Ringing the Dinner Bell

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So at our house, as I think I’ve only mentioned about a million times, dinner is a bit of a struggle. As the mom, I feel the pressure to provide a “meal plan” each week that covers everyone’s nutritional needs while providing fast prep and maximizing our grocery dollars. Add to that active children with evening activities, hubby and I both working full-time and each of us having other activities as well, and the task of making a family dinner seems nearly impossible.

I have developed some shortcuts. One night a week, we generally have frozen pizza or take-and-bake pizza from Costco or Papa Murphy’s. I try to cook a “real” meal on Sunday when I tend to have some time. But it’s the consistency that I find challenging. I feel like each week is so very different in the activities our family is doing that any plan I develop goes out the window by next week.

I’m hoping that I’m not alone in this struggle. So I’m asking for your help and advice – what do you eat for dinner? How do you handle planning meals over the course of a month? Let’s all share ideas here, whether it’s utilizing your slow cooker, planning for full-blown-sit-down meals, or foraging in the cupboards for whatever you can find on hand. I can’t wait to see what you come up with!

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9 thoughts on “Ringing the Dinner Bell”

  1. I am a SAHM…BUT i LOVE LOVE my crockpot! I use it AT LEAST once a week…sometimes 2 or 3 times. IF you find recipies that use frozen meat(chicken, pork,etc) i bet you could swing putting it on early and letting it sit and cook all day long(on low). Normally about an hour before you will have something to add to the recipie…but the crockpot is awesome! Go to cooks.com and type in crockpot chicken or whatever you’d like and you’ll find TONS of recipies!

  2. Hehe. I just wrote my Foodie Friday post for this week on this issue and included my favorite crockpot recipe.

    We also love Bertolli’s pasta dinners. 10 minutes and they’re done and they’re quite tasty. BJ’s has them in large packs. We make pesto in the summer and freeze it in muffin cups—pesto, frozen tortellini and some cheese (and chicken if it’s around) is delicious. Grilled pizzas are fun and easy. Breakfast for dinner—scrambled eggs, pancakes, waffles, omelets. Freezing an extra batch of chili when we make it or an extra lasagna. Places like Let’s Dish & Dinner Concepts—not super cheap, but not bad. Salad with chicken—if you make a chicken on the weekends, you can eat it all week, in chicken salad, on salad etc…Same with meatloaf. A meatloaf on the weekend makes yummy meatloaf sandwiches during the week. Quesadillas with chicken & cheese.

    We don’t get super fancy usually, but often we do ok. It is certainly a struggle though—Seth is right now on a take-out run because he was craving an Italian sub.

  3. I have been doing Menu plan Monday randomly – you see it crop up in all types of blog niches and hundreds participate regularly or randomly.

    I get ideas off other people and having only to think a week ahead is good.

    I then check a few others and get my own ideas and think about what is in the fridge and tweak as necessary.Some menus we have every week with toddler twins and others every fortnight.

  4. I keep some staples in my pantry, like crushed tomatoes, black beans, tomato paste, chicken broth ect. I do the same with the freezer, Target has good deals on frozen chicken and fish, and I always have a variety of frozen veggies. The king in my kitchen is my G5 (george foreman grill). That thing can make anything good and in no time. It is an awesome life saver. I also have like 10 base dishes (maybe more) that I can add or subtract from to make them new and exciting. If it takes more then 30 minutes I don’t do it. There was a time when I loved cooking elaborate meals…but now it’s just important every one gets to eat a healthy meal. The easier the better :)

  5. When I do get around to cooking a “real” meal, I often make extra and freeze the left overs. For example, I make meatballs out of ground turkey – I cook 1/3 of them to be eaten that night and I form the rest of the mix into uncooked meatballs on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper. I stick that in the freezer and then later that night or the next morning (or even a few days later to be perfectly honest) I pull them off of the paper and stick them into a baggie to go back into the freezer for another night. Then when I want a quick dinner, I grab enough for the whole family, plunk them into a medium high skillet with EVOO and then finish them off with about 1/2 jar of s’gett sauce.

