One of the most challenging times of day can be the dinner time hour. What mom hasn’t fretted over how she can get dinner on the table quickly? When everyone is hungry, things seem to unravel quickly – at least in our house!
I have learned a couple of tricks that help me get dinner on the table quickly for my family. Some may seem obvious but if they help another mom who is struggling with the dinner time hour, then it is worth it. Besides, sometimes stating the obvious helps us all look at the routine through a different lens!
When it all comes down to it, a lot comes down to simple meal prep tips. Some of the best things I’ve learned in the kitchen are easy ways to reduce my meal prep time so dinner comes together quickly.
Here are 11 tips to help you get dinner on the table more quickly.
1. Make a plan.
Let’s start simple, shall we? The easiest way to reduce your dinner time prep is to know what you are cooking! If you make a meal plan, the wasted time of searching for ideas is eliminated. A meal plan does not have to be complicated to work. In fact, a simple list of the days of the week with a main dish listed beside each one works quite nicely. You can add sides if you like to simplify things further.
2. Choose easy recipes.
The best way to get dinner on the table quickly is to choose easy recipes. I personally love recipes with 5 ingredients or less because you can’t get much simpler than that. If you are looking for some easy recipes to try, check out this list of over 70 easy 5 ingredient meals. There is something for everyone on this list!
3. Plan simple dinners.
Along with the above, serve simple sides with your easy recipes. Applesauce, frozen vegetables, cottage cheese, fresh fruit – all are healthy sides that take little to no prep. Your family doesn’t need fancy dinners every night of the week. If you have little ones, your kids will probably eat more of the simple meals anyway!
4. Don’t cook every night.
Honestly! I am all for home cooked meals but you can have a regular night of leftovers where everyone fends for themselves. Call it a potluck night, if you will, and lay out all the leftovers from the week so everyone can fill their own plates.
5. Keep your freezer stocked with cooked hamburger.
This is one of my favorite time saving tricks. When I get a great deal on hamburger, I cook up several pounds of it and freeze it in one pound bags. When I want to make easy enchilada casserole or a batch of chili, my prep time is reduced dramatically because the meat is already cooked. Start cooking your meat ahead and you will be amazed how helpful it is! The same can be done with diced chicken.
6. Use your crock pot.
Crock pots are a great way to cut down on your time spent in the kitchen. Simply toss your meal in early in the day and let it cook slowly all day for a delicious meal that is ready when you are. On the other side, an instant pot can cook a delicious meal in a fraction of the time using the high pressure setting.
I love my crock pot! Some of my favorite crock pot meals are:
7. Plan theme nights with your favorite meals.
Having a rotation of favorite family meals eliminates a lot of the guess work that wastes time in the dinner prep. If you know that every Wednesday is going to be taco night, the prep time is significantly less with the repetition of serving a favorite family meal.
8. Double your recipes.
This is another easy way to get dinner on the table quickly. Cook a double batch of whatever dinner is for tonight and freeze one for later. Next time you need a meal in a hurry, serve the meal that is waiting for your freezer. It takes only minutes more to make a double batch now and will save many more minutes when you enjoy your freezer meal.
Some of my favorite dinner recipes that double easily – and freeze well are:
9. Prep things early.
If you are trying to get dinner on the table quickly, you don’t want to have to start from scratch. Spend an hour a week (anytime) prepping for dinner. Cut your carrots. Wash and cut veggies. Dice and chop onions. Grate cheese. Doing time consuming tasks all at once – for several meals – actually saves you time because you are ready to cook when you go into the kitchen.
10. Keep your pantry stocked.
If you have a plan for your meals, make sure you have all the ingredients you need. If you choose easy recipes with regular ingredients, you won’t be caught off guard by unusual ingredients. If there are certain ingredients you use regularly when cooking, make sure you have those in your pantry at all times. This time saving trick will also save you a lot of money – if you stockpile those ingredients when they are on sale!
11. Have a back-up meal ready to go.
Everyone has a night when things fall apart and nothing goes according to plan. Every mom has been there. There is no shame in having a frozen pizza or all the ingredients for grilled cheese ready to pull out for an easy dinner on those crazy nights. In fact, it is a great busy mom hack! Have a couple easy go to meals on your list (quesadillas, mac & cheese, pasta, etc) and keep those ingredients in your fridge, freezer or pantry at all times. Besides, cooking a frozen pizza will save you a lot of money compared to ordering take out!
These are some of my simple dinner time tricks. What tips can you add to this list to help me – and other busy moms – out?