh, and for another cookbook recommendation for making food ahead, I really like the America’s Test Kitchen Make Ahead Cookbook. Definitely worth a free library checkout, if not a full purchase. The Beef Burrito recipe is a family favorite (duh, as I said above – my kids love burritos!), so I tend to double or triple the beef filling and we also serve it as burrito bowls or over nachos.

      http://www.amazon.com/Make-Ahead-Cook-Americas-Kitchen/dp/1936493845

      many of the recipes are pretty cooking-intensive though, so I don’t make them all that often. Like Kat, I am a much more “just give me some pre-prepped ingredients and move on” kind of cook more often than not.

  2. Actually, Blue Apron does NOT do the prep work for you – they just send the pre-portioned whole ingredients (for example, two whole carrots) so there is usually a decent amount of chopping and other work involved before the actual cooking part. I’m overall a Blue Apron fan, but the active time associated with both prep and cooking is usually about 45 minutes.

    • Famouscait says:

      This is exactly why I just cancelled my HelloFresh subscription. I was spending waaaay to long chopping, dicing and prepping. The recipes were good, quantities were plentiful, and I liked the ingredients. It was just too much time to put into making an already expensive meal.

    • Tunnel says:

      This is accurate. The amount of prep time came as a surprise at first, but after a few weeks we became faster with it and now we really enjoy prepping and cooking our meals. I consider it more of a grocery and recipe service, not a prepared meal service.

  3. I’m really interested in services like Plated and Blue Apron, but we’re also super picky eaters and pretty terrible about trying new things (especially vegetables). I’m hoping to do baby-led weaning in the future (due this month), but worry we need to be eating more nutritious things to share with the kid.

    For now I’m a big fan of freezer cooking. In the last week we’ve made three pans of stuffed shells, two batches of sloppy joes, a chicken curry slow cooker recipe (put together raw, cooks for the first time in the slow cooker), some egg muffins, and chocolate-banana muffins to have around post-baby. I always try to make a double batch of whatever I’m making for dinner if possible, but I don’t try to make it work for the freezer if not.

    • anne-on says:

      I’d do plated over Blue Apron, it allows you to choose exactly what meals you get instead of them picking for you. Its a bit more expensive, but that feature makes it worth it to me to have 3 meals a week accounted for (which usually includes enough leftovers for 1 person’s lunch the next day).

    • Tunnel says:

      I have been really surprised at how much I have like the Blue Apron meals that I originally thought I would hate. For example, I would have never chosen Salmon burgers but boy am I glad they were on the list and came because they were delicious! You actually do have a limited ability to swap out meals, but we do not change any of our meals now because we like being pleasantly surprised!

  4. Butter says:

    I’m a broken record on this topic, but I’m a huge fan of Cook Smarts, which sounds like of like the Fresh 20 but with no limit on the fresh ingredients. She also just recently had a baby and has sent a ton of informative stock-the-freezer-recipe lists and breakfast-with-one-hand lists, which in a few months I expect to find really helpful.

  5. I tried Plated and Blue Apron, and canceled for the reasons Dana mentioned. The recipes required a ton of prep work and usually took 45-60 minutes to get on the table. I have to go grocery shopping every week anyway to get fresh food for breakfast and snacks, so it wasn’t saving me much time.

    We’re in a decent pattern with dinners these days, but it’s not terribly exciting. This is what we do:

    – 1 big batch of something on Sundays. Chili, stew, braised brisket, carnitas, lasagna, etc. I’ll make one big dish and we eat it two nights during the week.

    – Simple quick meals. These are done in 10 minutes or less. Currently, my favorites are:
    Costco tortellini with Muir Glen jarred pasta sauce
    Quesadillas with some kind of deli meat
    Omelets
    Pot stickers
    Black beans over rice (we use Goya black bean soup — it’s amazing)
    Pre-made meals from Trader Joe’s freezer section

    – 1-2 nights of no cooking. On these nights, we eat sandwiches, hummus with vegetables, cereal, etc. It’s not glamorous, but it’s such a relief!

    • Natasha says:

      We have never tried the delivery food services, but have done a CSA for several years. I’ve gotten really good at creatively using all the extra veggies. Your pattern sounds a lot like ours! I’ve considered dropping the CSA next year (every year for 4 years), but it really forces me to take advantage of local veggies in season and cook a lot more fresh food than I would otherwise. I would like to get it down to science of a weekly or monthly meal plan, but with an 8 month old and 3 year old, that’s tough.

  6. EB0220 says:

    We’re pretty boring, but it works for us. On Mondays, it’s just me and the kids, so we have sandwiches or spaghetti. Then we usually have one each of: burritos/quesadillas, fish and chicken/pork. I am in charge of submitting an online grocery order on Monday and picking it up on the way home from work. My husband works from home, so he makes dinner except on Mondays (when he is away all evening). On weekends, we usually eat out one night and get steak or something quasi-prepared for the other night.

