Family 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?