I read about a mom who was struggling with cooking dinner every night for her family after a long day at work. We as parents each have areas of strength and areas we need support with. It’s our job to ask for help when needed. Especially for moms and/or single parents who manage so much, adding one task to the list can be one too many at the end of a long day. This family’s solution was to put dad in charge of meals one night per week. He’s not a cook, but really wanted to help, so they decided on Thursday nights, when he came home he would fix soup and sandwiches for the family so mom could have a night off from cooking. Be creative and supportive of your spouse. Many times they want to help but just don’t know how to. And be patient. We are all doing our level best.
I recently met a family whose mother (the grandmother) comes out to visit each time after the baby is born and cooks up a storm and freezes everything for the family. Another family I know has a “fend for yourself” night where every member is responsible for getting their own dinner. They also frequently have a “breakfast for dinner night” because breakfasts can be cheap, quick and easy to make, even at 6pm in the evening! It also changes things up a bit, which is fun for the kids. Sometimes I offer my children desert first before dinner, and it gets them fired up about eating dinner together.
When my kids were toddler age, my sister would come up for a visit and take them to McDonalds to get French fries for breakfast. Initially I was horrified but my kids were over the moon with this activity because we never ate there and we sure never had French fries for breakfast. Family members can help and offer support in unusual ways sometimes! Meals with aunties and uncles are still special treats for my kids. They love this ritual.
Try take out:
I know, in this day of eating healthy, it’s not the healthiest, but the priority is ease and effort for you, the person that spends the most time in the kitchen. This might be a temporary solution. This could be for someone is recovering from surgery, or for a family bringing home a baby, for a single parent, or for busy families where both parents are going back to work. This could also apply to a parent who is taking care of their aging parent while also their young children. It’s ok to offer yourself (and your spouse) a night off and a break in the routine. Order take out one night per week. If you’re on a tight budget, try the “take and bake” pizza chain stores or products in the grocery store. Or pick a favorite place and indulge. Take that money out of the grocery shop budget if you need to and eat scrambled eggs one night instead of steak. Be creative.
Gift cards, by the way, can be a great way to give or receive $ for food so you don’t have to cook. I put my gift cards away so when I find them they are a nice surprise. It’s like finding money. I’ve also recently heard about these companies that you can order meals from and they deliver the food to your doorstep. All you do is unpack the ingredients and cook it. There are all sorts of options out there to try.
2. Plan Meals for the Week
Create a list of meals for the week, some to eat earlier in the week and some to freeze for later in the week. Some websites like Good Housekeeping offer examples of meal planning calendars that show how one meal can be utilized for more meals later in the week (i.e. make chicken one night and then use the leftovers to make a chicken casserole or chicken sandwiches later in the week).
I know a mom that does her shopping and cooking all day on Sunday for the upcoming week. She prepares every meal for the week thru Friday, and then puts all items in Tupperware in her fridge so she can grab and go on the days she works. She’ll buy a watermelon, cut it up and put it in 5 small Tupperware for grab and go. She’ll cook a bunch of veggies and portion them out for different types of servings during the week, like carrot salad, steamed veggies etc. She’ll cook a roast and use that for a hot dinner, then sandwiches etc., On the days she works, she grabs her coffee in the am, then gets her lunch bag fills it with breakfast and lunch items from the fridge and she’s out the door. If she is working 2 jobs that day, dinner goes in the lunch box too.
Try different ways out and find what works for you and your family. Be creative and resourceful.
3. Cook and Freeze Meals
If you have the energy, double the portion of a meal you cook and freeze half of it for a second or third meal later. This works great with soups and casseroles. This also works great for spouses that are traveling or working late. My husband was always so impressed that I could “whip up” a meal for him late in the evening. Finally I told him how I was doing it. He was still very appreciative after a long day or long trip. It’s nice to come home to warm meal.
I know families that buy organic veggies and then when those are gone (usually by mid week), move to an assortment of frozen veggies for the rest of the week.
This was written with idea of cooking meals and freezing meals, but buying some frozen food might work too. About buying frozen food: I would say don’t live on frozen food permanently because so many products have extra calories, chemicals and high amounts of salt that are way beyond what required or healthy intake for people. But to use frozen food as a tool to ease the amount of work for you seems very reasonable. I was raised with a hot meal on the table every night, so I tried for a long time to recreate that. Finally when I went back to work, I had to surrender to 5 cooked fresh meals which I make, one night of take out and one night of frozen. It makes meal preparation very reasonable. You can have a night where you can just pop something frozen in the oven and be done with cooking for the night. My children love these chick strips that are in the shape of dinosaurs. I use them as a “back-up” meal and pile a bunch on a plate with carrots and chips for an easy meal night when I am working late. This is your family, talk to other parents, look at magazines or websites, follow a chef on Twitter or a TV show and have fun with it! It can give you an added feeling of success and organization.
Read More of June New Parent Series!
This is Part 4 of a four-part series for new parents.