  7. NewMomAnon says:

    My lazy meals:
    1. Refrigerator ravioli or tortelli with jarred sauce (sometimes I throw in some microwaved frozen meatballs if I’m feeling CRAZY), with a frozen veggie on the side
    2. A pre-made pizza crust with jarred sauce and shredded cheese (from a bag) and any veggies that I have on hand used as toppings; I throw this on the grill for 4-6 minutes and the crust gets crisp
    3. Quinoa mixed with frozen veggies and leftover meat, maybe with some salad dressing
    4. Grilled cheese and tomato soup
    5. Grilled or toasted bagels slathered with hummus and topped with tomatoes, olives, mushrooms, peppers, avocado, or whatever else I have on hand
    6. Chicken thighs (only 1 bone!) or any other cut of meat in the slow-cooker with some broth (or water and wine, if I’m out of broth), shredded up and served with BBQ sauce on buns (or on potato chips)
    7. Sloppy joes – basically just ground beef, browned with some onions, add a mix of ketchup, worcestershire sauce, ground mustard, salt, pepper, and maybe some jarred tomato or pizza sauce if I run out of ketchup

    And if I remember to defrost the chicken during the day – grilled chicken drumsticks, brushed with BBQ sauce, are a huge hit with my toddler.

  8. Mrs. Jones says:

    We tried Fresh 20 for about 6 months then Weelicious for about 3 months. I probably preferred the latter, because recipes were a little easier (maybe 30 minutes prep v. 45 min for F20) and a little more kid-friendly. For both, all recipes were really good.

  9. anne-on says:

    My lazy meals are usually the following – pork loin, roasted in the oven with salt/peper, done in 30 minutes. Steamed and/or pan roasted veggies on the side. Sub in chicken topped with various spices (honey, mustard, and rosemary are a hit with my toddler).
    Super lazy – ‘taco chicken’ – chicken breasts in the crockpot, jar of salsa, cup of water, slow cook for 6-8 hours and ‘shred’ either by hand or in a stand mixer with the paddle. Mom and dad eat it over salad, toddler eats it as is with veggies on the side. Also great in actual tacos, and day 2 is usually taco chicken plus cheese = quesadillas!
    I also make soup and/or chili most weekends and freeze it in 2-person portions for my husband and I. Meatballs also freeze beautifully – we’ll make a huge batch of them and portion them into containers regularly.

  10. MDMom says:

    This is timely- we’really getting our first Home Chef (blue apron type service ) delivery this week. It’s just us and a baby so don’t need kid friendly food yet, but I have no time to meal plan like I used to. I’m hoping to use the meal kit service 2x week just to break out of my regular rotation of crock pot meals and other easy go-tos.

  11. We use the Six O’Clock Scramble- it’s like Fresh 20, but with more options- different types of diets (low fat, kid friendly, vegetarian, etc.). If there are recipes for the week that you don’t like, you can switch them out for others of your choice. The program generates a shopping list, which is very convenient. Most meals take less than 30 minues to prep/cook, and a lot of them are slow cooker friendly. We end up doing the grocery shopping on the weekend, and then putting the recipes on the fridge- whoever gets home first does the cooking.

    It’s not super glamorous, but it is practical, relatively inexpensive, flexible, and my kids are happy with their meals.

  12. Online grocery ordering has been life-changing for us. We tried Peapod’s delivery service and I hated it. Any changes or questions had to go through a national center, and the produce was terrible. Harris Teeter (a local grocery chain — I think they’re mostly in the upper South) offers a service where you order online then pull up in the store’s parking lot and an employee comes out and loads it in your car. LOVE! It’s $100 for a one-year subscription for unlimited orders, so that’s like $2 a visit for weekly orders. I sit at the kitchen table Saturday mornings and look at what’s on sale, then build a menu for dinners for the week, order the groceries online, and my husband goes to pick them up later in the day. We save money because there are no impulse purchases and I can sort by what’s on special (I usually focus on meats, then add on sale veggies).

    I get home earlier than my husband, so I do all the cooking, which I kind of enjoy (I listen to a podcast or hearing that’s work-related while I cook so it’s very efficient too). I often do meat plus two veggies. I do almost all our vegetables in the oven. It’s easy — just chop up, toss with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and spread on a baking sheet — and tastes so so much better than any other method. Dinner usually takes about 45-60 min to make, but since it’s built into the day, and it’s after the kids are in bed, it’s kind of my unwinding time. When I just don’t feel like cooking, we do sandwiches. I used to do omelets, but doing omelets for three people is just a pain. Everyone was done eating by the time I was sitting down with my own plate.

    • NewMomAnon says:

      Egg scrambles are an easy alternative to omelettes – just scramble the eggs, add everything else to the pan to warm up, and then add the eggs and scramble as usual. If you add something juicy (like tomatoes) it might turn brown, but it’s been a good way to get my kiddo to eat veggies and new-to-her proteins.

      • I like frittatas for dinner. It’s easy, a good way to use veggies and left overs, finishes in the oven so you can clean up before dinner, and reheats well for lunch the next day.

  13. Liza Fernandez says:

    I want to start cooking healthy more often. Where do i start? If you were to buy one book to give to a friend on, what would it be? please please recommend a good one :) Thank you!

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