  6. Before the kids were born, I purchased a HUGE upright freezer. And I do a lot of prep work like the other ladies have talked about. I pre-cook ground meat, and portion it into ziploc bags and freeze it. I do the same with meatballs, hamburger patties, I freeze our leftovers into individual portions (they defrost quicker), and make lots of soups and chicken dishes in the crockpot.

    I also like to buy fresh seafood about once a week. Baking crabcakes, sweet potato fries and steaming asparagus is quick and really easy.

    My struggle is finding ways to prepare all the frozen chicken in our freezer, as my husband pretty much only likes his chicken grilled, and I am afraid of our grill…and I am not good at using it!

    Now that the kids are old enough to be eating a lot of the same food we are, I find I am doing a little bit better with pre-planning and cooking healthy foods consistantly. But I really get into a slump on the weekends, as I want the “weekend off” of cooking! Well, at least for the dinners. :)

    My husband is likely having gastric-bypass in June, and then I am going to have to relearn how I cook. I have always been a healthy cook, but he will now NEED protein at every meal, and I am going to have to be more thoughful with what foods I have on hand for quick cooking.

  7. I am also guilty of buying the take & bake pizza from Costco sometimes. If I am in the area & don’t have a dinner planned then it works!

    I have been going to those meal prep places once every 2 months & making some meals to go in my freezer. So then I have some yummy meals ready. As soon as I cook one then I choose another to take out & put in the fridge, so then 1-2 days later I can do that one. Things such as tilapia in a sauce, korean pork, chicken in sauces etc. So all I have to do is do a side to go with it… which I love those Uncle Bens ready rice packets that take 90 seconds in the microwave. Brown rice & the wild rice are our favorites.

    My girls are still at the picky toddler stage, so find I do a lot of pasta for them as they will eat it, or even (yikes!) cold cereal for dinner!

  8. We are kind of in a rut. Friday is pizza night (with some steamed veggies on the side). Saturday up for grabs. Sunday is fish night (we go to the store on the weekend so it’s fresh). Monday usually leftovers from the weekend. Tuesday usually chicken in some form, often with pasta. Wednesday leftovers. Thursday desperation (hard boiled eggs, or beans, or cheese in quesadilla as a protein).

    I do really like simmer sauces, that you can get at Trader Joes (where they are priced reasonably) or other grocery stores. Buy chicken or tofu (or other things, but we use those), a couple of frozen veggies, cook it all together, serve with pasta or cous cous (or rice if your child is not allergic like one of mine is) and we’re done, plus it increases variety, and exposes the kiddos to more flavors. They really love “auce.”

  9. I’ve struggled with this myself. Now that my girls are older, it is nearly impossible for us to sit down to dinnner together – much less find a time to actually prepare something. Here’s our schedule for tonight (fairly typical these days):

    DD1 has a field hockey game after school. School gets out at 3:40, but she’ll stay after school with the team until the game starts at 5:00 pm.

    DH is planning to go to the game, and then he will bring her home afterwards, probably around 7:00 pm. Then he’s off for a make-up tennis match at 8:00 pm.

    DD2 will ride the bus home from school. She usually gets home about 4:30. She has volleyball practice and it’s my turn to drive the carpool. We’ll leave about 6:15 to pick up her two friends and get her to practice by 6:30. Another mom will bring her home when practice ends at 8:00.

    I’m supposed to go to a “girls-night-out” event at 7:00 pm. I probably won’t even cross paths with DH and DD1 because I’ll be gone before they get home from field hocky.

    WHEW! Just wait … I thought things were complicated when my twins were young, but these middle school years are a doozy!

    I agree that the crockpot is a great friend. I am also a big fan of these new “Meal Preparation Centers” where you go and assemble meals to keep in the freezer. This has been a HUGE blessing for me. Many of the meals can be prepared straight from the freezer (no defrosting necessary). For the most part, I have found the food to be very good quality (fresh ingredients, healthful, tasty, etc.) and it has completely the removed the burden of shopping for ingredients and doing all the prep work/clean up.

    I wrote an article about my experience here: My Solution to the Dinner Dilemma. I really recommend this as an option. I know it won’t work for everyone (different dietary preferences, cost, etc.), but it has been great for us.

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