When I switched from being a full-time working mom to a part-time working mom, I assumed I’d have more flexibility to meal plan/prep. Yeah, that was a hard no. I found that time just got eaten up with shuttling kids to even more after-school activities, some of which fall directly during dinner time (so convenient!). So, in order to survive I’ve let go of some expectations that we’ll eat a home-cooked meal every night and embraced a more realistic set of strategies.
“Dinner” May Not Look Like Dinner
Some nights “dinner” looks more like lunch: peanut butter jelly sandwiches, cheese sticks, whatever fruit is on hand… and some nights dinner looks exactly like a weekend breakfast, and my kids lose their minds! Whipping up a batch of pancakes is relatively straightforward compared to that new “guaranteed your kids will like it” casserole on Pinterest, and if you make a double-batch you can stash them in the freezer for quick breakfasts (bonus!).
The Sunday Night Offensive
My most recent strategy has proved to be very successful. I take a recipe that is time-intensive and covers a lot of ground, and I reserve it for Sunday night where it’s served for our “family dinner”. Sunday night is the least programmed of the week, so we are usually guaranteed to all be home and together to sit down for an actual meal. By Sunday afternoon, I’ve done all the necessary grocery shopping for the week, so I have all the ingredients on hand, and I’ve got the most time for fussier preparations like chopping/dicing, braising, or things that require multiple steps. Think tray of lasagna, giant pot of chili, slow-cooked cut of meat, etc. The bonus is that my family of three little eaters plus two parents can eat on that meal for at least another night (Monday–when all the best of intentions fail) and can usually squeeze a few leftover lunches out of it, as well.
Use Your Local Resources
We are lucky here in St. Louis that so many female entrepreneurs have developed entire business plans dedicating to solving this problem. There are several local places to choose from, but I am personally a fan of Time for Dinner. If you’re not familiar with their concept, they offer freezer meals that you can either assemble yourself at their store, pick up from their store already assembled, or have delivered to your house (the prices go up the less you are involved in the process, naturally). The price-per-serving isn’t as cheap as a meal you grocery shopped for and prepared yourself, but that really isn’t why you’re going there — the convenience of trying out new types of food that I prepare in someone else’s kitchen is worth the added expense to me. And usually I go with a few girlfriends and we get to chat and do it together, which NEVER happens when I prepare meals at home.
Another savior for those Best-Intentions-Gone-Wrong Mondays is picking up the Monday Family Dinner from the Art of Entertaining. For $27.50 you get your choice of two casseroles, salad with dressing, loaf of Italian bread, and four cookies. Just stop in and pick it up, and all you have to do is reheat the casseroles when you get home. While it’s designed for a family of four, we’ve found that with little eaters it usually stretches farther, and the hubs and I can make lunches out of it the next day.
When All Else Fails…
Of course, there will always be the nights where you are juggling multiple activities and you can’t even all sit down and eat at the same time. For those nights, there’s nothing more convenient than a drive-thru. I’ve let go of the fast food guilt and tried to be smart about our choices. We often pick up pizzas and pair it with a salad we make at home. And, I rarely feel guilty about getting the kids meals at Chik-fil-A — last time I checked, applesauce was still a fruit serving!